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Crabs are crustaceans in the same family as shrimp and lobster. They have five pairs of legs - the two front ones are the pincers or claws (where the best crab meat is).
When buying fresh crabs only buy living whole crabs. If they are dead, don't buy them. If you buy frozen crabs, don't buy them if they have been thawed. Lump crab is whole pieces of crab claws and the white body meat. Flaked crab is the smaller bits of both dark and light meat from both the claws and the body of the crab. The former is tastier and makes the best crab cakes.
There are both fresh water crabs and saltwater crabs. The latter are the more common and, like most shellfish, the variety is dictated by their habitat. The most popular Pacific coast crabs are the Dungeness crab. This is a medium sized crab with a delicate pink flesh. It is named for the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state where it was originally harvested.
In the northern Pacific Ocean there are King crab (also known as Alaskan King crab, Japanese crab and Russian crab). These are the crabs with large pincers and legs. The sweet, delicate, snowy white meat contained in the legs are easier to get at and eat.
Stone crabs, like King crabs, are prized for the claw meat. These are harvested in the winter months in Florida. Because only the claw is eaten the fishermen twist off one claw and throw the crab back in the sea where the claw will grow back within about eighteen months. You can't buy the claws fresh, by law they must be cooked for at least seven minutes and then iced or frozen. The crab meat is firm and has a sweet flavor.
Blue crabs are the predominant crab found on the east coast of North America. They are smaller and the meat is not as sweet as other crabs. Because of their size there is less meat from the body and claws than Pacific crabs. The Blue crab sheds its shell periodically so that it can grow; the crab without the shell is sold as Soft-shell crab and is cooked and eaten whole.
Crabmeat is sold in a variety of forms. Fresh crabmeat is found in stores and will keep for only a few days in the refrigerator. Pasteurized crabmeat is packed in cans and will keep much longer - about 12 to 18 months. The flavor of pasteurized crabmeat is not fresh tasting at all. Crabmeat that is canned has usually been cooked or pasteurized.
4 ounces blue crab = 99 calories, 1 fat, <1g sat fat, <1g mono fat, 21g protein, 0g carbohydrates, 332mg sodium, 88mg cholesterol