Though often mistaken for king crab, snow crab is in a league of its own when it comes to flavor and texture. The crustacean is named for its meat, which turns from red to a beautiful snowy white once cooked. With a sweet, briny taste and a firm, fibrous texture, the snow crab is a fantastic addition to any meal, whether you’re a crab enthusiast or a first-time eater. If you’re interested in purchasing snow crab for your next special meal, the guide below explains all you need to know.
Habitat, Sourcing, and Features
Snow crab are caught in the northern Atlantic Ocean, the Sea of Japan, the Bering Sea, the Gulf of Alaska, and the Arctic Ocean – pretty much anywhere the water is extremely cold. Snow crabs can be fished at depths of anywhere between 30 and 1,500 feet, depending on the location and time of year. There are seven species of crab marketed as snow crab, but the most commonly purchased in the United States is Chionoecetes bairdi, or the Alaskan Snow Crab. These are also referred to as Tanner Crabs, Queen Crabs, and Spider Crabs.
Snow crabs are decapods, which means they have ten legs with small pincer claws on the front pair. Their shells are a dull orange, but they brighten to a poppy red when cooked. Snow crabs can live for more than ten years, and most adults will grow to be between 1 and 4 pounds in adulthood.
Snow crabs, like king crabs, are subject to strict fishing quotas. The crab was overfished to the point of near-extinction in the mid-1980’s, but a Crab Rationalization Program introduced in the mid-2000s helped the species regain its population. The quota currently placed on snow crab fishing means you will likely pay more for this species than a more widely sourced crustacean, like the Dungeness crab.
What Does Snow Crab Taste Like?
While more expensive than other species, many believe the snow crab’s unique flavor is worth the premium price. Snow crabs are named for their snow-white meat, which is stringier and more fibrous than other crab variations. The meat pieces are typically long and can shred like pork or corned beef. The flavor is relatively sweet, delicate, and lightly briny, and the meat has very low oil content. The crab’s texture will depend on the part of the animal from which it comes; shoulder meat is more tender, while the claws are often firm.
Best Cooking Methods
Like king crab, snow crab is typically sold pre-cooked and flash frozen. All a home chef needs to prepare snow crab meat is heat it up. Warming the meat too much risks overcooking, which can make the crab dry and tough. Legs are often served cold as appetizers. To do this, simply move your crab from the freezer to the refrigerator and let thaw overnight.
Because snow crab meat is served pre-cooked, the most popular preparation methods are steaming and boiling. This will quickly warm the meat without overcooking it. Depending on the size of your crab, cook the meat or parts for 3 to 5 minutes in boiling water or steam. The shells are relatively thin, which means you can enjoy whole or shelled snow crab without using a special cracking tool.
Snow crab meat is excellent enjoyed alone, but it is also often used in chowders, crepes, casseroles, and quiches. If you want to serve your snow crab as part of a recipe, prepare the meal with frozen crab; it will warm as the rest of the dish cooks. You can also find general tips for cooking crab.
Buying Snow Crab Online
Often compared to the king crab, the snow crab differs crucially in its season length and general availability. Frozen snow crab is usually available year-long, but nearly every subspecies is subject to a fishing quota. That said, seasons vary by location (Alaska, Russia, and Canada), so you can typically get fresh snow crab from May until January, with February through April being the limited season. If you see fresh snow crab marketed in March, it has likely already been cooked, frozen, and thawed.
Some snow crabs can have barnacles, black spots, and molting on the shell. These crabs are called “dirty” because of their appearance, but this visible display is only an indicator that the crab has not recently molted. Still, these crustaceans are generally priced cheaper due to their appearance. This does not affect the quality of the crab. Actually, it can indicate that the crab may be meatier because it has not yet molted. If you see a “dirty” snow crab option, do not shy away from it.
If you are buying fresh snow crab meat online, especially in an off-season month, see if your provider gives any information about how the crab was processed. Snow crabs are typically cooked and flash frozen prior to sale, so any other preparation may indicate an inexperienced or dubious business.
- Learn more about cooking the different types of crab on our main page for buying crab.