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Crab Glossary: A Glossary Of The Different Crab Types

Page 6: What To Look For In Canned Crab Meat

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  Crab Claw Meat
Crab claw meat lacks the pristine whiteness of lump crab meat, but it tastes just as good! Use it in salads and cooked dishes. Photo courtesy
What To Look For In Canned Crab Meat:
When you do a comparative test among different brands of canned crab meat, you can immediately discern differences in the size, color, texture, shell content, scent, and then, the flavor of the meat.  If you want to conduct your own test, here’s a guide:

  • Scent. First drained the can, then sniff. The scent of the crab meat is the first indication of the degree of freshness at the time of processing—how long it took to get the crab from the water to the plant. The scent should be that of a freshly cooked crab—sweet and light seafood, never “fishy.” If you have paid for such a brand, return it to your purveyor and complain. If the product is pasteurized (canned, shelf-stable), it is fully sterile and thus poses no health concern, but quality varies widely. Unless you have purchased your crab meat at a bargain price, you deserve better.
  • Color. The color of canned crab meat is another clue to its quality. An ivory color is the natural and most desirable color. Some processors use chemical inhibitors or bleaches to whiten the crab meat. If the crab meat is bright white, it is a good indicator that additives of this sort have been used (read the label). An occasional blue tinge in the meat is natural in blue and blue swimming crabs, most often caused by trace quantities of minerals in the crabs’ diet. 
  • Size. The size of the intact pieces of crab meat reflects the size of the crabs harvested. Jumbo Lump pieces are from the primary swimming muscles of the crab legs, which yield only two lumps per crab.
  Crab Cake
Color makes little difference in a crab cake, so there’s no need to pay more for expensive white lump meat. Photo of crab and shrimp cake on a bed of haricots vert (French green beans) courtesy Recipe on website.
  • They are the best gauge of the size of the crab. Lumps smaller than one inch in diameter are typically taken from undersized, juvenile crabs. Harvesting of juveniles of any species, that have not yet had a chance to reproduce, can have disastrous effects on its population and does not indicate a responsible producer.

Now, have a taste and look for:

  • Texture. Top-quality crab meat will have a firm texture with distinguishable muscle fiber—never mushy or mealy. The texture of the crab meat can vary according to a number of factors, including the freshness of the crabs when brought to the plant, and the method of processing. The best processors use a very short canning process and, if pasteurized, a small can (6 or 7 ounces), for minimal “cooking” effect. This best preserves the delicate flavor and texture of the fresh crab meat. “Institution size” cans of crab will not yield the best flavors, because they need to cook longer. 
  • Shell Content. Pieces of shell in the crabmeat add an unpleasant dimension to an expensive purchase. The presence of shell and cartilage is a function of the skill and dedication of the individuals who pick the crab—an incredibly intensive and tedious task, as anyone who has tried can attest. It can only be done successfully by hand. While an occasional shell will be found in any crab meat, like the occasional olive pit, the amount of shell, shell fragments and cartilage should be negligible, and no other foreign objects should ever be present. If you have paid a large sum for crab meat that is crunchy with shell and cartilage, return it to your purveyor and complain. The store should find a better brand.
While the color of the crab doesn’t matter in many recipes, the shell content does. Few people want to find crunchy shell fragments and cartilage in their crabmeat. If a brand is very inexpensive, you might find that it is less “picked.” So test a can before you make that important party recipe. Photo of Jalapeno Crab Slammers courtesy Recipe on website.
  • Flavor. At the end of the day, it’s great crab flavor that is the hallmark of quality crab meat. The crab should taste fresh and clean, slightly salty (“of the sea”), with no unpleasant aftertaste. Some additives impart a chemical flavor or aftertaste to the crab meat. Cheaper cans can can contribute a tinny flavor (paper liners are used to try to mitigate this problem). Crab is lighter flavor in than other crustaceans; you should be able to enjoy its nuances.

Each bite of crab meat should be a delight. If it isn’t, you need to find a better brand.

Get The Book About Crab:

For more information about crab, including wonderful recipes, see Crab: Buying, Cooking, Cracking, by Andrea Froncillo and Jennifer Jeffrey. A complete guide to buying, cleaning, preparing and eating crab. The 35 recipes and tantalizing food photos make you want to race to the nearest fishmonger and load up on crab to cook through the book from the beginning to the end. Recipes range from casual to fancy, and any type of crab meat—Alaska snow, blue, Dungeness, etc.—can be substituted.

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Last Updated  May 2018

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