29 May2006

Crab Cleaning 101

by Marketman


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 acra2most loyal American readers, then maybe it would be useful to do a “crab-cleaning” 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 chops… 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. acra3After the meal, the wife asked for my recipe which I don’t have written down except on this blog. I described the steps (clearly, I thought) and that was that… 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, didn’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 results…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 crabs…

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 don’t have an ethical problem with it. End of story. But if you want to be “kinder” 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. acra4Usually, 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 “kills” 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 crab…the equivalent of your skull if you were a crab. Separate this shell (also called the alimango’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 men’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, acra5you 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.



  1. mia says:

    MM, your first photo reminded me of a dish I tried in Korea last month–it’s raw crab marinated in soy sauce (they said for a very long time) and served. Have you tried this? It tasted like the sea, the meat was sashimi-ish, and the fat (?) was so tasty. I was a little wary at the beginning but when I tried it one was simply not enough. I woke up the next morning with a nasty allergic reaction, but it was so worth it I’d eat it again right now.

    May 29, 2006 | 7:24 pm


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  3. mia says:

    Oh, and I remember the first time the hubby cooked crabs…it was so traumatizing for him to hear them knocking on the pot cover. “This is too cruel…this is just too cruel!” he said. He had no idea that would happen (I’ve seen crabs cooked before so I wasn’t bothered.) For the next twenty minutes or so he went on and on and when the crabs were cooked…he ate them anyway.

    May 29, 2006 | 7:40 pm

  4. Marketman says:

    mia, I haven’t tried the raw crab but I can so see it on offer in Korea. They even have super fresh octopus that they slice in front of you while it’s still wiggling, then you pop it in your mouth and if really fresh, the suckers on the tentacles gently suck on your tongue…and a dip in soy sauce doesn’t kill it… However, spoiled crab is a serious source of stomach problems and your reaction could have been from the formation of “histamines” on the seafood that wasn’t chilled well enough…hence the need for “antihistamines” the following day…I just got a mild case of food poisoning from a badly made daing na bangus, if you can imagine that…

    May 30, 2006 | 5:44 am

  5. bugsybee says:

    Marketman, I know a lot of people who are allergic to crabs but I have a friend who is such a crab addict, she would pop an antihistamine BEFORE eating crabs. I’m glad I don’t have that problem because crabs are my number 1 favorite! Thanks for this tutorial.

    May 30, 2006 | 8:01 am

  6. millet says:

    MM, i plunge an ice pick just once, right on the shell just below where the back flap ends. if you get that point right, the end is swift and instantaneous – writhing and flipping about is limited to a few seconds. a chinese chef taught me this. but don’t take my word for it, you need to go get 10 kilos of crabs and see if this works for you. also, it’s better to brush them before cutting them up – this way you don’t get any mud and grit on the sweet flesh and alige. by thw way, only mud crabs need this tedious clean-up….alimasags are great straight from sea to pot.

    May 30, 2006 | 8:48 am

  7. erleen says:

    “…clean small bathroom brush…” kelangan pa ba ksama ung ‘bathroom’? hehehe….just joking marketman…

    do you really have to cut them fresh? won’t the juices flow out when you cut them in half?

    everytime we cook crabs, we first either steam or boil them before cutting. then proceed with the cooking. my favorite is to cook them with gata, tomato ketchup, siling labuyo. served over steaming rice.


    May 30, 2006 | 11:19 am

  8. Marketman says:

    millet, you’re right, alimasag generally is easier to handle but I do like the meat of alimango better. Lots of fat alimasag with a vinegar sawsawan is my favorite way to enjoy the thinner shelled crab. I like th ice pick version. I guess the knife version approximates this if you get the point right. No nice way to murder, ultimately… bugsybee, the things we do to eat what we want! Heehee. erleen, heehee, you can use kitchen or house brush instead! Try my recipe for Chilli crabs one day…I highly recommend it!

    May 30, 2006 | 11:19 am

  9. uyster says:

    my family comes from mindanao and man! they sell these huge, fat crabs! however, if you want the really tasty crabs, don’t get those grown in cages. Get those that feed naturally. That’s what my dad says and I guess I should take his word since I can’t eat the stuff or else I’ll get rashes all over!

    Jun 13, 2006 | 2:16 pm

  10. J. Francisco Bautista says:

    Marketman, here’s another informative link on how to do the same thing to Dungeness Crabs


    Jul 18, 2006 | 3:43 am

  11. Marketman says:

    Thanks J. Francisco for that link!

    Jul 18, 2006 | 6:19 am

  12. J. Francisco Bautista says:

    No problem – the author of the thread really gets into the art of giving away the secrets of authentic resto-style chinese food, very indispensable part of my cooking regimen – did you check out the rest of his cooking pictorial series? btw, your site is chockfull of information too!

    Jul 18, 2006 | 9:43 am

  13. J. Francisco Bautista says:

    here’s the link to the entire chinese cooking series:


    Jul 18, 2006 | 9:44 am

  14. crystal says:

    my father and i recently went crabbing in washington state and cought quite a few dungeness crab. we brought them home right away and cooked them in boiling water. one of our crabs however after being cooked was completely black inside not just in its body but in its legs and claws as well. after looking all over the web i still havent been able to find out why? the crab was still alive when it was tossed in the pot and was cooked completely and everything. got any ideas?

    Apr 24, 2007 | 5:37 am

  15. TOM says:


    Jul 4, 2007 | 12:53 pm

  16. Marketman says:

    Hi Tom. Not cleaning a fresh crab properly then cooking it will simply result in a more murky tasting crab meat. However, cooking a bad or spoiled crab is a different matter. Crab spoils VERY QUICKLY. It is the reason that I only have crabs if I get them ALIVE. Many fish mongers in the U.S. sell lump crab meat. This is steamed in bulk from presumably, very fresh crabs. The Philippines, where I am located, is a major supplier to freshly steamed crab meat to places like Japan. Steamed crab meat properly packaged and frozen or refrigerated should last for several days. But if at any point in its handling it warms up, I think it spoils fairly quickly. It might be possible that you simply had a BAD batch of crab meat in your crab cakes. It is also possible that you got food poisoning from many other sources of food that day… Some folks in the Philippines, steam whole crabs with fingers and all intact, removing the entrails after cooking and there are no ill-effects. I would more likely believe that the crab meat itself was suspect… but I couldn’t be sure at all. Eating bad shellfish, mussels, crabs, shrimp, etc. always results in wicked stomach problems for me…perhaps that is what you experienced…

    Jul 4, 2007 | 1:03 pm

  17. Mr. Balingit says:

    we can supply crabs fresh from fishponds and of great taste,pls contact me at 09282512225

    Oct 27, 2008 | 1:40 pm

  18. woon says:

    hi all crab lovers!

    Here’s an easier and more humane way to prepare a crab.

    Put the crab into the freezer for about 30~45 minutes (depending on size of crab). Use a plastic bag to contain it, although usually it does not run around. Do not leave it too long as frozen crab loses it best original taste and texture.

    Under the cold temperature, the crab goes into hibernation mode. After about 30~45 minutes, take the crab out. Make sure the crab is not moving (assumed dead), then do the usual thing, ie. remove the strings, top shells etc.

    The normal way of plunging a chopstick or knife at bottom of thorax most of the time makes the crab struggle and have their legs and pincers naturally drop off. The killer sweats, the crab cries, together they struggle. Not a graceful way of killing a crab and not so neat for presentation for dining guests should the legs and pincers comes off before cooking.


    Jan 3, 2009 | 10:41 am

  19. Stephen says:

    Hi everybody,

    shared my experience. I have 3 times eaten crabs in Manila homes and noticed something in common. Whether it is fried or barbequed..i noticed it is black in there.
    I then realised on spot that they did not do it correctly in killing and cleaning up the crab.
    What you have described above is typical of what we Singaporeans Chinese do when we kill the crab (1) stab the crab at underbelly at the triangle belly shell (we do with a chopstick) like you say knife is also ok.
    Do the same for the rest. (2)After few mins ripped off the shell and cut the crab into half. (3) Clean up the crab with a brush (the black color) and the pull out the grey gills)
    After this cleaning procedure, you cook it or especially BBQ the crab is so clean inside and sweet and sumptous.

    I showed my friend how I kill and clean the crab!! the correct way and no reason to be blackish in the meat..hehehhehe

    Apr 25, 2009 | 8:24 pm


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