I have received several requests to illustrate how to kill and clean a crab. I thought they were joking. But on second thought, if so many of my readers were amused, intrigued and possibly thrilled to see a post on how to slice a mango, which I did last year in response to a request from one of my earliest and most loyal American readers, then maybe it would be useful to do a â€œcrab-cleaningâ€ tutorial. After all, I have featured several recipes with crabs and they are one of my all-time favorite crustaceans. But let me assure you now that I will never ever illustrate how to kill a baby cow and make veal chopsâ€¦ too gory, if you ask me (and frankly, I doubt I will ever do it myself). Better yet, read carefully, do this once and teach your cook, if you have one, how to do it. Otherwise, it isn’t too bad to do yourself…very Conan the Barbarian or whatever the seaside equivalent is!
But first, a true story to amuse all of you. At the beach one weekend, we had some dear guests for whom I prepared the house specialty, Chilli Crab a la Marketman. The man, a business taipan, his wife, a svelte executive and their kids ate with gusto and we consumed at least 6 kilos of crab. After the meal, the wife asked for my recipe which I donâ€™t have written down except on this blog. I described the steps (clearly, I thought) and that was thatâ€¦ A few weeks later, I ran into our guest and she said she had cooked the recipe but it came out almost black and though edible, didnâ€™t taste like the one we had at the beach. Yipes. Had I given the wrong instructions? Nope. I just started the instructions assuming everyone knew how to clean a crab. Apparently someone had given them a basket full of brilliant alimango which she then threw into a giant pot and continued with my recipe to malodorous resultsâ€¦yipes! If I told you to stir-fry some beef would you throw an entire cow into the pot? Heehee. At any rate, cooking whole crabs, entrails, muck and all with chilli sauce is NOT going to yield my ideal version of Chilli Crabs! So here is how you clean crabsâ€¦
You should almost ALWAYS start with live crabs. The livelier and thus friskier, the better. Oh, a comment or two on killing live crabs. No, I donâ€™t have an ethical problem with it. End of story. But if you want to be â€œkinderâ€ you can throw them into the freezer for 15-20 minutes to lull them into thinking that they are in the deep sea and they may not feel as much pain as you murder them. Usually, the claws are bound with string and this is a good thing as a large angry crab can easily sever your pinky. Turn the crab over so that its stomach is facing the ceiling or sky. Hold or restrain it with some kitchen tongs if you have them. Then take a nice sturdy knife and plunge it into the center of the underbelly and cut towards the face of the crab (look for the shift eyes…). You have effectively delivered the blow that â€œkillsâ€ the unfortunate being. However, it will continue to writhe and jerk for up to an hour later. Do this crab sepuko (Japanese term for knife based suicide) with conviction; quickly and cleanly. Wait a few seconds if you want to avoid the most active of spasms, then lift the flap clearly visible on the underbelly and rip off the top of the crabâ€¦the equivalent of your skull if you were a crab. Separate this shell (also called the alimangoâ€™s bahay). Save any orange crab coral if the crab is a female. Clean out the shell and brush it if you intend to use it in your cooking or as a garnish for the finished dish. I throw it out most of the time.
Next, remove the wickedly ugly gills (sometimes referred to as dead menâ€™s fingers?!?) and discard. Remove the entrails and other muck but save the coral if any. Sever the claws at the joint nearest the body (the weakest link). Use a knife to cut the body into two pieces. If it is a really big crab, you may want to cut the body into four pieces for easier cooking and serving. Next, have a pail of water ready and use a vegetable or small clean bathroom brush to clean the crab parts until the muck that tends to be on them is history. You should have rather clean looking pieces that smell of the sea when you are done. Gently crack the large claws so that the meat inside cooks evenly and its easier for the diners to extract the meat. You are now ready to commence a variety of crab recipes featured elsewhere in this blog for butter and garlic crab, chilli crabs, crab with sotanghon, etc. If you are not going to cook the crab immediately, place the cleaned parts in a cold fridge for up to 2 hours before using. Do not be surprised if the parts/legs continue to twitch (specially when dropped into a HOT pan) for up to an hour after you clean the crab. Just remember, they wouldn’t think twice about eating you if you happened to be an unfortunate victim of the sea and drifted down to their neighborhood.