Wednesday, January 21, 2009

During the summer months (well actually all months with an 'r' in their name) I like to get out and catch a few blue swimmer crabs, these are deliciously tasty treats and with a bit of preparation and thought it is not too difficult to catch a feed for the family. Personally I like my blue swimmer crabs BBQ'd although I did grow up with them being boiled or steamed, but before I go into preparation just a few quick tips on how and where to catch them.
The best locations to catch blue swimmer crabs are in estuaries, search for areas with extensive sandy drop-offs supporting good seagrass beds. Sandy bays with adjacent mud-flats are also worthy areas. Use fresh baits of fish frames, and change these every 24 hours if keeping the traps in the water for long periods of time. It is important that you read the rules and regulations on the maximum number of nets and or traps per person and per boat (current regulations stipulate 5 nets and 1 trap per person (including possession at any one time)), the float must be a minimum of 10cm in diameter and have your name and the words CRAB TRAP written clearly on the float. (Recreational fishers regulations crab traps & nets)

In NSW the law states that it is illegal to keep female crabs in 'berry' (laden with eggs), and must be released immediately. Having said this it has always been an unwritten rule amongst my friends and family that you should release all female crabs and keep only the large males. The legal size of the blue swimmer crab in NSW waters is 6cm measured from the front to the back of the carapace (shell) and the bag limit is 20.

Whilst these are the rules a crab with a 6cm measurement is hardly worth the work involved in eating it, so if you can find your way to releasing the small ones and keeping the larger crabs, there is no way you will ever need to catch and keep your bag limit. I tend to find that 1 reasonable sized crab per person is more than enough. To differentiate between a male and female crab firstly you can judge by the colour, with the males tending to be a more vibrant almost royal blue and the females being browner in colour. The most accurate way to tell the difference however is to turn the crab onto its back and take a look at the 'flap' on the underside of the body, an oval shaped flap indicates the female whilst a slender more pointed flap identifies the crab to be a male.

Just out of the 'Witches Hat' these two male crabs are destined for the BBQ and a tasty lunch.

To cook these tasty crabs, firstly you should kill them humanely (DPI, Fisheries), the two best methods are to either place them in a bucket of cool fresh water and place a lid on top, or the method I prefer is to put them into a freezer for up to an hour or the fridge over night. This will send them into a coma or send them off to sleep completely. Once the crabs have been euthanased turn them onto their back, lift the flap from the shell and smoothly but firmly pull the entire top portion of the shell away from the rest of the body (NB if you remove the crabs shell or try to cook it or cut the crab prior to killing them the crab will drop its claws making the cooking process more difficult and if boiling allowing the tasty juices to escape). Once removed the shell pull the gill filaments and 'mustard' away from the body and rinse in saltwater. NEVER rinse seafood of any description in freshwater unless absolutely necessary, as this will affect the taste of the fish adversely.
Once you have removed the shell and gill filaments and guts, wash the remainder of the shell well and rub off any muddy build up from around the joints.

Blue swimmer crabs cleaned, halved and ready for cooking

To prepare for cooking, I like to then cut the crab in two straight down the centre, use a strong bladed sharp knife and a swift cutting motion, do not swing or chop the knife as this can cause a cracking of the shell. Now allow the crabs to come to room temperature (This is a good idea when cooking all seafood, so that the centre of the flesh is heated by the cooking process) and when your about 10 minutes from sitting down for your tasty meal place the crabs onto the open grill of a preheated BBQ with body section on the hottest section of the BBQ and the legs and claws on the cooler part of the grill. Allow the crabs shell to turn a bright orange and avoid flames that will char the shell resulting in over cooking of the crab meat, it is best to keep turning and shifting the crab pieces so that you cook all segments evenly. The easiest way to identify when the crab is ready for eating is to watch the flesh in the body section and once it has turned white instead of translucent remove it from the BBQ and place on a serving platter for 3-5 minutes.

Freshly off the BBQ - Yum Yum

Have a pair of nut crackers at hand to break the shell and a nifty trick is to use the pointed section of the claw to get the flesh out of hard to access section of the shell.

Serve with Asian vegetables, or greens dressed with fresh lemon and sesame oil.

Enjoy with a cold amber ale or a chilled glass of your favourite wine!!!