Category Archives: How To…

How To… Dress a Crab

Preparing Chili Crab in my former Brooklyn apartment.

No, not like the tranny on Eighth Avenue, but how to kill, clean and breakdown a crab for cooking.

Always buy crabs that are alive. First, they taste better and second, dead crabs deteriorate rapidly. I wouldn’t recommend crabs that have already been cooked too, even thought they might be cooked fresh off (sometimes even on) the boat. The crab is often overcooked and you are limited to eating steamed crab, as opposed to a stir-fry or some other cooking technique. 


When buying live crabs, choose active ones and ensure that all it’s legs and claws are intact. When I was in New York, I bought my Dungeness crabs (which are the best for Chili Crab since you can’t find Sri Lankan or Mud crabs in NYC, thanks Fatty Crab for the idea) from a small hole-in-the-wall seafood stall on Mott Street, in chinatown. The crabs were relatively cheap there and always vigorous. Once I bought three crabs to take to Boston. I put them in a bag full of ice, boarded the Chinatown bus and they survived the whole trip. 

“I’m Freeeee!” This one crawled off the counter. You can run Crabby, but you’ll only die tired.

Are you ready?

The first time I had to kill something for cooking, I almost freaked out. It was a lobster and as I was putting my knife though it’s head, it started frantically writhing in my hands. I think I threw up in my mouth a little. I subdued it again and plunged my knife into the shallow wound I created earlier. I wanted to end it as quick as possible. You have to have a certain violence of action to dispatch the crab as quickly as possible so that it won’t suffer. As Sean Connery said in The Rock, “You must never hesitate.”

Ready now?

First turn the crab on its back. There should be a little slit right between and below its eyestalks. This “mouth” is the easiest opening for your knife. Force your knife sharply through in a downward stabbing motion and then cut to the direction of the eyestalks where its “brain” is located.


Twist your knife to the side so that it enlarges the wound. (You can thank the army for teaching me that.) The idea is cause as much damage as possible, and to increase your chances of destroying its “brain” in the least amount of time. Hopefully you would have killed the crab almost instantaneously. This is probably the most humane way to kill a crab.


Even with a gaping hole, the crab might still be twitching. It’s already dead; its body just hasn’t gotten the message yet.


Next, pull off the top carapace from the main body. Take the top carapace in one hand and the main body in the other, now pry them apart. (This is probably the grossest part.)


The top carapace should come away as one piece.


 Pull off the gills, also known as dead man’s fingers from the crab.


The de-gilled crab. It might look unappetizing, but fresh crab is really delicious. It’s worth the effort! 


Now locate the “mouth plate” at the front of the crab.


Pull it out.


At this point your crab is more or less cleaned. Some people like the tomalley, the yellow-green stuff left on the body, others think it’s a health risk because there might be a build up of toxins if the crab lived in polluted waters. Discard it if you want. All you have to do now is split the crab in half.


Use a cleaver or a heavy chef’s knife and press down right in the middle of the crab. You should be able to slice cleanly through.


Your crab is now ready to be cooked. Happy eating!