Crab, for fun and flavour

You cannot be considered areally, truly, serious, fun- loving cook until you have attempted to cook a giant crab. They are so intimidating, so large, so handsome, so admirable and so wonderful to eat, so satisfying and such a joy to cook successfully.

Crabs are also, despite what you might think, desperately simple to cook well.

It’s just the size that has you wondering. But do try a crab, at least once in your life. The flesh and texture are at the very top of my list of all-time greats.

Those most readily available are the King Island variety and the Queensland mud crab. You’ll see them wrapped in thick bands, usually still alive, eyes darting, often at the fish market rather than the suburban fishmonger’s.

If you’re lucky enough to have a terrific fishmonger, make a special order of a big crab now and then. The first job to consider when you have a crab sitting on the kitchen table is how to invade that impressive armour and get at the wonderful flesh inside. Do it the way you feel most comfortable.

There is another factor to consider — where to eat it. I have come up with three alternatives: over the kitchen sink; in the bath; or in a concreted yard, with a hose handy. Eating crab is the adult version of tossing mud pies.

Whatever you do with the crab, don’t smother the flesh with sauce. It is at its best when cooked in a richly

flavoured sauce, but that sauce should merely be allowed to touch the flesh, rather than overwhelm it or confuse it. Any leftover sauce should be kept aside for a luscious pasta or rice dish the next day. And don’t forget to retain the shell, and any bits and pieces. A crab soup is nearly as good as the first taste of the flesh.

For two, three, four, five, or six people.

1 live king crab, about 2kg

2 onions, chopped finely

½ cup sweet wine (dry, if you haven’t got it)

6 rich, ripe tomatoes, skinned, chopped roughly

2 chillies, sliced roughly

2 walnut-sized pieces of ginger, chopped roughly

3 cloves garlic, sliced finely

2 sticks of celery, chopped

2 carrots, chopped roughly

1 potato per person, peeled and cut in half

salt 3 cups water ½ cup best soy sauce ½ cup virgin olive oil

bunch of coriander, chopped roughly

black pepper


To kill a live crab — presuming its weapons are well tied — turn it on its back, lift its tail flap and stick a skewer through its stomach and out its eye. For the crab, that will be that.


Soften the onions in a little olive oil, then cover with the wine. Cook quickly, making sure the onions do not burn. When most of the wine has evaporated, and the onions have softened, add the tomatoes, chillies, ginger, garlic, celery, carrots, potatoes, salt and water, and allow to bubble away until the tomatoes have softened — about 15-20 minutes.


Add the soy sauce, olive oil and coriander, and simmer. The stock/sauce is ready when the potatoes are done, the water has evaporated and the sauce is thick. Season with black pepper.


Now to the crab. With a strong knife, tear away the carapace by sliding the knife between the top and bottom shells. Run your fingers around the inner shell and remove all the muck. You will see good flesh clinging here and there. Tear away the legs and the claws.


Wrap a table-cloth around your neck (nothing smaller will do) and get ready to eat. Throw the body, claws and legs into the bubbling sauce first and cover. Allow to cook for a few minutes, then take out the claws and crack them with a nutcracker. Put them back after cracking, to allow some of the stock to get into the flesh while you are eating the legs. The claws will take about 5 minutes, the legs about 4. When the claws are ready, remove and start eating. Suck out the flesh and slurp on any sauce clinging to the legs/claws. Take the potatoes from the pot and scoff them between legs. (I know, I know, it sounds like a party trick. What I am saying is suck a leg, then a potato, then a leg, etc.)


Don’t worry too much about making mistakes. If the flesh is a little undercooked, just toss it back into the sauce and keep sucking. There will be spots of crab meat and sauce all over you, your napkin, the table and the floor.


When it’s all over, put all the leftover vegetables and herbs and shells and leg debris into another pan and cover with a cup of white wine and 4 cups of water. Bring to the boil and allow to simmer gently. This should bubble as long as your nose can stand, until heavily flavoured. Leave overnight, then remove the shells and serve as a soup/stew with plenty of bread.

WINE: A good rich chardonrtay is the go here. Don’t use your best crystal, as you might have hands that are a bit crabby. The best Hunter, McLaren Vale and Yarra Valley chardonnays are perfect. Or there is, of course, XXXX.

One Response to “Crab, for fun and flavour”

  1. [...] in the eastern way (view recipe). Another marvellous memory, buoyed in this case by the brilliant texture and flavour of the giant [...]