Friday, January 20, 2012

Crabby When Wrong

“I may be wrong but” is one of the ways I preface a statement when I really think I'm right but trying not to be too obnoxious.  Which is probably fairly obnoxious…

For years I’ve cooked Dungeness crabs in plain boiling water, no spices (horrors) and no salt.  The crabs are always stunningly delicious and sweet.  Divine really. But meanwhile my fishmonger, Paul Johnson (owner of Monterey Fish and author of 2008 IACP Cookbook of The Year, Fish Forever) insists that lots of salt in the water is really important.  I’ve been nagged by cognitive dissonance—I think Paul is fantastic AND I think my boiled crabs are fantastic.  I finally decided to test.  I bought two crabs—lets not tell Paul that all of the crabs at Monterey Fish were spoken for on the day I woke up with this bee in bonnet, and so I had to buy them across town... 

I boiled two big pots of water.  Into one pot I measured exactly ¼ cup of sea salt for each gallon of water, so you (or Paul) couldn’t say I didn’t do it exactly right. 

I took photos of the pots of boiling water and the crabs, so that when I turned out to be right, I could post the story with photos. 

The crab cooked in unsalted water was divine, just as I thought. 

But the crab cooked in salted water was a little bit more divine. 

Okay.  Okay. 

I’m posting anyway. 


  1. Haha, too funny - and your admission certainly proves that the use of "I may be wrong, but" is certainly not obnoxious!

    I am from Dungeness (Sequim, WA) and remember crabbing with my grandpa, and boiling our haul on the backyard patio in big pots of sea water. Time to recreate this in my kitchen!

  2. I have never, sadly, cooked Dungeness crabs. But now, it's all I can think about this morning. I'm going to ring up my local fishmonger and see if he's carrying them. Btw, your poached egg technique is terrific and makes SO much sense to my always asking "why" brain.

  3. Melissa, putting salt in the water is supposed to emulate the effect of cooking the critters in sea water. Makes sense. My dad used to cook for us on the beach....your crabs-on-the-patio memory reminds me!

    1. The Chinese usually steam their crabs (as with most seafoods) as opposed to boiling them so that no flavour gets lost into the water. For my taste crabmeat is plenty salty enough - did you not find the crab too salty when you cooked it in salted water?

    2. Thanks Henry. You and others have convinced me that steaming might be even better! I'm steaming the next ones. Can't wait. Will report back.

  4. Great post! Just long do you cook these beauties for?

  5. I put the crabs in boiling water, waited until water came back to boil, then counted 17 minutes for a 2 1/2 pound crab. I generally use timing instructions from Fish Forever. Cooking your own is better than buying them precooked....and if you can clean them just before serving they taste best of all.