Growing up down the street from a beach, low tide was spent flipping over rocks and looking for crabs and other sea life. I learned pretty quickly that the green crabs were “bad” and the red crabs were “good.” Nobody ate the green crabs but when I asked why, nobody could tell me. Nobody knew if you could eat them at all. Later on I discovered they were an invasive species, brought over from Europe in the late 1800’s. Funny that we, in a Sicilian-American community ate the babalucci (periwinkles), another invasive from Europe, but not the crabs.
The European green crab (Carcinus maenas) is a scourge wherever it has been introduced and locally their numbers are increasing. They are larger than another more recent invasive, the Asian shore crab (Hemigrapsus sanguineus) and both compete against native crab species. Both types of green crab pose a huge threat to our local shellfish industries since not only do they eat clams, they cut the eel grass that clams, baby scallops and fish need in a salt marsh environment. Both species are increasing in number as local waters continue to warm and no longer get cold enough to kill off the Asian crabs. Now is the time action must be taken and at least one local organization has finally answered my question from years ago: Yes, you can and should, eat green crab!
Apparently, green crab has been on the menu in the Veneto region of Italy for centuries. It was probably served in many of the Venetian restaurants I’ve tried on my trips over there, but was just not on my radar screen at the time. I don’t think our local crabs are all that great anyway, at least compared to the local lobsters, clams and scallops. Meanwhile, from what I have heard and read recently, these small green crabs have a lot of flavor. It sounds like something I ‘m going to have to try for myself, but I don’t have the slightest idea about how to prepare them since they are so much smaller than our local jonah crabs or the more famous blue crabs and Dungeness crabs that people go crazy over.
Thankfully, the Green Crab R&D Project has created a free downloadable eBook with recipes for green crab. I just downloaded it and I’m thinking that next spring when dad puts the lobster traps back in the water, I’ll be bringing a bucket of green crabs home to try it out. Hell, I could probably make myself a mini trap and put it right in the Essex River over at the Shipbuilding Museum. I could be bringing home free dinner as well as doing my part to keep the river full of our famous soft shell clams!
If you would like to learn more about how to prepare these invasive but apparently delicious crab species, check out the cookbook, the website and their Instagram page.