Crab Masterclass

With Tatiana Bento of Marmalade Cookery School


With Tatiana Bento of Marmalade Cookery School

All too often the instructions for preparing a fresh crab are brief and not detailed enough, and tell of scary things like “dead man’s fingers” that must be removed at all cost. Here TATIANA BENTO of Marmalade Cookery School removes the mystique of crab preparation. If you don’t want to kill the crab yourself, they are available to purchase ready cooked from reputable seafood retailers in Swansea market.

How to select, store, kill, cook, prepare and serve your crab


The best way to choose a live crab is to actually handle them so, pick up several different crabs and try to go for the heaviest for its size. Make sure it’s alive and kicking.

Also pay attention to the colour of the shell. Every time a crab changes it shell, the new shell remains “half” empty as the crab grows to fill it fully and eventually starts producing a new one. Newly formed shells are lighter in colour so always go for dark; there are better chances you crab will be full that way. Photo #1


Live brown crabs can stay alive for two to three days if they are kept cold and damp, ideally in the bottom if your fridge, inside a box, covered with a damp cloth or wet newspaper. Do not put them into fresh water and don’t forget to check regularly, so if they do die, they can be cooked immediately. When cooked they can be stored in the coldest part of the fridge for up to three days.


Why should you kill your crab before you cook it?

1. The method used is kindest to the crab and it causes less suffering.

2. If you put a crab straight into boiling water, it will shed its legs and claws and it does suffer.

3. Not killing the crab makes the meat tough and retains too much water in the shell.

There are several ways of killing a crab but this one is considered to cause less suffering to the animal. Place the crab in the freezer for about 20 minutes until it becomes completely dormant and its nervous system shuts down, this way it won’t feel pain. Remove the crab and turn it upside-down so the legs are facing up.

Underneath, towards the back of the shell, you will see a small pointed flap. Lift this flap and you will find a small dent in the shell. Using a small screwdriver pierce down through this hole, tap the top of the screwdriver, until you feel it hit the other side of the shell. Photo #2

Move the handle of the screwdriver sharply towards the back of the shell then withdraw it.  Next push the screwdriver in through the mouth area, point downwards into the back of the shell and, sweep from side to side. Photo #3

Finally turn the crab right side up and allow it to drain.


Using the largest saucepan you have, half fill with fresh water and add plenty of salt (or sea water if you have access to it, no need for salt in that case). Use about 1 Tbsp salt to each litre of water, and bring to a vigorous boil.

Drop the crab in. When the water comes back to the boil, start timing. Cook crabs up to a kilo for around 15 minutes. For bigger crabs the usual rule is a minute for every extra 100g.

When the time is up, carefully pour the whole lot into your sink and wash off the crab with fresh water to remove any surplus protein.

Allow the crab to cool completely, at room temperature, before preparing it.



Step 1:Start by removing all the legs of your crab. Do this by twisting the joint that connects to the body. Photo #4

Step 2: Now that the body has no legs, remove the flap. Get a strong blade in the gap were the flap used to connect to the body and crack it open. Now with the help of your fingers separate the lower part of the body from the top shell trough the opening you just made with your blade. Photo #5 & #6

Step 3: Starting with the top shell, press the mouthparts into the shell until they click and come away from the shell, remove them; it should bring attached a mass of bony and gelatinous bits – these are just parts of the digestive tract. Keep any brown meat that comes attached to it. Photo #7

Scoop everything else out of the shell into a bowl, discarding any hard or “plastic looking” bits and mash it to a homogenous paste with the back of a fork. That’s your brown meat. Photo #8

Step 4: Back to the main body. Remove and discard the dead man’s fingers from around the core. These are the greyish-looking gills that help our crab to breath, though they won’t cause you any harm, they have an unpleasant texture and taste. Photo #9

The main body of your crab is formed by mainly 2 sides, in-between them you’ll find more brown meat so get your finger (or a spoon) in there and scoop it out. Add to your brown meat. Photo #10

The core has a honeycomb structure, packed with delicious white meat; separate the two sides with a strong knife or kitchen axe and give it a bash with a kitchen hammer so you can get in there and start pulling it out, being careful to separate out any hard bits. You only need to do this is you want to use the white meat for any other recipe, if you serving the crab as it is allow each person to help themselves, just supply plenty of toothpicks. Photo #11 &12

Step 5:Crack the claws with the heel of your knife or a kitchen hammer. Extract the meat and shred it, again you only need to do this if you need the meat for other recipes. Photo #13



Serve the brown meat in the washed top shell with buttered toast on the side. Serve the remaining crab in their shells and allow people to pick though it and have it with toast.

Serve with some lemon slices. Photo #14

A different twist:

This recipe is a bit of a Portuguese secret so keep your eyes and ears peeled. If you simply boil the crab it’s called “au natural” which means “in a natural form”, and that is the way it’s normally eaten. However there is a different way to dress a crab, saved for special occasions of course.



Brown meat from the upper shell of the crab

Good quality mayo

Dijon mustard

Mixed pickles, very finely chopped

Good quality ketchup

Good quality beer

How to make:

Place your brown meat in a bowl and add the mayo, the mustard, the pickles and the ketchup. Mix everything until you have a fine paté.

The beer should be the last to go in and the quantity varies depending on how full your crab was so start by adding 1 tsp and mixing it in carry on until you reach the texture of a thick batter. Remembering not to add more than 4 tsp of beer or the flavour will be overpowering.

Once you reach your desired consistency place the meat back in the crab’s shell. Serve the filled shell and remaining crab and allow people to pick though it and have it with toast.

Serve with some lemon slices.

Upcoming Marmalade Cookery School Courses

4 week cookery courses

Portuguese Feast

Starts 7th May

The Little Bakeshop

Italian Essentials

Starts 4th June

The Little Bakeshop

Mastering Sourdough

Starts 6th June

The Little Bakeshop

Upcoming Marmalade Cookery School Events

Pop-Up Middle Eastern Night

18th May

Café Floyd – Sketty

Pop-Up Greek Cuisine Night

25th May

Blas Gwyr – Llangennith

Pop-Up Bistro Night

7th June

Round the Square Café – Killay

All Articles