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A dressed crab is one that has been cleaned and prepared for cooking or serving. Dressing a crab involves removing all of the meat from the crab, separating it into white meat and brown meat and then possibly adding spices to it. The top half of the crab shell is cleaned out and the meat is arranged in the shell for serving. Some dressed crab recipes do not use the shell, choosing instead to arrange the meat on a plate and serve it with wedges of toast.
The process of dressing a crab starts with removing the claws and legs. The body is then split into top and bottom halves and the inedible innards removed. The meat is meticulously removed from the joints, legs and claws. The meat from within the body also is removed and separated into light and dark. The top of the crab shell is then cleaned of any leftover inedible parts.
The meat can be prepared in several ways. The simplest way is to fill each side of the prepared shell with one color of the meat. Several recipes call for the meat to be spiced or prepared in some way, though. Most traditional methods of preparation, especially in the United Kingdom, do not call for seasoning the meat but serving it with lemon, mayonnaise and wedges of brown bread.
One seasoning method for the dressed crab meat is to mix it with cayenne pepper, salt, pepper and lemon juice before returning it to the shell. Another way is to mix the dark meat with bread crumbs. Some dressed crab recipes are less traditional. One involves mixing the meat with bread crumbs and eggs and then baking it in an oven like a crab cake. A different variation calls for making a crab salad with mayonnaise and onions and then filling the shell with the mix.
The actual presentation when using the crab shell also can vary. Simple recipes merely place light and dark meat on opposite sides of the shell. Some more complex ideas are to separate the halves with a line of parsley or diced, hard-boiled eggs. The center could be lined with white meat straddled by the dark meat, or the opposite.
Preparing a dressed crab can be a time-consuming process. It involves digging the meat out of nearly every crevice of the crab. Many fishmongers are able to dress a crab very quickly and efficiently. There are even frozen dressed crabs that are able to be heated up and eaten right from a box.