2: The Spider Crab (Maja squinado)
The Spider Crab is an awesome Crab. It may be ugly as sin, in fact some people are little scared of them…. but damn it if they ain’t delicious! Generally very little brown meat, but those long legs are full of white meat. The meat itself is different from that of the brown crab, its sweeter and not as strong, more similar in taste to a lobster. Some of these get huge, the big Japanese versions have been known to grow as big as a small car. Personally my biggest catch is one about the size of a small dog. Spider crabs do look very much like their namesake with long legs and a rounded body. They are also covered in spines and are always a red/orange colour.
If you are in the water at the right time of year and in the right spot these are literally impossible NOT to find. They grab on to any area of rocky reef and tend to be out in the open, although often under a carpet of kelp. Spring and early summer will see the first few coming in, and by mid-summer the big males will join the smaller females. The colouration and sheer size of some spider crabs make them easier to find. Sometimes you will find a huge concentration of animals, potentially covering a wide area in a sea of claws and lanky legs….. seriously…. its quite a sight!
The red colour tends to jump out of our reef beds, being surrounded by brown and dark green. On a still day keep your eye out for kelp that is moving ‘out of place’ , this is probably due to a Spider crab underneath a frond. During mating season you will sometimes find two crabs in a … ah hem… compromising situation. The male will be the big one on top. I never have the heart to separate them and take one for dinner. It also seems a bit irresponsible interrupting the reproductive process from a sustainability point of view.
You are looking for the males, as they have the biggest claws, with the females having very little meat in them. When you put a female and male spider crab side by side the differences are huge. Along side the big claws, the males are also lacking the egg carrying pouch on the underside.
These are very easy to pick up despite their ferocious appearance. Simply come at it from above, grab it by the body and quickly tip it upside-down and tap it on its back. For defensive reasons 90% of them will then curl their legs in to their body and will soon resemble a spiny basket ball. Some will be more pro-active in their defense and with those just swim hard to the surface with them still upside-down, this will keep their legs spread and immobile giving you plenty of time to then stash them away in a bag. All in all, they are a REALLY easy catch.
The first thing to note with spider crabs is that they don’t keep well out of the water. Unlike lobsters and crabs they cannot be kept in the cool, alive, for cooking later. They will die pretty quickly if you try to keep them. Best thing to do if you are not planning on eating them straight away is to cook them and then keep the cooked meat till you need it. Cooking them and killing them is the same as with the brown crab, although the legs do better on the BBQ in my opinion.
To kill them humanely, flip them on to their backs to expose the triangular flap on the abdomen. Gently pull this aside and expose the little hole. You need to thrust a strong knife in to this . Move it towards the eyes once in to the body. The crab will die as you push the knife in, moving it forwards is really just a belt and braces approach, but id rather it didnt suffer at all.