Dungeness Crab 101 with Hi-Gear Seafood

A live Dungeness crab with banded pincers

Dungeness Crab – it’s luxurious, rich and a common find in the Pacific seas off our island. High in protein and low in fat, the only real downfall is that getting the meat out of the shell can often be a tad tedious. The basic preparation is rather simple and perfect for outdoor BBQ’s, So if you’ve always wanted to give Dungeness Crab a go but were unsure of where to start, here’s a brief lesson on this tasty crustacean.


Tim Webster, owner of Hi-Gear Seafood. Photos by Ellie Shortt




The Classroom:

Hi Gear Seafood, 27 Erie St Victoria. (250) 361-5846 Website: www.bccrab.com


The Teacher:

For over 25 years, Tim Webster worked as a fisherman with a special knack for crabbing. In 2008 Tim decided that the life of a fisherman was no longer for him and began the process of converting Hi-Gear Seafood, the company he started with his wife Margaret in 1985, into a distributor of high quality seafood for wholesale vendors, restaurants and other retail partners. While Tim and his wife Margaret began selling direct to the public from their boat, they have since expanded their business into a high volume operation with heavyweight clients such as Thrifty Foods.


Lesson 1: Where to Find Dungeness Crab

Dungeness Crab ranges from Southern California to Alaska and can be found in water depths less than 3m or more than 200m. Webster notes that Victoria is a great place to buy Dungeness Crab because of the freshness of the source and the number of knowledgeable retailers such as Finest at Sea and Thrifty Foods, which run a live crab program at a number of their outlets. In addition to these vendors, The Fish Store located at Fisherman’s Wharf in James Bay also carries Dungeness Crab, and Hi-Gear still sells crab straight from their boat on weekends.


Lesson 2: When and Where to Buy Dungeness Crab

Dungeness Crab is available in Victoria year round, and the proper grading process ensures that the consumer always ends up with good quality, hard-shelled crab. What can change throughout the year, however, is the number of crab available according to the catch rate. This affects the price, which has become increasingly fickle as a result of offshore demand. Webster says that generally speaking, crab is pricier from March to June and then again in the fall. He adds that crab numbers tend to rise beginning in late June and into the summer as Hecate Strait, Boundary Bay and the Fraser River begin to open for fishing.


Lesson 3: Don’t be a Softy – Quality and Freshness of Dungeness Crab

Quality Dungeness Crab has a hard shell and has filled out with meat since its last moulting, whereas a crab of lesser quality has a soft shell and is full of water instead of meat. To check the crab for hardness, gently squeeze the second or third leg back, or get your thumb in between the claw and the underside or “wing” of the carapace and give it a firm press. If the grab is good to go there should be very little or no give. You can even do a quick visual test by checking out the colour of the crab. A whitish hue may signify a softer shell, whereas a harder crab tends to have a darker brown to purple tone. But Webster argues that the best way to ensure the quality of your crab is to purchase it from a trusted retailer.


Lesson 4: The General Size and Cost of a Dungeness Crab

At the current retail level, the price of Dungeness Crab can fluctuate anywhere between $6 per lb and $12 per lb, with sizes ranging from approximately 1.5 lbs to over 2 lbs.


Lesson 5: How to Prepare Dungeness Crab:

For purists like Webster, less is more, and this is also a good method for more casual BBQ’s or if you’re new to cooking crab and want to keep it simple


Step 1: Clean the crab (or simply get the person behind the counter to do it for you).


Step 2: In a large pot boil or steam the crab for 7-10 minutes, making sure not to overcook.


Step 3: While the crab is cooking, melt some butter with minced garlic and lemon juice (the amount of lemon and garlic is up to you, depending on taste).


Step 4: Once the crab is cooked, Webster suggests putting it on ice to cool. You can also run it under cold water in the sink.





Step 5: Crack the middle of the crab open on a hard narrow surface like the edge of a bucket and begin to separate the pieces. You can also break up the crab by removing the “apron,” the ribbed bottom of the crab, and the carapace will detach from the body, bringing with it some innards and guts.


Step 6: Remove all soft spongy bits like the gills and give the crab another rinse if it needs further cleaning.


Step 7: Isolate bits of meat by further cracking open the crab with a tool or your teeth. You can also use the sharp pointed leg segments to pick out stubborn bits of meat. Dip your findings in the butter sauce and enjoy!


Webster recommends a finger bowl for this method, along with a nice lager or a cool glass of white wine.


For more recipes head to the recipe section of the Hi-Gear website.





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