How to Cook and Clean Live Crabs

Crabs are absolutely delicious and in Singapore, many people eat crabs on a regular basis. Even our national dish, chili crabs, is made with this tasty crustacean.

You can find crabs quite easily in Singapore, both at wet markets as well as in supermarkets. If you want to cook crabs at home, you’ll have to learn how to buy your own crabs, clean them and cook them.

It’s actually quite easy to do all three and you can check out our other articles on how to choose the best crabs here.

When you choose a crab to buy, it should be alive, with its front pincers tied up. This is to prevent the crab from injuring you when you hold it. The crab should still be alive and moving when you reach home.

Source: Unsplash

Knowing the Parts of the Crab

In order to clean the crab, you should first learn all the main parts of the crab, to make it easier to understand the following written instructions.

Carapace- The upper shell of the crab

Crab’s apron – A small flap on the underbelly of the crab. In male crabs it is thin and narrow, and on female crabs it is rounder and larger.

Pincers – The two larger claws at the front of the crab with which they use to catch and kill prey.  Crab pincers are very strong and can hurt you, so make sure they’re securely tied up when the crabs are still alive and uncooked.

Crab lungs – Found at the front of the crab just below the Carapace. These section should be removed as it is inedible

Claws – The smaller arms of the crab are called claws and it helps them walk and maintain balance.



Step 1: Humanely Killing the Crab

The first thing to do before you clean a crab is to take its life, but to do it in a humane and painless way. There are several ways to do this that is practiced in different parts of the world. Mainly, there are three methods you can choose from.

  1. Using Your Freezer

Putting the crab into the freezer for at least an hour will make it fall into a sort of coma, meaning it will be inactive when you want to clean it later on. This method is not too popular for those in a rush, as it is pretty time consuming. Furthermore, the crab will not be completely dead when you clean it, just lethargic.

  1. Scalding in Boiling Water

Another method is to boil a large pot of water and dip the crab in it for one minute. Immediately after that, you should plunge the crab into a bowl of ice water to make sure it doesn’t get cooked. This method is popular in western restaurants and kitchens.

Source: Unsplash

  1. Knife Method

This third and last method is the one most widely practiced in Asian kitchens, including Singapore. For this method, you will need a sharp and narrow knife, or even a sharp ice pick.

Locate the top of the crab’s apron (the triangular patterned section on the underbelly) and stab the sharp object firmly right into this spot, through to the carapace.

This punctures the crab’s central nervous system and causes it to be immobilized and unconscious instantly.

 Step 2: Separating The Carapace

Now that the crab has been incapacitated, it’s time to take apart the main shells. First, wash the crabs thoroughly with a scrub or brush to remove any traces of mud on the outside. 

The first step after this is to separate the conical shaped section of the underbelly, known as the crab’s apron. This section can be lifted from its longer side and removed completely.

Once you remove the apron, there will now be an empty space that reaches to the carapace. Grab the carapace and remaining underbelly shell and separate them, starting from  the crab’s lower end.

Once you’ve pulled the carapace apart, you’ll see the crab’s lungs underneath the carapace. This can be removed as they’re indelible. The lungs look like long, finger-like gills that are fibrous. 

Many people keep the carapace as it lends a lovely aroma to the crab dish being cooked. After being cooked, the carapace will still be hard, but it will be filled with rich crab flavor. In Korean culinary culture, people fill the carapace with rice and then eat it in order to capture this rich flavor.

The crab’s carapace is full of flavor. Source: Unsplash

Step 3: Cutting Up the Crab

Once the top of the crab has been separated, the lungs removed and the crab rinsed in water, it’s time to cut it into pieces to make it easier to eat. 

At this point, many people will untie the strings that secure the crab’s front pincers. For Mud Crabs and other crabs with giant front pincers, these pincers will usually be chopped off with a knife.

Subsequently, you can chop the crab’s main body into half at this point, right down the middle. If the crab is very large, you can cut it horizontally in the middle too, and make it four pieces, 

Cutting the crabs into smaller pieces also makes the cooking process a lot faster and easier. 

Once cooked, you can reassemble the crab pieces and pincers, and cover it with the carapace for an impressive presentation. 

Many Crab Recipes in Singapore

If you’re looking for ways to cook your crabs, you can always do it the Singaporean way. The most famous recipe is of course chili crabs. Other alternatives include black pepper, salted egg crab and crab bee hoon.

Source: 8 Crabs

If you’re not up to cleaning and cooking the crabs yourself, you can always opt to have some delicious crabs delivered to your home. One great option is online crab restaurant 8 Crabs, where you can get your crabs delivered within 1 hour of ordering, and deliveries can be made island-wide. This will no doubt save you time, and satisfy your cravings at the same time.

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