Like clockwork, every year around April 1, about 100 fish harvesters comb the frigid waters of the St. Lawrence from Gaspésie, Côte-Nord and Îles-de-la-Madeleine all the way to New Brunswick to bring back some 43 000 tonnes of snow crab—the most caught crab species.
This spring’s early ice melt means that snow crab has found its way to your local fishmonger ahead of schedule. The season promises to be a good one, though prices will increase to around $24/pound since COVID-19 restrictions prevent boats from heading out to Alaska. That spells limited stock of the especially popular spring delicacy. The season ends when harvesters reach their quotas, usually between mid-May and National Patriots’ Day.
Snow crab: how to choose it, keep it fresh and cook it
Because crab really only stays fresh in salt water, it’s generally sold cooked. New catches are delivered to fishmongers throughout the week, and you can keep your crab in the fridge for up to a day (up to 12 hours for live crab). According to fishmonger Alain Pronkin, your nose knows: “If you smell something like ammonia or fish food, that’s not a good sign. Fresh crab smells good.” Pronkin suggests reheating the crab in a steamer basket over boiling water for a few minutes. Popping it in the oven can cause it to dry out, and boiling water will alter the salt content. If you’ve got a live one, separate the legs from the body by holding them firmly and pulling them in a swift downward motion. Then, cook them as you would lobster: in salted boiling water to cover. Start a 12-minute timer when the water returns to a boil after you’ve submerged the legs.
Getting to the good stuff
Connoisseurs are categorical: crab is meant to be eaten with your hands. Twist the legs and claws to detach them from the body and crack the joints. To get the meat out, grab a pair of scissors and a narrow fork. Pierre Girardin likes to use a small Opinel knife.
“Besides the legs and claws, there’s so much delicious crab meat between the body cartilage that stays attached when you open up the crab,” he explains.
Crab is best served cold or lukewarm, with homemade mayo, fresh bread and a salad. Garlic butter isn’t the best option, since it overpowers the crab’s subtle flavour. And don’t throw any of it away, since the shells are perfect for seafood stock.