Whilst the spider crab may look pretty intimidating with its spiky shell and rich colour, its delicious white meat is some of the tastiest seafood on offer this time of year. But killing a live creature can be pretty daunting, so we explore the best and most humane way to kill a fresh spider crab.
After all, killing a spider crab in a humane way means it not only tastes a gazillion times better, but will also help you sleep better at night. And no one can argue with that.
Springtime is a season that usually makes you think of little lambs and cute chicks. But April to August is also a key time for another (equally cute) creature; the spider crab! Spider crabs are pot caught, which means they’re sustainable, and have a low impact on the seabed. Their white meat, particularly the claws, is deliciously flavourful and is perfect for sprucing up sandwiches, stirring into pastas, or as a pretty impressive centrepiece on your dinner table.
Spider crabs are common around the coast of Cornwall, particularly this time of year, and many who are in on the spider crab secret, know that their meat is even tastier than that of the brown crab. However, once you have a live spider crab, it’s important to kill it humanely.
We talk to Sam Jones, fisherman and chef at the Bay Hotel in Coverack, about the most humane way to kill a spider crab, and, of course, the best way to prep and enjoy the meat too.
Why is it important that people eat more under-utilised species like spider crabs over well-loved and well-known species?
I think people definitely care about eating responsibly and sustainably, and eating more of what we have in abundance is the best way to do that.
They’re such a plentiful resource. Spider crabs look like a carpet moving across the ocean floor; they are just that prolific. In the current situation where crab meat is quite expensive, spider crabs are far more accessible and sustainable.
Why do you think people aren’t eating spider crab?
The issue with spider crab is down to the appearance; there’s a lot of #SpiderCrabHaterz out there! But the spider crabs we have at the moment are massive, and their legs carry so much meat.
“If someone were to hand me either a freshly cooked spider crab or a brown crab, I’d always choose the spider! The meat is just that much sweeter!”
With brown crab, the meat comes in little strands. Whereas with spider crabs, the strands are much bigger and it has so much more texture (if it’s cooked correctly).
But it’s also to do with misinformation. There’s a lot of misconceptions about spider crabs. When a friend of mine was growing up, the fishermen there told him that you couldn’t eat spider crab because they were poisonous.
“And back in the 70s and early 80s, spider crabs were known as “canny-keepers”. They had no value. They’d literally just be thrown back over the side because they were considered pointless.”
And even after that, when people began to realise they weren’t poisonous, people would still cook them for ages, to ensure they definitely wouldn’t be poisonous, which is a surefire way to spoil the texture and flavour.
These old wives’ tales still influence cooking habits and behaviours today. Spider crab is delicious and you really don’t need to cook it for long.
Ultimately though, there needs to be a culture shift. People eat oysters and rave about them, but actually when you open an oyster it looks pretty disgusting. It doesn’t look like something you’d want to eat, but because oysters have got such a status symbol, people pay top dollar for them. Particularly with other shellfish – like lobster! The price of a lobster is massive! I’d rather have the amount of spider crab meat that I could get for the price of one lobster.
Why is it important to kill a spider crab humanely?
Because crabs have got such a hard shell, the heat takes a while to permeate. Boiling a crustacean of any kind before killing it completely, is cruel as it takes minutes to die. You’d never cook a fish, or any other kind of meat, alive. Ultimately it’s a living thing, and it’s simply the right thing to do. You have to respect the things that you kill, cook, and prepare.
So tell us, what is the best way to kill a spider crab humanely?
All crabs, regardless of whether they’re female or male, have a flap on their underbelly. There’s a small hole – about half a centimetre – which is their anal tract.
Take a trussing needle or spike – get it lined up with the anal tract hole and use something heavy like a hammer to push the spike into it, and give it a little shake.
It may seem brutal but the harder and the more decisive you are, the better for the crab. It’s the cleanest, quickest, and therefore the most humane way to dispose of a crab. If you absolutely want to make sure, you can then take the spike out, turn the crab over, find the mouth, and then push it straight in there as well.
(You kill a brown crab in the same way as a spider crab.)
What are some common misconceptions about the right way to kill a crab?
A big no-no is to keep live crustaceans of any kind on ice.
“However, the major misconception is that killing a spider crab is hard and fiddly, and so chucking them into boiling water is easier.”
It may be a little time consuming, but once you know what you’re doing, it’s a very easy process and should be included as part of the prep.
How long should you cook a spider crab for?
It’s so common to overcook every kind of shellfish. Of course it depends on the size of crab, but for a really large one, – once you’ve killed it humanely – drop it into boiling water for 8 minutes. This allows the heat into the flesh a little bit, and the residual heat makes a little oven inside the shell. It will continue to cook once it’s out of the water. Less time in the pan is good!
What do you think are some of the best ways to prepare spider crab? Which is your preferred method and why?
Crab is super versatile. You can do so much with it! Recipes for me always depend on the time of year. You can’t go wrong with a spider crab sandwich.
“Crab and pasta just works! It has done for centuries and it always will do; it’s fantastic.”
Crab with tortellini or ravioli is also incredible. The two textures just marry up. And because pasta is such a good carrier, crab meat bound in pasta works so beautifully and effectively. You don’t have to put many other flavours with the pasta dish; simplicity is the best thing. Less is very often more.
But of course there are more complicated things you can do with crab meat. One of my favorite things to do with spider crab is make a soup of some sort. Once you’ve taken all the white meat out of the legs, break up the shells and roast them. You can create this amazing base to make a stock or soup with. Once you’ve done that – simmer the legs gently in boiling water, add vegetables, and you have the foundation of an incredibly tasty feast.
It’s a brilliant recipe to showcase all the different ways you can use spider crab in one dish.
Have you got any tips on getting fresh seafood near you?
Fishmongers are great because they can teach you a lot! Fishing towns are also wonderful because there are lots of little shops dotted around, and you know the fresh fish is coming from within a 5 mile radius.
If you’re brave enough you can chat to a fisherman when they come in from sea and may find that you’ll get a better deal. Do a little research and ground work and build a relationship with a local fisherman so you can stay in the know about what days they’re catching what.
“Certainly at the moment, there’s a real sense of community, and more people are communicating through Facebook groups and selling fish online. What’s in season is so readily available to the local area. People would normally never dream of buying a turbot or a brill for themselves! We want this to continue, even when the time of lockdown is over.”
What is your favourite spider crab recipe?
I’ve got so many! But with crab – keep it simple. Don’t over-embellish it or go OTT!
You can make the stock I mentioned earlier, and emulsify it with butter to make a ‘Beurre Blanc’. Then chuck in some diced shallots, lemon juice, and chives to create a great enriching sauce, but that’s not dominating in flavour.
“There’s also loads of Asian inspired cuisine that works brilliantly with spider crab, as it lends itself so well to those oriental flavours.”
Try a classic Asian salad bursting with colourful crunchy vegetables like carrot, red cabbage, and bean sprouts. Stir through some cooked crab meat, and dress with a fish sauce and sesame oil mix. Adding a fruit like mango, papaya or even dragonfruit really compliments the crab!
As long as you don’t put it in something heavy and rich where the natural flavour will be overpowered, then you can’t go wrong!
Now that you know how to kill a spider crab humanely, check out our guide to preparing it, below!
Inspired to eat more spider crab? Check out Cornish #FishToYourDoor suppliers here.
Head to our Instagram for more tips and tricks on how to prepare and cook this tasty and underrated seafood.
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