The snow crab is a true delicacy from the Northern Seas, where the cold surroundings gives the crab time to develop intense and delicate flavours
The snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio) is a delicacy from the icy cold waters of the North Atlantic and Arctic Ocean. The meat is snowy white with a bright orange surface and has a fresh, sweet and slightly salty taste of the sea, with a touch of shellfish bitterness.
Snow crab products
The snow crab is sold as cocktail claws, whole sections called clusters, or leg-meat sections. All products are sold cooked and ready to be consumed after being defrosted.
Snow crab in the sea
The snow crab is named after the climate where it lives: the coldest parts of the North Atlantic Sea and the Northern Pacific Ocean, where the water temperature is always below 4°C. The crab has a small body with long, thin legs and has an orange, light-brown or red-coloured shell. The snow crab lives for around six years and typically resides inshore, in fjords where the seabed is muddy or sandy. The fjords have plenty of food for the snow crab, mainly other shellfish, mussels and molluscs. The snow crab is seen at depths from 20 to 1,200 metres, but is usually found at between 70 and 280 metres.
The male crab is usually twice the size of the female, measuring around 15 centimetres across the shield, while the female typically measures eight to nine centimetres. Females and males live separately, except during the spawning season, when the eggs are fertilised. After spawning, the female carries the eggs for up to a year before they hatch.
The stocks in Western Greenland and Canada are considered to be healthy and are harvested at a sustainable level.
Snow crabs are caught along the west coast of Greenland, in Newfoundland and Canada by local fishermen whenever the sea is free of ice, or the quota permits, which is usually from March to December. Snow crab are fished using pots, which is the traditional catching method, with very little impact on the seabed and no risk of by-catch. The pots are lined, bated with squid or fish, and lowered to the seabed, where they are left for three to four hours to attract the snow crabs. The design allows the snow crabs to enter, but not to leave, trapping the crabs alive inside the pots.
When the pots are hauled on board, the crabs are sorted by shell size. Females and juvenile males are not caught commercially and are left to reproduce, which is why the fishermen put females and males with a shell diameter below 10 centimetres back into the sea. The remaining crabs are stored in boxes with ice to keep them fresh and at their normal temperature.
Royal Greenland operates production facilities along the west coast of Greenland and in Newfoundland, where the snow crabs are landed alive and are graded by size and quality. Dead crabs are rejected upon arrival.
The snow crabs are slaughtered by hand in the most humane way possible, whereby the head is separated from the shoulders and legs with a single, hard blow, killing the crab instantly.
The shoulder with four legs attached is called a cluster. The clusters are sent on to production, where they are cooked in fresh water.
Immediately after cooking, the clusters are cooled down, glazed and quick-frozen. Before being packed, the snow-crab clusters are graded according to five quality parameters, to ensure the highest quality.
Some products are sent to China for further processing. Here, the cocktail claws are cut out and the leg-meat sections are taken out of the legs, before being packed and shipped to consumers.
Route to market
From the Greenlandic, Canadian and Chinese factories, the snow crab is transported directly to customers across the world.
In Japan, the snow-crab leg-meat is appreciated for its delicate flavour in sushi, while in the USA, the clusters and cocktail claws are a popular buffet item.
In Spain, the snow crab is considered a Christmas delicacy and is mainly purchased around the holiday period, to share with family and friends.
Snow crab in the kitchen
The snow crab is a very popular delicacy and offers a fresh, sweet and salty experience in terms of flavour. The meat is stringy and juicy, and of a pleasant texture to be served with bread and a squeeze of lemon, or as an ingredient in a warm dish, adding a touch of the sea.
The meat sits mostly in the legs and claws, with a small amount located on the shoulder. The sweetness of the snow crab meat is complimented well by an acidic or fatty taste, such as apple or avocado.