Crab legs are certainly a delicacy, but serving guests with a whole crab can add spectacle and romance to any event. Whole Dungeness crabs are platter-sized and have some of the sweetest crab meat available. Dungeness crabs are the most common commercial crab harvest on the West Coast of North America, named for the town of Dungeness, Washington. Crabs are available fresh or frozen. The frozen crabs are usually precooked and can be eaten defrosted and cold, without being heated.
Frozen Cooked Dungeness Crab
To heat up frozen, precooked Dungeness crab use a pot that will fit the crab laid flat on the bottom. Make the water deep enough to cover the crab. Bring the water to a roiling boil and place the frozen crab inside. Keep heat on high to maintain the boil--adjust lower if it looks like it is going to boil over. Foam may form--scoop it out with a ladle or lower the heat and leave the top off. Boil for about 12 minutes. You can add salt or vinegar to the water to improve the taste of the crab.
Frozen Uncooked Dungeness Crab
Defrost and cook frozen, uncooked crab by placing it in boiling water. For large crabs, boil up to 30 minutes; for smaller crabs, 20 minutes.
You can safely defrost a small uncooked crab for use in a "fresh" crab recipe by placing it in the refrigerator overnight in a bowl, pot or pan filled with water. Add about a teaspoon of salt per gallon of water and cover. Make sure the crab is fully defrosted before you continue with any recipe for fresh crab--if part of the crab is still frozen, it won't cook properly. If you see any ice in the bowl when you want to start cooking, the crab is partially frozen. For larger crabs, leave in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
Frozen Dungeness crabs will last several months in the freezer due to a protective ice glaze that keeps them from drying out. Frozen seafood, like crab, can spoil quickly if not properly defrosted or cooked. The FDA has standards for processing and freezing of seafood that must be followed from the fisherman to the fishmonger. A few steps on your part will provide a healthy, safe and delicious hot crab meal.
When defrosting, make sure your crab is always refrigerated. Don't put the crab out on the counter for a few hours. As the shell warms and the inside remains frozen, bacteria may be activated that will spoil the flavor and can cause food poisoning.
You need to add salt to the water to keep the crab meat firm. Fresh water puffs up the crab meat, makes the flesh mushy, and dilutes the flavor.