Butchering animals is not my thing. It’s hard to be reminded that the delicious meat you’re biting into once had eyes and hooves and insides not unlike our own. But for some reason that felt different with a whole Dungeness crab. A cooked crab is often served in its original form, and I had cracked open a crustacean shell before to get to the sweet meat inside a leg—in many ways it’s not that different from peeling a hard boiled egg. How could breaking down the whole crab before cooking it really be that different? Well, I wasn’t prepared for the crab to have fur.
This particular crab (whom I perhaps morbidly dubbed Mauricio) had a brown fuzzy lining on his underbelly, near his face, down his legs, and around his claws, like he was wrapping himself in a fur stole for a classy cocktail hour. I’d be lying if that didn’t make it even harder to cook him up, but cook him we did, and in the end, he was delicious.
I assumed at the moment that Mauricio was an outlier, but it turns out this is common in the crab community. The Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation’s website explains that these tufts of hair are responsible for giving the Dungeness crabs their senses. Tiny hairs at the end of the crustacean’s antennae are what it uses to smell for food. The furry bits I noticed on the crab’s face near its mouth, legs, and claws (pincers) are the taste receptors. And all the bristles along crabs’ bodies are what give them a particularly good sense of touch, with the ability to sense vibrations through the water.
While Dungeness crabs are likely the fuzziest crab you’ll find stateside, mitten crabs (also known as Shanghai hairy crabs) are a delicacy in China. A writer for Lifestyle Asia describes that the claws, which are served in bamboo steamers, are “torn apart to reveal sinfully buttery golden roe and unthinkably sweet (albeit little) flesh.” The dish is only to be enjoyed in Asia as the hairy crabs are a highly invasive species—a recent National Geographic report details Operation Hidden Mitten working to keep these shellfish out of the United States.
If the fuzzy guys are so sought after that they’re being smuggled around the world, then maybe there’s something to be said for the correlation between hairiness and tastiness. For now in the US, you can just take this little tidbit and ask yourself if you’re willing to touch a little fur next time you cook a crab whole. Even if the answer is yes, maybe avoid naming your crab just in case, to make things go down a little sweeter.