Every year in early April, hundreds of fish harvesters comb the frigid waters of the St. Lawrence in Gaspésie, Côte-Nord, in and around Îles-de-la-Madeleine and all the way to New Brunswick in a quest for the elusive snow crab, the most frequently caught crab species. Owing to higher quotas set by Fisheries and Oceans Canada 1 this year, crab aficionados will enjoy much more reasonable pricing (prices had skyrocketed last year to over $38/lb. of cooked crab 2 ) and greater availability—just over 35,000 tonnes of snow crab 3 can be harvested this spring. Once the quota has been reached, the season will come to an end. This usually happens between mid-May and Victoria Day.
Snow crab: how to choose it, keep it fresh and cook it
Because crab only stays fresh in salt water, it’s generally sold cooked. New catches are delivered to fishmongers several times a 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.” Alain 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 enough salted boiling water to cover. Start a 12minute 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 lots of delicious crab meat between the body cartilage that stays attached to the legs when you open up the crab.”
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 the shells away, as they can be used to make seafood stock.
Avocado, green apple, citrus and cilantro all go well with crab. Most seafood connoisseurs prefer to make crab the star, but crab cakes, crab bisque and crab rolls are the new spring staples. Snow crab will really sing with a fresh salad and a glass of Chablis. Or try crab in your risotto, in a béchamel for vol-au-vents or as ravioli filling. We also recommend this layered salad of crab and fennel, which is a wonderful match for this fruity and vibrant Quebec white.
An Origine Quebec product, this dry wine boasts aromas of red berries and pomegranate—a fine balance of sweet and crisp that pairs perfectly with snow crab. You’ll find it among our selection of Fruity and light offerings.
A few tips
- Larger crabs are more expensive by the pound but often have more meat.
- You don’t want to miss out, so call your fishmonger to reserve your snow crab.
- The quicker you eat the crab once it’s cooked, the easier it will be to get the meat out of the shell.
Top photo: Marie Des Neiges Magnan
1,3 Fisheries and Oceans Canada (2023). Total allowable catch and allocation for the scientific survey for snow crab in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence for 2023.
2 La Presse (March 23, 2023). Le prix du crabe s’emballe (article in French only).