There are many varieties of crab and an infinite variety of ways to cook them. Here, we’ll look at the basic ways to cook the average crab. Specialty cooking often depends upon the type of crab and the culture in which it’s being prepared. Crab is a delicious, succulent shellfish, lending itself to an extraordinary range of recipes. Almost every sea-faring or coastal culture enjoys crabmeat.
To COOK a crab, put it in a large pot and cover it with cold water (always handle a live crab from behind, to avoid the pincers). Cover the pot and place it over high heat. The crab is done when the shell has turned bright red and you see bits of white foam at the joints (that’s from the protein firming). This will take about 15 minutes for a 1 1/2- to 2-pound crab to as much as 25 minutes for a monster 2 1/2 pounder. Drain the water from the pot and rinse the crab in cold water. Refrigerate until chilled through.
To CLEAN a crab, first remove the legs and pincers and set aside. Find the arrow-shaped “apron” on the bottom of the crab and pull it off. Take off the top shell. Grab it at the back and lift. It will come right off (do this over the sink: There is usually a bit of cooking water and/or barely congealed fat in the shell). Finally, pinch off the “jaws” at the front of the crab. Remove the gills (the grayish, feathery-looking things along each side — crabbers call them “dead man’s fingers”). Break or cut the crab in half lengthwise and rinse under cold water to remove any of the fat. Pull free any loose flesh.
To remove the meat, press with your thumb along the division on the top half of the crab (the one that was under the shell), pull one leg socket section free. Remove all of the meat. Repeat, separating each section in turn and removing all of the meat. Using the back of a chef’s knife, crack the first, fattest section of each leg right in the middle. Separate it from the section below it by folding back at the joint. Pull the lower section free, removing the thin, cellophane-like bone from the first section. Remove the meat from the fat section. Do this carefully — this is probably the most attractive piece of meat in the crab, the one you’ll use for garnish. Repeat for all legs and as many sections as seem fat enough to contain meat.
Crack the pincers in the same way you cracked the legs. Remove the small “thumb” piece, pulling free the cellophane-like bone. Remove the meat. Repeat for all of the pincers and also for the large leg section attached to them. Once all of the meat has been separated, carefully feel through it with your fingers to retrieve any bits of shell that slipped through.