Focus on: Crabmeat

No need for mallets; several processors do all the work—extracting, processing, pasteurizing and packaging crabmeat so it’s ready to use. Phillips, a leading processor, starts with wild blue swimming crabs. They’re cooked and cooled, then the meat is hand-picked, graded and placed in cans to be hermetically sealed and pasteurized. Donald Manning, corporate director of training for Phillips, explains that grading has to do with where the meat comes from in the crab. “Claw meat is dark meat and has the most intense flavor. It’s good for soups, wontons, wraps—items where you don’t see the meat but really want to taste it.”

The rest of the crab is white meat, graded by particle size, from smallest to largest. Special is meat taken from the body; it has the highest particulate count and works best as
a stuffing or crab cake filler. Backfin (sometimes called regular lump) is a flaky blend of broken jumbo lump and special crab meat. It’s more visually appealing and most traditionally used in crab cakes or as a topping. Super Lump contains more large pieces—two-thirds broken jumbo and one-third special—and is outstanding for crab salads, claims Manning. Jumbo Lump and Colossal Lump are composed of pieces that are 10 grams or more in weight; Colossal is Jumbo but slightly larger. These unbroken, snowy lumps stand out in crab cocktails.

To evaluate crab, look, smell and taste, says Manning. “Fresh meat should be the color of heavy cream with a sheen, like semi-gloss paint. Old crab looks dull with hues of gray, like flat paint,” he notes. “And the texture should be moist but not soggy.” Next,
a sniff test: let the crab sit at room temperature so the aroma can bloom. The crab should smell briny with hints of sea water; not a fishy or ammonia aroma. Taste should be clean and fresh.

Phillips’ foodservice crab comes in 1-pound cans; it should be stored below 38°F but not frozen. Blue Star, which also processes wild blue swimming crabs, packs in 1-pound eco-friendly pouches.