Classic King Crab

Please welcome Hank Shaw as he serves up some Alaskan king crab! ~Elise

One of my early memories as a kid was eating piles of Alaskan king crab legs in restaurants. Dipped in lots of melted butter and served with a lemon wedge I rarely used, it was tons of fun pulling big chunks of rich, luscious crab meat from those enormous legs. I grew up in New Jersey, where the much smaller blue crab reigns supreme, so the idea of gigantic crabs up to six feet long wandering around on the bottom of the ocean was both exotic and slightly scary. Eating these crabs was like traveling to a different world.

As I later learned, it was a different world back then. Our family was not particularly wealthy, and I never remember king crab even being in the same class as Maine lobster. King crab was what you got when lobster was too expensive. If you look at the history of the Alaskan king crab fishery, you’ll know why: At precisely the same time I was enjoying mountains of king crab, the fishery was reaching the high-water mark of unsustainability: In 1981, fishermen hauled up 130 million pounds of kings. Two years later, the fishery collapsed.

It took years, but crab stocks did recover. Since then, king crab has been fished sustainably throughout Alaska. And while it will never be inexpensive again, it’s still one of the world’s great luxury foods. Rich, soft and briny, king crab is reminiscent more of lobster than of crab. The meat is also easy to extract and fills the shells, which gives you a good amount of meat per pound — unlike most other crabs.

King crab is best served simply. To do too much to it would be like stuffing caviar into a burrito. Steam it, grill it or even microwave it, and then choose a support player and enjoy. The classic is, was and always will be melted butter and lemon. It is a classic for a reason.

As a consumer, you need to keep in mind two things: First, be certain to buy American crab. There is a lot of inexpensive Russian king crab on the market, and the reason it’s so cheap is because the Russians are destroying their fishery for a quick buck. American fishermen work under strict rules of sustainability, which is why U.S. crab is more expensive. We should reward them for playing fair.

The second thing you need to remember is that virtually all king crab is pre-cooked. It has to be, to preserve freshness. Alaskan king crab is cooked and blast frozen right in the harbor. If they did not, the giant crabs would die and rot within hours. This means that as a cook, you are really reheating king crab, not actually cooking it. So be gentle. I prefer to steam it for 5 minutes and call it a day. King crab really needs nothing else.

Classic King Crab Recipe

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 8 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4.

You could use olive oil instead of butter, but why would you want to?

Ingredients

  • 3-4 pounds Alaskan king crab legs and claws
  • 1 stick of butter
  • Lemon wedges for garnish

Method

1 Melt the butter in a small pan and keep warm on its lowest setting.

2 Set a steamer tray inside a large pot and pour enough water inside to steam the crab. Remember, you are only reheating the crab, so you will only need about an inch of water, tops. Bring this to a boil before laying the crab legs on the steamer. Cover the pot and steam for 5 minutes.

3 Remove the crab legs and use kitchen shears to cut the shells. You can either totally remove the meat from the shell or just get each one started for your guests. Serve with the melted butter.

Links:

King Crab Legs with Avocado Dip, from Eating Richly
King Crab Salad, from La Fuji Mama
King Crab Salad Tacos, from The Pink Apron

King Crab Legs from Simply Recipes

18 Comments

  1. PepperReed

    Yuuuu-uummy! Pass the melted butter and napkins! The only thing I don’t like about KC, is how ‘pokey’ it is to hold. Small potatoes…

  2. McMaggieMom

    love KC! It’s my treat when my husband’s out of town. I make up several packets, 2 legs each. The legs are first wrapped in wet paper towels,then plastic wrap. Zap each pack individually in the microwave for one minute as needed. This way it’s always nice and hot.

  3. Barb

    OMG. Maine lobster is good even great but there is just something about dem tasty crab legs. I agree please buy American. I have been to the docks when they are bringing in their catch. Now I’m hungry for these. Btw photo is quite inviting

  4. Teresa

    Love king crab legs! Steaming is good, but my favorite way to prepare them is to toss those bad boys on the grill after the steaks are done. That smokiness really takes them to the next level….come on, summer!!

  5. Paul Dulaney

    I can remember going almost every Sunday night to “Cork and Clevers” (Memphis) and eating King Crab for $7.95 all you can eat. Yum Yum …I think it was the early 80′s.

  6. Mary

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paralithodes_camtschaticus
    That crab is really a pest in russia and northern scandinavia, some few fishermen see it as good thing but mostly its destroying all other crab species and enviroment. Its not natural in those waters like that wiki article shows. Its invasive pest wich should be get rid of in this side of atlantic.
    Thats the reason not to buy it from russian/norvegian source.

  7. Anna H.

    Woohoo, sustainable fisheries management!

    I could really go for some crab right now. Dang, how I wish that study about crustacean pain hadn’t just come out…

  8. Norman LaBelle

    My future wife & I dated in the early ’80s, out to dinner for a mountain of crab for next to nothing. OH ! How we longlingly remember those days! Like others, we’ll make it at home now for Anniversaries and such. Simple is the only way to go.

  9. Jono

    Head to the Asian market when the King Crab is in season, and you can get LIVE ones from the tanks, for optimal freshness.

    Steamed with lots of garlic, scallions, ginger, and a dash of cooking wine – DELICIOUS! Make sure you get all the juices with a bowl of rice on the side.

  10. Lorraine

    Why not use pure butter? Some of us have enough trouble with cholesterol. I choose to add some olive oil, lemon, white wine or chicken stock, and fresh cilantro. Wonderful flavor and lower in fat!

Post a comment

Your comment may need to be approved before it will appear on the site. Thanks for waiting. First time commenting? Please review the Comment Policy.

Some HTML is OK. URLs are automatically converted to links. Line breaks are automatically converted to paragraphs. The following HTML tags are allowed: a, abbr, acronym, b, blockquote, cite, code, del, em, i, q, strike, strong