Dressed crab is a popular dish in the UK, and it's not hard to see why. Crab meat is succulent and flavourful when dressed and seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon. It makes for a delicious seafood treat.
We will teach you how to dress a crab. We'll also provide some tips on where to buy and how to choose a cooked crab.
Instructions on how to break it open and extract the white and brown meat, then how to present it back into the cleaned shell.
Use the link below to jump to what you want to know. Check out our seafood platter ideas here.
Our short video shows you how to make a dressed crab dish that will amaze your taste buds!
The origins of dressed crab can be traced back to England in 1792, where it was featured in "The New Art of Cookery According to Present Practice" by British author Richard Briggs, but published in America.
Nowadays, it's commonly found at seafood restaurants or fish markets. But you can also easily make it at home using cooked crab from the supermarket or fishmonger.
Where to Buy and Choose a Cooked Crab
When purchasing a cooked crab, make sure to check that it is heavy for its size and has a mild, ocean-like smell. Avoid any crab that smells overly fishy, has a discoloured shell or has missing limbs.
Ask your seafood seller for advice on selecting a good one.
For convenience, some supermarkets and fish markets also sell pre-dressed crabs. But for the best flavour, we recommend buying a whole cooked crab and dressing it yourself.
Make sure your cooked crab is thoroughly thawed if purchased frozen. It is best to defrost covered in the fridge overnight.
What type of crab to use?
In the UK, the most commonly used crab for dressed crab is the brown crab.
It is also known as a common edible crab, Cromer Crab (caught on the coast of Cromer in Norfolk) or Cornish Crab (caught on the coasts of Cornwall)
However, other types of crab can also be used, such as spider crab.
Male or Female?
Male crabs typically have larger claws, meaning more white meat than female crabs. However, females have a chance they are carrying roe (eggs) which taste lovely!
There is a simple way to tell the difference between male and female crabs. Simply turn the crab upside down, showing the sternum, and check the shape of the abdomen.
If it is wide and rounded, it is a female crab. If the abdomen flap is long and narrow, it is a male crab.
The one we used for this blog post is a male as can be seen by the long thin abdomen.
We do not cover cooking a crab in this post. This is for a pre-cooked crab. If your crabs fresh make sure to cook it first.
We do have a crab tool set, which comes in useful.
But in all honestly, you can use everyday items, such as the end of a teaspoon, skewers and knives to remove the crab meat.
How to Dress a Crab
Dressing a crab is a very simple process that involves removing the crab meat from the shell, body, legs and claws. It only takes a few minutes it is messy and fiddly, but quite fun too.
Start by washing your cooked crab in cold running water, before removing the legs and claws.
How to remove crab legs and claws?
To remove the crab legs squeeze them at the bottom socket and pull and twist them backwards away from the crab.
Repeat the same motion with the crab claws.
If the leg or claw socket does not come away completely, you can use a pick or the end of a teaspoon to hook under and pull the socket out.
How to remove the shell
To remove the crab shell from the body, first, remove the abdomen (the flap on the underside of the crab).
Place your fingers on the underside of the shell and use your thumbs to firmly push the body up and away from the crab shell. It will break open fairly easily.
Inedible Parts of a Crab
Although not inedible, the following parts inside the crab are not tasty and are best removed to prevent a bitter-tasting dressed crab.
Remove the greyish gills (also known as "dead man's fingers" or lungs) and the stomach sac. All seen in the image above, surrounding the body.
They may be located in the shell, it depends how it came out.
Push down on the mouth to break it away.
Brown meat is found in the shell and body and has a rich, sweet flavour.
Scrape any brown meat around the body into a bowl.
Cut the crab's body in half to make it easier to reach the meat inside. There will be some brown meat but also some white meat in here.
Use the end of a teaspoon or pick to extract the small pieces of meat from the nooks and crannies inside the body. It is surprising how much crab meat you can find inside.
Keep the brown and white meat in separate bowls as you pick the meat out of the crab as they get dressed back into the crab individually.
Start a new bowl for the white meat. There is some white meat inside the body.
But you will find most of the white meat in the claws and legs it is tender with a milder taste than the brown meat.
Crack the leg at the knuckle; if you are lucky, the meat will pull out easily. If not, use a pick or a skewer to pull the meat out. Repeat on the next knuckle.
Flake the white crab meat as you go, making sure you remove any cartilage or shell.
The final leg joint has no meat; I keep 2 of them to decorate the dressed crab.
The claws contain the most amount of meat. Use the back of a knife to crack open the claw.
The meat comes out easily. Break at the next joint and use a pick (or end of a teaspoon) to help remove more.
Once again, make sure you flake all the white meat as there is hard white cartilage that needs to be removed.
How much meat is inside a cooked whole brown crab?
This will vary depending on the size of the crab; it is likely to be around 200 grams on average.
Seasoning Crab Meat
You will now have two bowls of crab meat. You can season these how you like.
I keep it simple with salt, black pepper and lemon juice. But you can add other herbs and spices or mix in some mayonnaise if you like.
Keep these refrigerated whilst you prepare the crab shell for dressing.
Preparing Crab Shell
Give the shell a good clean in cold water.
Give yourself more room by breaking away some of the shell.
You will see a line around the edge. Use a large spoon to push up from inside the shell. It will crack off, giving more space to fill it with the dressed crab meat mixture.
Discard the leftover shell.
Dressing Crab Shell
When making a dressed crab, I like to spoon the brown meat on the outside edges and the white meat in the middle.
You can do it the opposite way if preferred.
Finish with the saved lower leg joints.
Wrap in cling film and keep refrigerated until serving.
Makes a fancy starter or lunch served with brown bread or toast and butter.
Try adding a drizzle of our chilli vinegar for an extra kick.
📖 Step by Step Recipe
Dressed Crab (How to Dress a Cooked Crab)
- 1 Whole Cooked Crab
- 1 Lemon cut in ½ for juices, save other ½ for wedges
- Pinch Salt and Black Pepper
- Dill to garnish
- The instructions for this dressed crab are for a pre cooked whole crab.If you buy your cooked crab frozen, always defrost it in the fridge overnight before preparing it.Rinse the crab in cold water before starting.
- Remove crabs legs by holding the bottom leg socket and snapping them backwards away from the crab.1 Whole Cooked Crab
- Do the same with the Claws.
- Keep legs and claws to one side
- Pull back to remove the abdomen off the crab's body
- Place your fingers on the underside of the shell and use your thumbs to push up against the crab shell and the body will detach.
- Remove the gills (aka dead man's fingers or lungs) from inside the shell or they may be on the body. Also, remove the stomach sack. These are bitter and not tasty at all, throw them away.
- Remove the crab's mouth by pushing it down hard until it cracks.
- Scrape the brown meat from the shell and around the body into a bowl.Cut the body in half with a sharp knife. Remove brown meat from the inside of the body.
- Once you have removed all the brown meat, start a new bowl for the white meat.Use a pick to remove the hidden white meat from the inside of the body.
- Remove the white meat from the legs, simply crack and pull, you can also use pick.Flake it as you go, making sure you remove any cartilage or shell.Keep 2 of the thin legs to use as decoration on the dressed crab.
- Use the back of a knife to crack the crab's claws.
- Remove the meat from inside the claw.
- Break the claw meat up as there will be hard white cartilage inside which needs to be removed.
- You should now have two separate bowls. One with white meat and one with dark meat.Season to your taste with lemon juice, salt and pepper. You can add mayonnaise or other herbs if you like.1 Lemon, Pinch Salt and Black Pepper, Mayonnaise
Dressing the crab
- Clean out the shell
- Use a spoon to remove the outer shell, follow the line around the shell, pushing up until it snaps.
- Push the brown meat into either side of the shell.
- Add the flakes of white meat in the middle between the brown meat.
- Finish with the lower leg joints you saved earlier and garnish with some dill.Dill
- Keep it chilled until serving.
- Wonderful served with as part of a Seafood Platter.
It is best to consume the dressed crab as soon as possible. Although, it can be made ahead and stored in the fridge a day ahead.
If using a fresh crab that you have cooked first, you can dress and then freeze the dressed crab for up to 2 months, thawing it overnight. I do not recommend refreezing a previously frozen crab.
Let us know how you got on with making your dressed crab in the comments below.
More Fish Recipes
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