How to cook crabs in six easy steps.

Different species of crab are found all over the Italian coasts.  We describe how to cook them with the least possible trauma.

How to cook crabs

But first - not how to cook crabs - but whether to cook crabs!

Crabs have been considered a great delicacy in Italy since the days of ancient Roman culture and recipes have always called for them to be cooked alive. 

Now, let’s be honest about this. Crabs aren’t the cuddliest things on the planet. But cooking them? Alive?

Italian people tend to be far less emotional about animals than Brits - they think we’re mad for keeping our dogs indoors! So cooking a crab is no problem for them.

For us, it’s not quite that easy so we tend to use canned or frozen crab for fish recipes. It’s not as tasty but it’s less traumatic!

But if you want to have a go at cooking your own crab here’s how our less squeamish Italian friends do it.

How to cook crab : to stun or not to stun?

We’ve been told - but we’re not quite sure whether this is a wind-up or not - that if you want to spare your crab the full trauma of being cooked alive all you need to do is grab him by the legs and… tickle his head until he falls asleep.

Hmmmm… A more traditional method is to put the live crab into the freezer or a bowl of ice cubes for a few minutes before cooking, which numbs him.

But now - there’s nothing for it : here’s how to cook crabs

✱  Step 1 : Fill a large pan with about five litres of  water and add two to three tablespoons of salt. Bring to a rolling boil.

Step 2 : Get hold of the crab by its back legs, and drop headfirst into the water.

Step 3 : Bring the water back to the boil and start timing.

✱  A large crab can take as long as twenty minutes to cook through; smaller crabs will only take ten minutes or so.

✱  You know when your crab is cooked when its shell turns a bright orange / red colour.

✱  Step 4 : Once cooked, remove the crabs and plunge the into cold water for a few seconds to stop the meat continuing to cook.

How to shell a crab

✱  Step 5 : Once your crab is cooked you need to remove the meat from the shell.  It’s easiest to twist off the legs first; crack them and remove the white meat from within..

Step 6 : Now pull the main shell away from the crab’s body. Make sure you remove the gills, stomach and mouth.

And then - enjoy!

If you want to see exactly how the shelling is done before you try it, this short video clip will help.

How to store crab meat.

Crab meat is nicest when it’s fresh. However, it will keep in a refigerator for two days. If you want to keep it longer you will need to freeze it. Place in cling film (Saran wrap) and into an airtight box before freezing.

Make sure it is thoroughly defrosted before you use it. Crab meat that’s not properly cooked or defrosted can cause stomach problems.


If you like crab the chances are you’ll love other shellfish too.  Have a look at one of the tastiest
Italian seafood recipes ever!

Seafood of any kind tastes wonderful with fresh bread. Try this deliciously simple focaccia bread recipe and you’ll see what we mean.


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