The Japanese spider crab, known scientifically as Macrocheira kaempferi, is a species of marine crab that inhabits the waters around Japan. It has the largest leg span of any arthropod in the world, reaching up to 12 feet from claw to claw. Its unique appearance, with spindly legs stretching far beyond the main body, has earned it the nickname “spider crab.”
Despite its intimidating looks, the Japanese spider crab is edible and considered a delicacy in many parts of Japan. The crab’s taste and texture are often compared to other types of crab legs, but with some key differences due to its unique habitat and biology. Keep reading to learn more about what does Japanese spider crab taste like.
What does Japanese spider crab meat look like?
The meat of the Japanese spider crab is found primarily in the muscles of the crab’s long, thin legs and claws. When cooked, the meat turns white and strands of meat are extracted from the shell. The body of the crab tends to have less usable meat compared to the legs.
Here are some key facts about Japanese spider crab meat:
– Color: White, opaque when cooked
– Texture: Stringy, chewy, fibrous
– Amount of meat: Legs and claws have the highest meat yield
– Flavor: Sweet, delicate, compared to shrimp or lobster
– Shell: Spindly, thin legs with small claws; brownish-orange shell when uncooked
So while there isn’t much meat per crab, the leg meat is succulent and flavorful in Japanese spider crab. The texture is stringy and chewy, with a mild sweetness.
How does Japanese spider crab taste compared to other crab?
The taste and texture of Japanese spider crab is often compared to American blue crab, Dungeness crab, and king crab legs. Here’s how it measures up:
– vs. Blue crab: Sweeter and more delicate flavor than blue crab; legs/claws not as wide.
– vs. Dungeness crab: More fibrous texture than Dungeness, slightly less sweet.
– vs. King crab: King crab is sweeter, Japanese spider crab is more savory. Legs are thinner than king crab.
Sweet, delicate flavor
While it does have hints of other crab, the Japanese spider crab is prized for its unique sweet and delicate flavor. The taste is much more subtle compared to many other crab varieties. Instead of the fishy punch of king crab, Japanese spider crab has a refined, slightly sweet finish.
Stringy, chewy texture
In terms of texture, the muscles in the legs and claws have a pronounced stringiness and chew. Many describe it as almost crisp but slightly fibrous. This chewy texture is different from Dungeness and king crab legs, which have a tendency to flake into bites. With Japanese spider crab, the meat holds together.
Flavor and texture affected by cooking
As with any seafood, cooking method can alter the flavor and texture profile. Japanese spider crab is most often boiled lightly and served chilled. Deep frying or grilling the legs brings out more savory, caramelized notes. The meat can take on a flaky texture when sautéed as well.
What does the body taste like?
While the leg and claw meat are most abundant, some edible meat can be extracted from the main body of the Japanese spider crab. However, the body meat yields much less and has a different taste and consistency.
Here’s how to describe the body meat:
– Amount of meat: Body has minimal edible meat
– Flavor: Stronger iodine/crab flavor compared to the legs
– Texture: Soft, almost creamy compared to the chewy legs
– Color: White flesh when cooked
The body meat is often regarded as inferior to the long legs. Because the flavor is stronger, the body of the Japanese spider crab is best used in dishes where it can be mixed with other ingredients or seasonings. The soft texture also lends itself well to being used in crab cakes, stuffing, or crab dip.
What parts of the Japanese spider crab are edible?
While Japanese spider crab legs, claws, and body contain edible meat, some parts of the crab are toxic and should not be eaten. Here is a breakdown of which parts are edible:
– Legs: Contain the largest concentration of meat; considered the best part
– Claws: Also contain tender, sweet meat
– Body/Thorax: Has smaller amount of usable crab meat
– Roe: The bright orange crab roe is edible and a delicacy
– Face and eyes: Contain toxins and should always be discarded
– Gills: Can contain toxins so should not be consumed
– Intestines: Not eaten and can harbor harmful bacteria
– Shell: The hardened shell is entirely inedible
As with any crab, take care to extract only the white flesh from the legs, claws, and body. Any dark meat, internal organs, or face meat should be avoided, as these parts can cause serious toxicity.
How to cook Japanese spider crab
Japanese spider crab can be prepared in various cooking methods, each imparting slightly different flavors. Here are some popular cooking methods:
– Cooked briefly in salted boiling water
– Legs, claws and body submerged in water 5-15 minutes
– Texture remains fibrous and chewy
– Sweetness is retained in meat
– Legs and claws basted with sauce during grilling
– Char and caramelization adds savory flavor
– Grilling time 10-15 minutes, take care not to overcook
– Meat can flake apart slightly
– Legs and claws dredged in flour then deep fried
– Fry at 350°F for 2-3 minutes until golden brown
– Fry in small batches to avoid overcrowding
– Frying makes the meat flaky and savory
– Chopped meat sautéed quickly in butter or oil
– Finely chop meat before sautéing
– Sauté over high heat for 1-2 minutes
– Smaller pieces absorb flavors and become tender
The optimal doneness for Japanese spider crab is translucent white flesh that retains moisture. Take care not overcook the crab meat, which can become rubbery.
What does Japanese spider crab taste like raw?
While Japanese spider crab legs are most often served cooked, some enjoy eating them raw as sashimi or sushi. Here’s what raw Japanese spider crab tastes like:
– Texture: Firm, slightly rubbery, with a jelly-like crunch
– Flavor: Mild, ocean-like flavor with subtle sweetness
– Color: Translucent white, with a blue/grey tint
– Smell: Minimal odor, comparable to raw shrimp
Eating raw Japanese spider crab is not as common as cooked preparations. The texture can be off-putting to some when raw. However, the delicate sweetness does come through without cooking.
For food safety, only consume raw Japanese spider crab from a reputable source. Look for fresh crab that is sashimi or sushi grade. Freezing the raw crab meat first can also kill any potential parasites.
What seasonings and sauces pair well with Japanese spider crab?
To complement and draw out the natural sweetness of Japanese spider crab, certain seasonings and sauces make good pairings. Here are some tasty ways to flavor boiled, grilled, or fried Japanese spider crab legs and claws:
– Lemon: A squeeze of lemon juice adds brightness.
– Butter: Enhances the richness of the crab.
– White wine: Splash of white wine vinegar or cooking wine.
– Dill: Fresh dill herb provides aroma.
– Old Bay: Classic crab seasoning blend.
– Clarified butter: Dipping cooked legs in warmed clarified butter.
– Soy sauce: Brushes on grilled legs or served alongside.
– Wasabi mayo: Mix wasabi into mayonnaise for dipping.
– Miso: Japanese miso paste makes a good marinade.
– Aioli: Whipped garlic aioli served with crab.
What are some common Japanese spider crab dishes?
Japanese spider crab is prepared in a variety of traditional Japanese dishes to highlight its delicate sweetness. Here are some popular recipe ideas:
Boiled then chilled legs and claws served cold with lemon and dipping sauce.
Rice mixed with Japanese spider crab meat and egg custard then topped with ikura (salmon roe).
Legs and claws dipped in tempura batter and quickly deep fried.
Crab miso soup
Chunked crab meat added to miso soup with wakame seaweed and tofu.
Legs basted in a sweet soy glaze then grilled until charred and caramelized.
Chopped imitation crab salad made with mayo, cucumber, and tobiko.
Kani kama (crab sticks)
Shredded and formed crab surimi made from Japanese spider crab meat.
Minced crab meat combined with starch and gelatin then steamed to form a fluffy mousse.
Nutrition facts for Japanese spider crab
Here is the nutrition profile of Japanese spider crab per 100g serving of cooked meat:
Like most types of crab, Japanese spider crab is low in fat and calories and high in protein. The meat is a lean source of protein with a high mineral content including zinc, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Where to buy Japanese spider crab
Due to its size and limited supply, Japanese spider crab can be difficult to find fresh outside of Japan. Here are some tips for sourcing authentic Japanese spider crab:
– Look for frozen legs/claws at specialty seafood markets or Asian grocery stores. This is the most common format.
– High-end Japanese restaurants may serve fresh spider crab when in season.
– Order imported Japanese spider crab online through specialty seafood retailers.
– Traveled to Japan? Look for trusted restaurants serving kani (crab) from May to July during spider crab season.
– Canned kani-kama (imitation crab sticks) contain spider crab and are available year-round.
Within Japan, Japanese spider crab is harvested during a limited season from the southern Japanese islands and coastal regions like Tokyo. Due to declining populations, the crab is considered a vulnerable species and harvesting is highly regulated for sustainability.
Is Japanese spider crab sustainable?
While Japanese spider crab remains an important part of Japanese cuisine, there are environmental concerns around the sustainability of harvesting spider crabs. Here are some key points on sustainability:
– Listed as a vulnerable species due to declining populations.
– Slow reproductive cycle makes them vulnerable to overfishing.
– Habitat degradation from pollution and coastal development also threaten numbers.
– Catch is regulated with size limits, harvest seasons, and quota systems.
– Farms are attempting to raise spider crabs in captivity to reduce pressure on wild stocks.
– Considered a delicacy, spider crab is rarely harvested in high volumes.
To enjoy Japanese spider crab responsibly, look for crabs harvested from well-managed fisheries in Japan during the legal harvesting season. Supporting local farms raising spider crabs is another good option. Limiting consumption of egg-bearing female crabs will also aid wild populations.
With its impressively long legs and claws, Japanese spider crab offers a unique dining experience focused on the tender meat within its spindly appendages. The taste is sweet and delicate, often compared to other premium crab varieties. When cooked through methods like boiling, grilling, and tempura frying, the flavor and texture of this rare crab really get to shine. Savor it simply with lemon and butter, or incorporate into Japanese specialties like chirashi sushi and seafood rice bowls. Due to its limited availability and vulnerable status, enjoying Japanese spider crab is a singular culinary occurrence for many.