Snow crab has become a highly popular shellfish in many markets around the world, thanks to its snow-white meat’s sweet flavour and firm texture. However, many consumers are not familiar with the crustacean’s origin.
There are actually four species of crab that are referred to as snow crab — opilio, bairdi, japonicus and tanneri. By far the most abundant and commercially important is the opilio (Chionoecetes opilio).
Opilio live on soft, muddy seabeds in the cold northern waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans — in fact, it is the only snow crab species to be caught (using baited traps) in both these oceans. In the Atlantic, they are found near Greenland, and from Newfoundland to the Gulf of Maine. In the Pacific, healthy populations exist from arctic Alaska to northern Siberia, and south in the Bering Sea near Japan and Korea.
Most of Pittman Seafoods’ snow crab comes from Korea, where we have longstanding partnerships with a number of local producers. Most of these operations have their own vessels, which help ensure traceability and supply. The country commercially fishes both opilio and red snow crab (Chionoecetes japonicus).
In Korea, snow crab — or daegae, as they are affectionately known — inhabit the northern parts of the East Sea. It is custom to eat daegae as part of the country’s New Year celebrations. Eating it is said to bring good health and physical stamina for the rest of the year
KNOW A QUEEN FROM A KING
Snow crab is often marketed alongside king crab (comprising red, blue and brown varieties), but the two animals differ greatly. For instance, averaging 5 kilograms, king crab is the largest member of the crab family and grows to twice the size of snow crab. Also, king crabs have three pairs of legs, a pincher claw and a larger crusher claw, while snow crabs have five pairs of legs. Snow crabs’ legs are also longer and thinner.
Pittman Seafoods specialises in Chilean king crab, which are slightly smaller and priced more competitively than the Russian and Norwegian varieties. Our king crab producers do not process any female crabs; they only use male crabs and adhere to a minimum carapace length. Furthermore, we only sell king crab that has been cooked live.
We also supply Paralomis granulosa, which is technically more closely related to the king crab family, but most commonly referred to as Chilean snow crab. Caught in traps or pots between February and November, this popular, medium-sized crustacean is easily distinguished from other species by its short, thick legs and the red, prickly clusters covering its shell and abdomen.
Most snow crab and king crab are processed live. Once caught, they are placed in seawater tanks and transported to the processor, where they are cleaned, cooked, frozen and packed for transit. This quick process preserves peak freshness.
A lot of the crab entering processing plants is processed into sections or clusters of legs, but some is used to make blocks — rectangular-shaped units of cooked, ready-to-eat, frozen crabmeat. These convenient blocks are particularly popular in the foodservice trade.