Other Names: Dungeness crab, king crab, snow crab, blue crab, stone crab, soft-shell crab
Range & Habitat: North Pacific coast, Atlantic coast from Massachusetts to the Bahamas, Caribbean, Gulf and Florida coasts
Identification & Biology: Crabs are distinguished as ten legged crustaceans, with the front two legs marked by pinchers. This definition, however, includes crabs whose shape, color, and habits are vastly different, usually determined by those features which make them most adaptable to a given habitat. Crabs come in shades of red, blue and brown, and in all sizes. The Alaskan or red king crab, boasts a vivid red shell, and can grow to a tremendous size (25 lbs!), with most of the weight centered in their well-developed legs. By contrast, the Atlantic blue crabs are small swimmers and carry most of their weight in their comparatively stocky bodies.
Market Description: Live crabs in the market look exactly as they do in nature, without the scenic backdrop (see above). Cooked crab meat is sold out of the shell and is white or yellowish white and sometimes ringed with red. It comes in either clumps or flakes. Cooked crab legs or Dungeness crab have bright red shells. Sold as: whole (live or cooked), cooked legs, cooked lump crab meat (from the white meat in the body), flaked (light and dark meat from the claws and body), soft-shell (whole and either alive or dead), frozen, canned, pasteurized
Buying Tips: As with all seafood, fresh (in this case meaning live) is of course best, however, just-cooked crab or crab meat, purchased from a reliable source, can be nearly as good. Generally, the more meat on the crab, the fatter its legs and claws in particular, the more you'll pay, since spindly limbs make for difficult meat-picking. When shopping for snow crab in particular, don't be put off if the shells bear brownish or even black patches -- these are simply a sign of age in the animal, and in no way influence the taste of the sweet, fresh meat.
Substitutes: Often, when a recipe calls for crab, people substitute processed white-fleshed fish (called sea legs or surimi) that has been pinked to look like crab meat, especially in less expensive sushi. Notes: Crab meat is at its most delectable when the fresh meat is picked and eaten straight from the shell. The meat emerges from the shell in pinkish white clumps, tender and succulent.