Spicy Chinese Long Beans with peanuts
Xiamen style Zongzi for the Dragon Boat Festival

How to Boil a Crab, in China

how to steam a crab

When I was very young we ate a lot of crabs.  Then one summer night we pulled our boat over to a water side marina in Sag Harbor, NY for dinner.  My father ordered crabs, enjoyed them to the fullest and we went on our merry way to the cove we had planned to moor for the night.  Daddy became quickly ill and we got stuck in what I was sure was a hurricane.  The Perfect Storm for a 5 year old.  In the wee hours of the morning we found the sandy stretch of beach we were looking for and my father swore off crabs for life.

Still I am a sucker for the soft, sweet succulent meat of a crab.  Cans of it are a staple in my pantry.  It was not until I made my way to China, where the markets are full of them, that I actually cooked one myself.  Like a lobster, once you get over the torturous end you are inflicting on the crustacean, the sweet rewards are worth the work.

How to steam a crab

Through a lot of miming and body language, I was able to get this simple recipe from the lady who sold this crazy American a mish mash of different crabs.

  • 5 - 10 cups of water, depending on the number of crab, enough so that they arent going to drown.
  • 1 tbsp of sea salt

Preferably in a wok, bring water to a rapid boil. Grasp the live crab by the back legs and stroke the top of its head until it falls asleep and then slowly drop it into the shallow boiling water. Bring the water back to the boil and only then start timing. 

Large crabs (2lb +) 15 - 20 minutes

Small crabs  8 - 10 minutes

Once the water has started to boil again, reduce the heat and simmer, covered for the required time. The crab's shell should turn a bright orange when done. When the crabs are done, immerse them for a few seconds in cold water so that cooking stops and they do not overcook.

Serve immediately with hot melted butter, cocktail or sweet chili sauce.

You can also let the crabs cool down in their shell until they are cool enough for you to remove the meat and refrigerate it until further use. How to Boil a Crab

If you enjoy a good crab:

Photo Credit:  Julie Cecchini


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That's how to BOIL a crab. When steaming them you don't submerge them in boiling water.

A traditional method is to burn wood down to coals, covering with rocks, seaweed, food (crabs, clams, lobsters, fish, corn, onions, etc), then more seaweed. Or just use a steamer.

Terra Americana

Thank you for that clarification.

Steven Smith

You forgot to mention: Use chips from Hickory, Mesquite, or Fruit trees. NEVER USE ANY PITCH CONTAINING WOOD! ( Pine, Fir, Redwood, etc... )

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