Edible Brown Crab (cancer pagurus)
A male crab is called (a cock) and the female crab (a hen). The brown crab is caught all around the UK coast. UK crab is prized all around the world and there’s a thriving crabbing industry out of most fishing ports, with boats from 10 meters to 60 meters plus. If you went to each port around the UK the fishermen would say they catch the best crab. Brown crab takes on the flavour of its habitat where it is found in the waters around the UK. Some of the best tasting crab is the crab caught in tidal waters like the English Channel and around the islands of Scotland, and any other tidal location. Tidal waters carry more food and nutrients and are cleaner, which gives the crab a better taste.
Two meats in the edible brown crab are found in both the hen crabs and cock crabs; the sweet delicate white meat which is found in the legs, claws and the purse, and the brown meat which is packed full of flavour and found in the shell.
The best way to tell a good crab is to ask your local fishmonger when it was caught and cooked; you have five days for freshness once the crab is cooked (even when picked).
If you pick up a live or cooked crab it should feel heavy for its size. If it feels light, there won’t be much meat inside. The reason for this is crab moults through its life cycle to grow (the male or ‘cock’ crab grows by 10mm per year, and the female or ‘hen’ crab grows by 5mm per year).
Cock crab can reach 5kg plus and hen crab could grow up to 3kg. When the crab moults the crab is soft so it takes a few months to harden up. You can get a good crab all year round: the hen crab is good from August to February (September being the best month) and the cock crab is good mostly all year round, except July and August which aren’t so good.
Cooking and Preparing
Before you cook the crab you can place it in a sink full of fresh water or put it in the freezer for half an hour to put the crab to sleep.
Neither method will kill the crab but it will slow his body down. A quick way of killing the crab is to put a knife in its mouth and twist it.
The reason behind slowing the crab or killing it before cooking is you don’t want the crab to shed all is legs and claws whilst boiling. You want the whole crab to come out of the pot.
After 12 minutes or so put the crab on a try and let the residual heat finish off the cooking and you will have a perfectly cooked crab.
You can pick the meat from a cooked crab without fear, it isn’t as hard as you think. All you need is a teaspoon and a rolling pin and two pots to put the white and brown meat in. You can follow the steps in the picture guide. When you have picked the crab, enjoy.
Adrian Bartlett is the founder of the Crabstock Shellfish Festival. Adrian shares his knowledge and passion with the UK public and chefs to show how good UK Shellfish is to eat and how easy it is to pick a crab without fear. The information in this blog is courtesy of Adrian Bartlett.
The Crabstock team visits primary schools with kids from the age of five to eleven throughout the UK with live crabs and lobsters and videos of the industry. Adrian thinks if we show children what we have and educate them, they should start to eat seafood without fears and this will support the industry in future years.