Crab Delicacies for Happy EatersFrom now until early May marks the season for delicious Atlantic blue crabs in Korea. Mature blue crabs (kkotge) come fat and juicy at Korea's ubiquitous seafood restaurants and markets.
Crab dishes have been popular delicacies in Korea ever since the Koryo dynasty, with yeongdeokge (a kind of snow crab) and teolge (hairy crab) available from the coastal waters in the East, South and Yellow seas around Korea.
The teolge crab, according to an old Korean fable, got its hair by fighting with a monkey over some delicious tteok (rice cakes). It is said that the reason why monkeys have bare red backsides is because the crab pinched the monkey's behind, leaving behind little bits of hair on the claws of the crab.
The majority of kkotge crabs available at markets come from the cities Seosan and Sorae and the island Yeonpyeongdo, all of which are located on the west coast. During peak season crabs are available fresh, cooked and canned. They are also sold frozen throughout the rest of the year.
Whether cooked simply in a steamer or simmered in spicy Korean-style stews, kkotge are not only delicious but are also abundant sources of nutrition. Kkotge are high in protein, vitamins and minerals, and very low in saturated fat, the chief culprit of high cholesterol. When preparing kkotge dishes, the use of salt or soy sauce should be limited as the crab naturally already contains sodium.
The secret to making tasty kkotge dishes lies in being able to distinguish a male crab from a female crab. According to the Blue Crab Archives by Steve Zinski (www.blue-crab.org), a male crab is called a "Jimmy" and a young female crab a "Sally." After maturation the female crab becomes a "Sook," yielding bright orange clusters of eggs inside the body of the shell. A Jimmy crab has an "apron" or abdominal covering on the bottom side, which looks like an inverted T-bar and resembles the Washington Monument. A Sally crab has an inverted V-shaped apron, but the Sook crab's apron is dome-like, resembling the U.S. Capitol Building.
Crabs are usually sold by weight, and Sook crabs, laden with succulent meat and eggs, weigh much more than Jimmy crabs. Therefore, it's in the diner's best interest to be able to distinguish a Sook － don't expect the merchant to give his choicest specimens away. Being able to distinguish the sex of the crab helps the shopper know what they're paying for － inexperienced shoppers may get the wrong crab at the wrong time. During the spawning time, the shopper should choose female crabs; after spawning, males, as female crabs are both less meaty and less tasty.
Spawning times for Atlantic blue crabs reach their peak according to region. In Korea, spawning peaks sometime between April and June, and again between October and December. Catching the kkotge during its mating season, the months of July and August, is strictly prohibited.
For those who wish to spice up their appetites and palates, the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition shows you how to prepare a top-notch Korean kkotge dish.
How to Prepare a Kkotgetang (Korean-Style Spicy Blue Crab Stew)
Ingredients for 2-3 servings: 2-3 medium size crabs, 4-5 cups of water, 2 tablespoons (or more if a spicier version is desired) of gochutgaru (red pepper powder), 1 tablespoon of gochujang (red pepper paste), 3 crushed cloves of fresh garlic, 1 small zucchini, sliced, a few leaves of Chinese cabbage or bok choy, sliced to edible size, 2 stems of green onion, cut into lengths of about 3-4 centimeters, 3 stems of ssuk (mugwort) or minari (dropwort), 1 tablespoon of roasted sesame seeds and 2 teaspoons of sesame oil.
1. Wash the crab under running water and drain.
2. Remove the crab's apron and crack open the body by twisting apart the outer shell and white belly cover.
3. Remove and discard the gills which will appear slightly blue and spongy in texture.
4. Remove the mouth shells and discard, but do not remove the yellowy content or "mustard-like filling" which can add extra flavor to the meat.
5. Cut the body into halves. Snip off the tips of the claws and the end tips of the two paddle legs (round-tipped legs). Set aside.
6. Place water in a medium-size pot and bring to a boil. Add red pepper powder and paste.
7. Add the crab pieces to broth. Bring to a boil over a high flame. While still bubbling, cover the lid and boil for about 4-5 minutes over a medium flame. At this point, the color of the shell should have turned bright orange, but the meat is not yet completely cooked.
8. Add garlic, zucchini and cabbage, cover the lid and cook for another 3-4 minutes until the meat inside is thoroughly cooked. Cooked meat is white and tender.
9. Add green onion and ssuk or minari. Add sesame oil and sprinkle in sesame seeds. The green vegetables on top should be crunchy and aromatic upon consumption. Serve immediately with white steamed rice.
Fresh blue crab shells are shiny with a mixture of dark blue, greenish gray and reddish brown colors. As with any seafood dishe, the fresher the crab, the better it tastes.
How to Choose and Handle a Fresh (Live) Crab
1. Do not pick up the crab by its legs or claws, but by the body.
2. While holding the crab belly-side up, choose the crab with the wildest moving legs.
3. Check to see that the crab shells are not soft by pressing the belly with your thumb.
4. The heavier the crab, the more meat inside.
5. Be sure to pick only crabs with legs and claws intact.
by Ines Cho