Crabs have always been eaten by humans everywhere. They first appeared in the middle of the Mesozoic era: fossils have been found dating back some 170 million years.
In Ancient times, crabs were seen as protective, but this image was changed in the Middle Ages, becoming one of evil. This is probably because crabs are mostly fighters, never giving up their prey; their claws are formidable, and many feed on carrion.
This negative image is reinforced by the terms cancer, chancre, and crabby, all derived from crab. There is also the French expression panier de crabes (literally a basket of crabs, but with the meaning of a can of worms).
On the other hands, crabs enjoy a positive image in the Orient. Some are even venerated, such as those in China and Japan that have markings resembling a human face on their carapace.
Crabs are sold fresh, or cooked, or frozen.
The claws of brown crabs or other large varieties can be found cooked in their shell.
Crab meat is sold frozen or canned.
Surimi is a fish meal made from different fish, to which crab aroma, coloring, starch, egg whites, and other additives have been added. It is then pressed into sticks or slices, or made into flakes.
Fresh: crabs should be alive and come with their claws complete. They should also react when touched. The edible meat represents about one-third of their weight. The heavier a crab feels with regard to its volume, the better it is. The flesh of female crabs is more flavorsome.
Cooked: the carapace should be moist and orange, and the claws intact. They should feel heavy and have a pleasant smell of the sea, without the slightest smell of ammonia.
Frozen: they should not be covered in frost, discolored, or burned by ice.
A live crab is immersed in boiling water or court-bouillon. Cooking time depends on its size.
It is shelled immediately afterwards by making an incision between its belly and carapace. The claws and legs are removed and cracked open to extract the meat.
This can be used for salads, or used in pies, pastries, and crab cakes.
Small crabs can be used for soups, bisques, sauces, and fumets.
When bought live, crabs should be cooked as quickly as possible. They can be placed in the freezer for 30–40 minutes to stun them and make cooking easier.
Cooked crab can be stored in the refrigerator or cold room at 4°C for up to 48 hours.
The cold chain must not be broken for frozen crab.
Crabmeat is particularly lean, high in protein, minerals, and vitamins.
All crabs contain cholesterol, but this is stored in the head, which is not normally eaten.
There are some 4,500 crab species. But only few are caught and commercialized.
. European spider crab
Possible the finest of all the crabs, the female is best. It can grow to 20 cm in size and weigh up to 1.5 kg. It has a triangular body and very long legs. It is found throughout the North Atlantic and in the Mediterranean. France is the leading producer. They are mainly captured in spring.
. Snow crab
Similar to the spider crab but larger, this variety lives in cold waters of the Pacific and North Atlantic Oceans. Canada is the largest producer and supplies two-thirds of the world's supply.
. Blue crab
This variety grows to some 20 x 9 cm in size. The male's claws are blue and the female's are red. It mainly lives in the Atlantic, but also in the Mediterranean and Japan.
. European green crab
The most common of the Atlantic crabs, but it is also found in other seas. It is small, measuring from 5–10 cm, and its carapace is greenish or a reddish brown.
. King crab
The largest of all, with different sub-species living in the Pacific, on the coast of California, and in the Bering Sea: Varanger king crab (especially in Norway), Kamkatcha king crab. Its meat is particularly tasty and is the most expensive.
. Atlantic rock or common crab
A medium size 13.5 x 9 cm with a red carapace, this variety lives along the Labrador coast and as far as South Carolina.
. Jonah crab
Similar to the common crab, this variety lives in the North Atlantic.
. Velvet crab
This feisty little crab measuring 8–10 cm has many different names depending on the country or region in which it is found. It is known as chèvre in Brittany and favouille in Provence. It has a velvety brown carapace.
. Brown crab
This crab measures 15–20 cm and has a light brown carapace. It mainly lives along the Atlantic coast, from Norway to Morocco. It is particularly abundant around the British Isles and is also found in the Mediterranean.
. Blue land crab
As its name states, this variety does not live in water. It is found on the islands of the Caribbean, in South and Central America, and also in North America between the Gulf of Mexico and Florida. Its capture is strictly controlled in Martinique, where it is particularly popular.
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