Dungeness Crab au Naturel
  • 2 live Dungeness crabs, 1 1⁄2 to 2 pounds each
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1⁄4 cup mayonnaise
  • Dijon or other prepared mustard (optional)
Time Estimates

Prep time: 15 min  

Cook time: 20 min  

Total time: 35 min  


  1. Place the crabs in a deep pot with cool water to cover by several inches. Add the salt. Cover the pot and bring the water just short of boiling over high heat.
  2. Turn off the heat, keep the pot covered and let steep 15 minutes for small crabs, 18 to 20 minutes for larger ones.
  3. Remove the crabs with tongs and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Stand the crabs, eyes facing up, in a bowl and refrigerate until well chilled. To cool the crabs faster, surround them with ice.
  4. Clean the crabs as follows: Working over a bowl or sink, remove and discard the triangular flap or “apron” on the underside, being careful of the spines hidden underneath. Grasp the underside and legs of the crab with one hand and pull off the top shell with the other. Drain off any water and set aside the top shells for now. If there is a layer of whitish fat on top of the body of the crab, taste it; if it is not bitter, scrape it off with a spoon and add it to the top shells. Remove the jaws, the gills (the gray, feathery pieces on each side of the body) and all the spongy stuff in the center of the body. Rinse the crab well until nothing but shell and meat remains.
  5. Taste the fat in the corners of the top shells. If it is not bitter, stir some into the mayonnaise to taste (up to 1 part crab fat to 2 parts may- onnaise). Add a little mustard if you like. (Or set out the plain mayonnaise and mustard for each person to blend to taste.)
  6. Divide and crack the crabs in the kitchen if you like, or else serve them whole with the top shells loosely balanced on top. Provide nutcrackers to get at the meat and individual bowls for the mayonnaise.


Makes 2 crabs

Good to know

It’s been nearly twenty years, and I have forgotten the name of the pub (it was in a small town in Dorset, on the edge of the New Forest), but to this day I remember one of the finest combinations of food and drink I have ever had: a good-sized cold cooked crab served with a simple mayonnaise flavored with some of the fat of the crab, and a mug of dry English cider. Heavenly.

I would put our local Dungeness crab up against its English cousin any day. I wish I could say the same about our cider. But even with a sweetish one like Ace, this match works very well. The search goes on.

This is no time to mess around — allow a crab per person. You could serve it as a “salad,” as they did in England — which mostly consisted of presenting it on a bed of lettuce — but I’m equally happy with the minimalist approach: crab on a plate, newspaper on the table for the shells. Some good, crusty, whole-grain bread, sourdough if you like, is appropriate in either case.

Which beer should I drink with this?

Cider, as dry as you can find.

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From The Microbrew Lover’s Cookbook, Copyright © 2002 by Jay Harlow. Used by arrangement with Jay Harlow.


Photo: Zeetz Jones/Flickr