Common crabs (cancer pagurus) also known as edible crabs) are very, well, common, and certainly not a fisherman’s friend.
They destroy nets, eat the fish in them and their powerful claws can easily cut your fingers off. The claws are the only part of the common crab that’s usually eaten in Scandinavia. This practice often means that the fishermen tear off the claws and throw the defenseless creatures back into the sea – enough to put off eating the crab at all. And, in fact, the whole beast can be eaten, even if it’s a bit fiddly.
Appearance and taste
Common crabs are sold at a mature age. They are huge – 20-25cm across is not unusual – and have varying colors depending on their habitat. The claws contain fine, thread-like, juicy meat. If you want to eat the crabs whole, female crabs have a broader behind to contain the roe and are much meatier than the males. Crabmeat generally is more fibrous and has a much more distinct taste than other shellfish.
Related: Scandinavian Shellfish and Molluscs
Buying and storing
In Scandinavia claws are not too expensive, but whole crabs you can buy for almost nothing. You should always try to buy whole crabs, and ones that are not only fresh but alive – beware of the claws, though they should normally be clamped by a rubber band. Ready-boiled claws are always overdone, and it’s hard to know if they are fresh enough. If you detect any whiff of ammonia, the meat is too old.
Crabmeat’s strong taste means that it can take a heftier spicing – chili works well – or be made into a spicy salad with a saffron-garlic mayonnaise. The easiest and freshest way to dress the whole crab is to mix the edible parts with a little of your preferred mayonnaise, a little diced celery, cucumber, shelled peas, asparagus, or just lettuce. Serve this salad in the shell, so guests can pick at the claws as well as eat the luscious salad – accompanied by some toasted rye bread or sourdough, of course. Alternatively, crab claws can be grilled whole for 10 minutes under a very hot grill. Eat with a green salad, sourdough, lemon, and a mayonnaise or chervil cream.
Related: Norwegian Crow’s Balls
How to prepare and eat crab
Crabs can be boiled in the same court-bouillon as that used for crayfish. Whether you are preparing whole crabs or claws only, put them in the boiling liquid, cook for 10 minutes, then remove from the heat and leave to cool in the pan. Remove when they have just cooled and, in the case of the claws, crack them with a hammer – preferably outside!
The claws are relatively straightforward: you simply extract the meat with a lobster fork, or a small pointed knife. When it comes to a whole crab, the fun part is to distinguish the edible from the inedible inside it – it’s not difficult but it is messy, which is to reason whole crabs are so cheap.
To begin, pry the top shield off. Stuck inside it is reddish goo, which has a wonderful taste: scrape it into a bowl. The rest of the crab is mostly greenish grills, seemingly made of rock wool, and they must be removed. The rule hereafter is that anything soft and chewable inside the crab is great to eat, including the green, black and brown stuff.
Scandinavian Common Crab, written by Tor Kjolberg