In sandwiches, with pasta, in salads, with chilli - there are a multitude of ways to enjoy this most versatile of seafoods. White crab meat (from the claws) rivals, or exceeds, lobster for flavour and succulence and needs very little fiddling with to create masterful dishes such as Crab Salad.
Crabs first evolved in the Jurassic period (the horseshoe crab dates back over 200 million years). They have been caught and eaten throughout human history.
Crabs are crustaceans belonging to the order Decapoda (which includes lobsters and prawns). There are around 4,500 species of crab, ranging in size from the 5mm wide pea crab to the Japanese spider crab with a leg span in excess of 2m.
Purchasing a live crab will ensure maximum freshness. Whole cooked crabs or fresh crab meat from a trusted supplier are perfectly adequate alternatives.
Use the Good Fish Guide to make better informed choices when buying seafood.
Live crabs should be refrigerated and cooked on the day of purchase. Cooked fresh crab meat will be fine in the fridge for 3 or 4 days and can be frozen.
The RSPCA publishes detailed instructions on how to humanely kill crabs and other crustacea (dropping into boiling water is not recommended, some research suggests that crabs feel pain). Cook crabs by boiling - 20 minutes for crabs up to 1kg and 10 minutes per kg after that.
Once cooked and cool enough to handle, twist off the claws and legs. Knock the underside of the body on the chopping board and push your thumbs on the crab's back to prise the body section away from the shell. Remove and discard the stomach sac (just behind the mouth) and the soft gills (dead man's fingers) - these are readily identifiable and will come away easily. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the brown meat from inside the shell, not forgetting the crevices where the claws and legs join the body. Crack the legs and claws with a rolling pin or nutcracker and prise out the white meat using a skewer.
Hermit crabs have a soft abdomen and make their homes in the empty shells of whelks or winkles for protection. The robber or coconut crab, found in the South Pacific, climbs palm trees to feed on coconuts.
Chitin (pronounced kite-in), a substance derived from the shells of crabs and lobsters, has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties and is used in wound dressings and burn treatments.