How to Invite a King Crab to Dinner
by James McConnell, Slippery Salmon Bar & Grill
King Crab is everyone’s “fave”; however it is often a messy challenge to eat in a restaurant, that being a long gnarly, prickly shell on a plate that always seems too small. Well, at the Slippery Salmon we break down that crab leg to give you an easy eat and plenty of the better portions of the leg meat. Here’s how we do it.
Thaw your legs out in a sink or cold water bath; you want them pliable and able to come apart at the joints easily. You can do this when they are frozen but that won’t help remove the tendon that runs between the segments. Once thawed, grab a full leg and starting from the front segment put one hand on each segment with your thumb and forefinger at the joint. Bend the segments apart remembering to squeeze your thumb and finger into the joint to make sure the meat does not try to pull out in this process. When separated you will have one loose segment with the tendon still attached and the other part of the remaining leg piece. Move to the next segment and do the same. This will take care of the first two segments and leave you with the larger front (forearm) segment and the attached body knuckle as we call it.
At that point take each segment and with a heavy knife cut cross-ways on the ends (the elbows as we call them) and cut off about ¼ inch on each end. When done, if you want, you can simply shake the segment until the full leg muscle falls out of the shell. At the Salmon we harvest the meat from the first three segments for our King Crab Grilled Cheese Sandwich and serve only the larger forward segment and the body knuckle for our dinners. Do the same process to the forearm and body knuckle. Once the knuckle is removed, cut it open lengthwise to expose all the succulent meat. We then take the forearm and cut it crosswise into two or three pieces, leaving the meat in the shell for appearance and presentation. If you want to serve the smaller segments with dinner, do the same with them and put all pieces gently into a strainer that can be dropped easily into a pot of very hot, salted water.
ALWAYS REMEMBER, KING CRAB IS ALREADY COOKED, DON’T COOK IT TWICE! STEAMING AND BOILING ARE SECOND COOKING PROCESSES AND WILL DRY OUT THE MEAT TERRIBLY. This is the key to serving excellent vs. dry crab. We bring salted water to a boil, turn it down very low and when ready to serve we lower the strainer into the pot for 30-45 seconds on thawed segments and up to 3 minutes on frozen segments. Note: If you are putting frozen segments into the water the tendons will have broken off during the separation process and will be inside the meat on the next larger portion. If you drop whole legs in and separate after heating the segments can be taken apart without breaking the tendon; but that makes for a messy dinner process for your guests.
At the Salmon, we serve leg portions with butter and lemon as the “standard” dressing. A great twist on that for home parties, and your show-off skills, is to mix equal parts of clarified butter and extra virgin olive oil with chopped garlic and either fresh lemon or lime juice. At home, for group parties, I drop all the pieces into my faithful Caesar salad bowl then toss them with the above hot dressing. This all goes onto a large platter for family-style serving. You will be amazed how everyone gets an even share of each size of leg segment and no one has to help anyone else clean the meat out of the leg portions.
Prep time is not as long as it seems but more importantly this process gives everyone a fair shot at all sizes of the segments and makes sure no one walks away with sore hands or wasted, unpicked crab segments.
James McConnell is the General Manager of the Ramada Inn and Slippery Salmon Restaurant in downtown Anchorage.