by Gordon MacDonald •
For anglers fishing Moreton Bay and other waters, setting a few crab pots can offer a great addition to your seafood feast at the end of the day. Both sand and blue swimmer crabs are fairly abundant and relatively easy to catch in a baited safety pot. Sometimes legal sized male crabs can be scooped from the water’s surface or the shallows with a scoop net.
However you source them, cooking and cleaning them properly will help you get the best from these exceptionally sweet seafood delights. The whole process of cooking and cleaning crabs is fairly simple and numerous crabs can be processed in a fairly short time. It is advisable to keep your crabs alive until you are ready to cook them. Once they have been removed from your crab pot, this can be achieved by storing them in a cool, damp area. An old esky with a little bit of seawater in the bottom is ideal.
There is no need to tie up sand and blue swimmer crabs as you do with mud crabs, as their claws are much less powerful and they move a lot slower in a gangly fashion. If they did happen to latch onto you, they won’t do anywhere near the damage that a muddy could and you will be strong enough to pry their claw off anyway. A bit of ice in the water will slow any crabs down considerably.
If kept cool and in a bit of seawater (just enough to just keep them damp) sand and blue swimmer crabs can last for several days. Water should be changed at least once or twice a day. If any die, remove them from the others quickly and discard them. Techniques and cook times for mud crabs are different to sand and blue swimmer crabs but for now let’s just concentrate on a basic way to cook and clean your sand and blue swimmer crabs.
To kill your crabs, place them on ice or in the freezer for half an hour. If you don’t kill them before cooking, many of the appendages will fall off the crab as soon as they hit the boiling water. Additionally, this is the most humane way to kill them.
Use a pot large enough to cook several crabs at once. Fill it over halfway with water then add salt until you get salinity similar to seawater. You can transport some clean seawater home from your trip to cook your crabs in if you wish. Put the pot on heat and bring the water to the boil. Only put your crabs in once it’s boiling.
For two crabs, boil for roughly eight minutes. Seven minutes should do for one crab and a use maximum of ten minutes for four or more crabs. Remove them quickly from the water with some tongs once the time is up.
Put the crabs in a bowl, bucket or the esky and immediately cover them with ice. For a larger number of crabs, pre-mix an ice slurry of ice and salt water. This will stop the cooking process quickly by cooling them down rapidly. Once cooled, the crab can be cleaned. If you want to store a crab for a few days before cleaning, put it in a sealed plastic bag to prevent it drying out.
To begin cleaning, turn the crab upside down and lift the tip of the v-shaped flap away from the body. Pry off the entire upper shell (carapace) in one piece to expose the guts and gills.
Pry out the guts in the cavity at the front of the crab with your finger. Wash the remaining gunk out using a high-pressure tap. The gills (pictured, under the thumb) are the next part to be removed from both sides of the crab. These can easily be torn away. With the gills, guts and carapace removed, the bulk of the dirty work is done.
Next you have to break up the crab and extract the flesh. Use downwards pressure on both sides of the crab and upwards pressure in the middle to crack it in half. The small flap at the front of the crab with the brown gunk on it can be cracked off and discarded now too.
If you’re serving the crab in pieces for a seafood feast, break it into 4-6 portions to provide single serves that can be thrown on a plate for the individual to finish prying the meat out.
The meatiest part of a sand or blue swimmer crab is the body. The meat is in little pockets that are divided by a crisp, yet easily breakable shell.
To remove this meat you can use your fingers to crack the shell and push the soft white flesh out of the shell pockets. If cooked properly the meat will be moist and white yet firm.
Use a small mallet or the handle of a knife to crack the hard shell of the claw and section above it. Break the shell in half carefully to expose the meat intact. These ‘crab lollypops’ can be served like this or you can remove the meat all together.
The thin leg sections can be cracked through at one end and then squeezed firmly between thumb and forefinger to prise out the meat.
With a nice plate of crab meat and some crab lollypops you now have the tough decision whether you are going to eat it immediately or get back to work and clean the rest of the crabs first. On fresh bread with some salt, pepper, lemon juice and a little seafood sauce, the crab will be delicious. A beer may also be required to wash it down sufficiently.