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Did you buy crab legs and aren’t sure how to prepare them? This tutorial will walk you through how to steam and crack crab legs.
They are delicious.
And there’s no doubt about it, crab legs can be intimidating.
The good news is, preparing crab legs is fairly simple; it just takes a little bit of practice. Here’s how to do it.
This tutorial focuses on King crab legs and Dungeness crab legs, but you can use the techniques for other types of crab.
Why Are My Crab Legs Already Cooked?
Did you just shell out quite a bit of cash for crab legs, and then realize (in horror) that you accidentally bought pre-cooked crab legs?
Don’t worry, you didn’t make a mistake!
Crab needs to be cooked almost immediately after it’s caught, so unless you’re purchasing live crab, it’s going to come pre-cooked.
How to Steam Crab Legs
Because the crab legs are already cooked, all you need to do is warm them up a little.
Use a large stockpot. It should be big enough to hold all of the crab legs.
If you’re using extra-large king crab legs and don’t have a pot that’s big enough, just use the largest pot you have. You can create a tented lid with aluminum foil to make the too-small pot work.
Add about a half-inch of water to the pot, bring the water to a boil, and add a steamer basket.
Add the crab and cover the pot with a lid. Or cover it with foil if needed.
Steam the crab for about five minutes for thawed crab or ten minutes for frozen crab.
How to Crack King Crab Legs
King crab legs are big and tough.
Don’t be intimidated.
Start by using a knife to cut the crab at the joints.
You’ll have to push down forcefully.
Next, you’ve got options.
You can use a seafood cracker or a nutcracker to break the shell and make it easier to pry open.
If you don’t have one, you can try to crush the shells with the back of a wooden spoon.
My preference is to cut through larger sections of the shell with a knife. Stand each section on its end and cut vertically down the shell.
For smaller sections of King crab leg, I use kitchen shears to cut through the shell.
Finally, whether you used a seafood cracker, nutcracker, the back of a wooden spoon, a knife or kitchen shears, simply pry open the crab shell and remove the meat.
After you remove all the meat, dunk the crab in butter or add it to a King crab salad or a Crab Louie salad!
How to Crack Dungeness Crab Legs
Dungeness crab legs are a little easier to tackle than King crab legs, because the shells are slightly more pliable and much smaller.
Start by breaking apart the shoulder joint from the leg.
There’s lots of meat in the shoulder, don’t forget to pick the meat out of it!
Next, bend the legs back and forth at the joints until they come apart.
This part should be fairly easy.
Next, just like with King crab legs, you have options.
If you prefer, you can use a seafood cracker or a nutcracker to break apart the shells.
Another option is to use the back of a wooden spoon (or even the palm of your hand) to crush the shells.
I prefer to use kitchen shears and simply cut the shells open.
After removing the meat, enjoy your Dungeness crab with a crab omelette, crab fries, crab nachos or crab eggs Benedict!
What Can I Do With the Shells?
Don’t throw away the shells! At least not yet.
Those crab shells make absolutely delicious seafood stock. Store the shells in your freezer until you’re ready to use them.
Use the seafood stock to make kimchi seafood soup or clam chowder with smoked oysters!
How to Steam + Crack Crab Legs
- kitchen shears
- large stockpot
- 1 pound crab legs
Steaming the Crab Legs:
- Start with a stockpot large enough to hold all the crab legs. Fill the pot with about ½" water, and bring water to a boil over medium-high heat.Add a steamer basket to the pot. Set the crab legs inside the pot, and cover with a lid. (If the legs stick out of the pot slightly and prevent the lid from sealing, use a piece of aluminum foil as a lid and pinch it against the pot to create a sealed environment.)Steam the crab legs 4-6 minutes total for thawed crab legs or 10-11 minutes total for frozen legs.Carefully remove crab legs from the pot using tongs, and rinse the legs with cold water.
Crack King Crab Legs:
- Using the back of a chef’s knife, cut the crab legs at each joint. Cut off the shoulder meat (but do not discard!!!). Pull out the long plastic-like strips of cartilage.Next, attempt to push the crab meat straight out of the shell section with your finger. (This will be easiest on the upper portions of the legs, but will likely not work for each section.)
- If you own a seafood cracker or a nutcracker, use it to break the shell apart. Alternatively, attempt to crack the shells with the back of a wooden spoon.Or do the following:To split the remaining large leg sections, hold the crab leg on its end, and insert the tip of a chef’s knife into the top of the shell. Push down.
- To split the rest of the leg sections, use kitchen shears to cut the shell open. Use the scissors to open the claws up too, or pick the meat out with a seafood fork or pick.
- Once the shells are cracked (or crushed, or cut), it's time to remove the shells.Using your fingers, pry the split or cut shells off, and reserve the meat. Peel the shell off of the shoulder meat. Set the shells aside, collect the meat.
Crack Dungeness Crab Legs:
- Break off any shoulder meat from the legs by bending the joint back and forth until it snaps.
- Next, break the crab legs at their joints by bending the legs in the opposite direction of their natural bend. Bend back and forth until they snap.
- Next, take kitchen shears and cut along the bottom, lighter-colored side of the legs. Alternatively, set the crab leg on a hard surface so that it’s resting on the long, narrow edge of the leg. Using the back of your palm or the back of a wooden spoon, push down and crack the leg.Another option: If you own a seafood cracker or a nutcracker, you can use it to break the shell apart.
- Once the shells are cracked (or crushed, or cut), it's time to remove the shells.Using your fingers, pry the shells off, and reserve the meat. Peel the shell off of the shoulder meat. Watch out for transparent shell pieces hidden within the shoulder meat. Set the shells aside, and collect the meat.
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