Snow crab is a source of succulent tender white meat possibly more delicious than anything else on the planet. The Alaskan snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio) (also Atlantic snow crab), indigenous to the North Bering sea is the prime source of the delicately sweet snow-white meat from which the crab earns its name. All crabs of the genus Chionoecetes, however, bear the snow crab name.
Snow crab is at its best when boiled for about 10 minutes in lightly salted water. A slight bit of garlic can be added as well to enhance the flavor of the meat.
The snow crab is the most important commercial crab species in eastern Canada. Only the male of the species reaches the legal limit for harvesting, the female remains below the size limit throughout its life-cycle.
The snow crab is a crustacean with a flat, nearly circular body and five pairs of spiderlike long legs - each with three joints. The first pair of legs is clawed. The edible meat is contained mainly in the legs and in the muscular compartments the legs are directly attached to. The crabs are generally reddish on top and white of the underside, but shell color varies, with more mature crabs fading to a dull greenish-brown, and often being covered with sessile marine organisms.
Crab mating occurs at the end of the winter or in the early spring. The male holds the female with his claws until molting occurs. Sperm is then deposited into the female's sperm sacs located underneath her shell. Depending on the female's size, she can lay 20,000 to 150,000 eggs, and can lay and fertilize several batches of eggs each year without further fertilization.
The newly hatched crab larvae are two to three millimeters long. After hatching, they rise to the ocean surface and are carried some distance by the currents before they settle back to the bottom. The larvae go through three different stages before assuming the familiar shape of snow crabs, and even then are only about three millimeters across. The hard-shelled crabs like other crustaceans must molt in order to grow larger. Molting (ecdysis) is a process by which sheds the old shell in order to grow larger. Crabs at the minimum legal size (9.5 centimeters) are usually about six years old.
When including all species of the genus Chionoecetes, the snow crabs' environment stretches from the Sea of Japan to Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington and Oregon. They also live in the northwest Atlantic from west Greenland down the Canadian Atlantic coast and into the Gulf of Maine. Snow crabs have not been seen in the northeast Atlantic. Snow crabs are also common in the estuary and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, around Cape Breton Island and in the bays of Newfoundland. They are also found off Labrador. They feed on shellfish, sea worms, sea urchins, starfish, and organic debris. They use their claws and mouths to crush hardshelled animals, and generally are night-feeders.
The crabs are harvested live, and transported to processing plants where they are cleaned, cooked, and frozen quickly to retain their flavor. Nutrition value (source USDA) is as follows:
Serving size: 3 oz. -- Cooked, Edible Portion
Total Fat 1.3g