Cynthia Nims’ Northwest Crab Boil

By Cynthia Nims


May 12, 2016

This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Seattle Magazine.

Unlike our compatriots in the eastern regions of the country, Northwesterners typically add no spice (beyond salt) to the pot when boiling crab for a feast. Having grown up here, of course I adhere to the practice, finding that the flavor of the crab itself is near perfection. Some crab lovers simply scoop up clean seawater, which is clearly quite salty, in which to cook the crab. To replicate this at home, use water that’s been well salted (about 1/2 cup salt per gallon of water).

Depending on your guests’ appetites and what else you’re serving for dinner, the serving size can range from a half crab to a whole crab per person. If you’re increasing this recipe to serve a bigger crowd, keep in mind that you’ll need a much bigger pot, or plan to cook the crabs in batches.

Makes 2–4 servings

2 uncooked Dungeness crabs (about 2 pounds each), live or cleaned and portioned

2 large lemons, cut into wedges, for serving

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted, for serving

Bring a large pot (at least 8 quarts) of generously salted water to a boil over high heat. While the water is heating, put the live crabs, if using, into the freezer to dull their senses a bit. (The crabs should be well chilled but should not freeze at all, so don’t leave them in the freezer for more than 15–20 minutes.) When the water’s at a full rolling boil, if you’re using live crabs, grab each of them securely at the back of the carapace, and gently but swiftly drop them headfirst into the boiling water. If you’re using cleaned crab portions, simply drop them into the boiling water.


When the water comes back to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-high so the water’s gently bubbling, but not boiling over. Cook the crabs for about 18 minutes if whole, about 10 minutes for cleaned portions, counting from the time that the crabs were added to the pot.

Drain the crabs well. If you cooked portioned crab, arrange the pieces on a large serving platter with lemon wedges around the edges. If you cooked whole crabs, clean and portion them before serving. Pour the melted butter into individual dishes for each diner, and pass the crab while it’s still warm.

(c) 2016 by Cynthia Nims. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Crab: 50 Recipes with the Sweet Taste of the Sea from the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf Coast by permission of Sasquatch Books.

Photography by Peachy Juban-Notter

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