Fun fact that I did not know until I started this post: Dungeness crab take four years to reach a size that is adequate for legal harvest, and may live up to eight years.
I have been privileged enough to tag along on many a crabbing outing with my family since I was born.
I can remember being pinched by a small crab as a young girl, enough to draw blood, and my dad confirming after the experience that I was now a “real crabber”.
I also recall a second grade science fair project on the lifecycle of Dungeness Crab (highly influenced by my father no doubt)!
More about Dungeness crab:
- They live in saltwater, mostly along western shores of North America.
- They have TWO sets of antennae.
- They wear their skeleton on the outside of their bodies (their shell); the inside meat is tender, mild but slightly sweet in flavor
- They shed their shells annually, in the summer, as they get bigger, growing a new one each time. It is common practice for our family to feel the shell to see how firm it is, and we return crab who feel “soft” to allow them to fill out into their skeleton.
- We catch crab in crab “pots” that sit on the bottom of the bay, or ocean floor, with chicken or fish inside as bait; the crab can crawl into the pots through a one-way swinging “door”, but can not get back out. The pots are attached to a rope with a buoy on the end that floats on the surface of the water so you can pull them back out and assess your catch.
- You can only keep and eat the males, who may be identified by the skinnier abdomen, on their undersides.
- Dungeness crab must be 5 3/4 inches in length, in Oregon waters, to keep. We use a measuring tool for this.
- You may harvest up to 12 crabs a day, per person, with a valid shellfish license in Oregon.
- There is an abundance of Dungeness crab on the Oregon coast and they are not at risk of being over-caught commercially or by the individual consumer.
There are various methods for killing, cleaning and cooking crab. We cook our crab by cleaning them first, then boiling them. After that the feast begins!!
The crab is cracked and the meat picked out of the crab skeleton. In our house, this process yields a significant amount of crab meat ending up in our mouths before it is secondarily pilled into bowls for later use… SO GOOD!
The crab meat that makes it past the picking process usually ends up:
-on salad during dinner
-as crab omelets for breakfast
-in crab melts of lunch the next day…
If on the rare occasion more is left, it may end up in pasta, or if it has been a good haul, it may be frozen and enjoyed at a future date.
As one crab yields about 25% edible meat, this whole process is a labor of love. But like any harvest, having an intimate connection to your food is a blessing; not to mention it taste that. much. better.
I do hope that if you ever have the change to crab for this delicacy of the ocean that you take advantage of it. Or, if the opportunity presents itself to consume Dungeness crab in your future that you may enjoy this delicious meat with a new found appreciation for its marvel as an underwater species.