Animal welfare has been back in the news with recent research by Queens University adding to the growing body of evidence that crabs feel distress when killed by certain methods. Some experts, however, believe that crustaceans cannot feel pain due to their physiology - they have multiple nerve centres rather than a brain - and any twitching during cooking is simply a mechanical reaction.
Whilst scientists continue to argue, most people would agree that any animal destined for the plate deserves our best efforts to minimise suffering. According to the RSPCA, the most humane approach is electrocution. This kills the crab within seconds, leading to sweeter meat - as distressed animals can release an acrid tasting hormone - and stops legs or claws being shed during cooking. It is this method that is used in many top class restaurants.
Of course, this doesn't really help if you don’t have a Crustastun in your kitchen. So follow this simple two stage process to limit any unnecessary distress*:
Step 1: put the crab into the freezer for an hour. This will put it into a “coma” and desensitise it to the next stage.
Step 2: disable the nerve centres: lift back the flap on the stomach and drive a skewer or pointed screwdriver hard into the cone shaped indentation beneath, then do the same through the roof of the mouth. This will kill the crab, allowing it to be cooked without any further distress.
Shellfish dishes are amongst the tastiest there are and understanding how to dispatch them humanely and confidently opens up a world of delicious possibilities.
*as a general precaution always ask your fishmonger to clip the crab's claw membranes so that there is no chance of being nipped during handling.