(Note: Our wild-caught Dungeness Crab comes pre-cooked and pre-scored for your ease and convenience.)
To maximize the culinary potential of wild Alaskan Dungeness crab, you won’t need to do much more than introduce a little heat to your ready-to-eat crab legs until they’re piping hot and deliciously fragrant. In our opinion, the ideal way to heat the renowned West Coast crustacean, beloved for its sweet and briny flavor, is to steam it.
Steam offers quick, intense heat that preserves the moist, tender texture of fresh, high-quality crab meat. And unlike boiling or poaching, steaming Dungeness crab legs allows the meat to retain more of its own juices and flavors, making this cooking method great for multipurpose use of the crab meat; steamed Dungeness crab legs are delicious with dips, on salads, made into crab cakes, and flaked into a variety of dishes.
To Thaw or Not to Thaw?
When steaming most wild Alaskan varieties of seafood, thawing out your proteins before introducing them to heat is the best way to ensure even doneness and ideal textures in the final product. However, some varieties of crab legs are much less dense and won’t suffer much from being heated up straight from the freezer. So, should you thaw Dungeness, or heat them from frozen?
It depends. Dungeness crab legs are thin, compared to other species of crab caught in Alaska, which can make for a relatively large size differential between the leggy part of the product and the end that’s been separated from the crab’s body, known as the “shoulder.” For Dungeness crab legs with hefty shoulders, you definitely will want to defrost before cooking so that the crab meat will be warmed through evenly. After being defrosted, it won’t take more than 5 minutes to give the legs a good steam.
If you’re using Dungeness crab legs with small shoulders, or just heating up some smaller pieces that were left in the bottom of your bag, you can skip the defrosting step and prepare a meal of Dungeness crab legs from frozen with no issues. We suggest rinsing off any ice glaze under cold, running water so that there aren’t any super icy sections for more even cooking. When using frozen crab, bringing the crab meat to the desired temperature usually requires at least 5 minutes, depending on the amount you’re trying to steam up; it’ll never take more than 10 minutes for your pot of crab legs to get hot enough to produce steam.
How to Steam Frozen or Thawed Dungeness Crab Legs
Set a steamer basket into a pot large enough to accommodate your Dungeness crab legs, filling the bottom of the pot with an inch or so of liquid. You can use plain water as a steaming medium. If you want to add in a hint of aromatic notes, use a mixture of water and white wine, or add in several slices of fresh lemon. Even during a brief steam, these ingredients will add a subtle complexity to the crab meat.
Bring everything to a boil, then add the crab legs to your steamer basket. Close the pot with a tight-fitting lid or aluminum foil, then allow the legs to steam for 4 minutes if thawed and about 6 minutes if frozen. You’ll know that they’re done when the legs themselves are hot enough to give off their own steam when lifted from the pot.
As an alternative, you can use the steaming feature of an Instant Pot to bring your crab legs to temperature, following the manufacturer’s guidance on how much liquid to add to the appliance — typically, one cup of water for a 6-quart pot and two cups for an 8-quart pot. Your crab legs, whether thawed or frozen, will be steamy in 4 minutes.
If you don’t have a steamer basket or pressure cooker, you can simply cover the bottom of a wide pot with water — less than ¼ inch in depth — and steam your legs directly in this layer of liquid. It should be shallow enough that your crab legs are steamed rather than boiled, but contain enough water so that the liquid doesn’t burn off before your legs are finished warming through. This improvised method works better with thawed legs, since there’s less of a chance that the liquid will burn off before the crab meat is heated to the desired temperature.