If you go to a restaurant and order crab, you won’t be seeing all of the behind the scenes work that it takes to get your fresh crab to your plate. However, if you’ve ever trapped and prepared your own crabs, you’re all too familiar with all the work it takes. You’ll need to cook and package the crabs almost immediately upon catching them to avoid spoiling the meat.
You should never freeze live crabs. This is because when a crab is frozen, the crab will die and its liver will release toxins that spoil the crab. To prevent this from happening, you will need to freeze the crabs after cooking using one of the three methods mentioned in this article.
Even before freezing your crabs, it is important to handle your live crabs correctly. This will help to keep the meat in as good of condition as possible. Handling your crabs incorrectly could cause the crabs to become stressed, ruining the quality of the meat.
How Should You Handle Live Crabs?
When you purchase live crabs, it is important to handle them correctly. If you don’t handle them correctly, there is a chance that they could die before you have the chance to cook them. This can cause rapid bacterial growth to occur, causing food poisoning or other foodborne illness if you eat the crab.
Ideally, you want to keep the crabs alive right up until when you are ready to cook them. The best way to do this is to store the crabs at a low temperature in a cooler with salt water.
The cool temperatures will help to slow their respiration and heart rate down, allowing them to survive longer in less than ideal conditions. If you can, you can also give them salt water and aerate it using a bubbler. This will enable them to survive even longer, giving you more time to cook them.
When you have live crabs, you want to avoid handling them as much as possible. Crabs are susceptible to stress and if you handle them too much, this could cause them to expire more quickly.
As soon as the crab dies, their liver will begin to break down and release certain enzymes. These enzymes rapidly deteriorate the flesh of the crab and cause bacteria to grow. Even within an hour of death, the quality of crab meat will have significantly deteriorated.
The Right Way to Freeze Crabs
If you don’t want to eat your live crabs right away, the best way to preserve them is to freeze them. However, you won’t want to freeze them right away before cooking them. This will kill the crab and even though it is frozen, you will experience some deterioration from the enzymes in the liver.
To avoid this and keep the meat as fresh as possible, you will want to cook the crabs before freezing them. This will stop the deterioration process and allow you to have fresh crab meat several months later by pulling it from the freezer.
There are two different methods for freezing your crab meat. You can either pick the crabs and freeze the meat or freeze the whole crab with the shell.
Pick the crabs & freeze the meat
The first option for freezing your crabs is to pick them and then freeze the meat. To do this, you will cook your fresh crabs the normal way, by dropping them into boiling water and waiting until they are fully cooked.
After they have been fully cooked, you will remove them from the water and allow them to cool down. You can either let them rest at room temperature or place them in cold water to speed up the cooling down process.
Once the crabs have cooled you will break the shells and remove the crab in chunks. Try to do this in as large of pieces as possible to make it easier to freeze. However, you will still get the same flavor if you shred it out using a fork.
After all the flesh has been removed you will want to vacuum seal it in freezer bags. This step is important because you want as little air in the bag as possible. This will help to keep the crab meat from drying out and also prevent freezer burn, a common problem with water-rich foods.
If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, you can simply use high-quality freezer bags and squeeze as much air out of them as possible.
Once the crab meat is packaged you can place it in the freezer where it will stay good for about 3-6 months. This method is best for recipes like soups or dips where the texture of the crab isn’t as important.
Cook the crabs & freeze them whole
Another option, which will take quite a bit less time, is freezing the crabs whole. This method is best if you want to be able to preserve the flavor and texture as much as possible. The shell acts as an extra protective layer against the cold environment of the freezer.
For freezing crabs whole you will want to boil the whole crabs until they are fully cooked. Then you will remove them and allow them to cool.
After the crabs are fully cooled you should try to dry them off as well as you can. Resting them on dry paper towels for several minutes can help to drain away the excess water caught in their shells.
Once you think the crabs are dry enough, simply package them into freezer bags, squeeze the air out, then toss them in the freezer. They should stay good in the freezer for about 3 months using this method.
One thing to remember with this method is that you are not removing any of the guts from the crab. So if you are concerned about having the guts with your crab meat, you may want to use the first or third method where the guts are removed.
Cook, Clean, and Freeze
The last method that you can use is very similar to the previous one, except you’ll be removing the guts.
Start out the same way as all the previous methods. Cook the crabs in boiling water until they are completely done and then cool them fully before proceeding to the next step.
Before freezing the crabs you will want to clean them. To do this you will want to grab onto the top of the crab’s shell, there are usually two flared pieces on either side and use that to crack the back off. When you pull it off, you’ll likely notice that the majority of the organs come with it.
To remove the rest of the organs you can rinse the crab under cool running water and gently pull the rest out. Do your best not to rip them to avoid getting the contents on the rest of the meat.
After all the organs have been removed you will want to dry off the exposed meat as much as possible. You can either leave the rest of the meat in the shell or remove it for a method more similar to the first.
Make sure to package your crabs in high-quality freezer bags to prevent quality loss. Using this method, your crab meat will stay fresh for around 3 months before it should be thrown away.
The next time you go out crabbing, make sure that you are prepared with the right equipment to transport and process your live crabs. You’ll want to make sure you have a cooler that is filled with enough water to allow the crabs to breathe. This will keep them as fresh as possible until you can prepare them.
If you are going to freeze your crabs, make sure to cook them first. This helps to prevent your crabs from spoiling while they are in the freezer. If you freeze them before cooking, the crab will die and its liver will cause the meat to decompose.