Can You Sous Vide Crab Legs?: A Complete Guide

When you think about the sous vide method of cooking, the first thing that comes to mind is steak and roast beef. Big chunks of meat often get the most benefits from being cooked sous vide, retaining their taste, texture, and volume. 

Eggs, seafood strips, and even vegetables are also often mentioned in the sous vide conversation. But what about crustaceans? Can you sous vide crab legs? The presence of the hard shell that covers crab legs makes this an interesting question. 

In this article, we discuss whether you can sous vide crab legs, the different factors to consider while carrying out the steps in this process, and how to tell when your crab legs are done. 

can you sous vide crab legs

 

Can You Sous Vide Crab Legs?

Yes. Like other seafood and meat options, you can definitely sous vide crab legs. However, there are problems that come with this dish that aren’t present in other meats. 

Shape

Sous vide relies on your food being in a sealed, airtight bag the entire time it is being cooked. In fact, you’re advised to not even use tongs in case you end up puncturing the bag and ruining the meat. 

This becomes a problem when it comes to crab legs, as they’re inherently sharp. They might puncture the bag from the inside, letting moisture from the water bath in. 

There is a simple workaround for this, and it involves the water displacement method. Instead of using a vacuum sealer machine to completely remove all air from the bag, you can control the pressure that the pointed ends of your crab legs will exert on the inside of the bag. 

This means that adding some water to the bag along with the crab legs can actually help when you’re cooking them sous vide. If you add some seasoning and butter to this water, you end up with crab stock when you’re done cooking. The flavor of the crab meat will seep into the buttered water, giving you a nice flavorful broth at the end of your sous vide. 

Weight

Crab legs themselves are quite light, and you might find that they do not sink to the bottom of the water bath. This means that unlike other meats like roast beef, crab legs might not be completely submerged in the water. 

Even if you buy frozen crab legs and put them in a plastic bag, cooking them for 10-15 minutes will make them float to the top. This will effectively cause them to be only half-submerged in the water, which can lead to uneven cooking. 

Adding some water to the sealed bag solves this problem as well. The weight of the water will keep the crab legs down in the water bath, and you’ll end up with crab stock once you’re done cooking.

What Temperature Should Crab Be Cooked to?

Sous vide techniques use temperatures from 120 degrees Fahrenheit for rare steak and up to 160 degrees Fahrenheit for well-done steak. Crab is obviously not cooked on a scale from rare to well-done, so you should keep your water bath at a steady 140 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Cooking crab legs at this temperature for 30 minutes to an hour should do the job and give you a delicious, healthy meal. 

How Do You Cook Sous Vide Crab?

Whether you’re just sticking with crab legs or cooking complete crabs, the process of sous vide cooking is pretty straightforward. All you need is the crab (or crab legs), some butter, and water. Sous vide machines are available to purchase for home use, and you can learn more by checking out this article on professional sous vide machines

Now, we’ll discuss what temperature the crab should be cooked to, how long it should be cooked for, and how you’ll know when it’s done.

Step 1: Set the temperature of the water bath to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. While the water reaches the correct temperature, you can prepare your bags. 

Step 2: Add two cups of water to your bags. You can also add some butter to make the final crab roast even more delicious. 

Step 3: Add your crab legs to your plastic or silicone bags, making sure that you do not puncture the bags in the process. As you’re using water and butter in the bags themselves, you do not need to vacuum seal these bags. 

Step 4: Seasoning is a tricky subject with crab legs. While some people swear by the taste of cooked crab legs with butter, other people prefer a healthy seasoning with them. You can use garlic, salt, black pepper, and lemon juice for a quick seasoning fix. 

Step 5: According to your preferences, you can either add the seasoning directly to the bag so that it will become absorbed into the meat and stock, or you can add it later on top. 

Step 6: Unlike roast beef and other heavier cuts of meat, crab legs do not need to be cooked for a day. It only takes between 30 minutes to an hour for your crab to be completely cooked. 

Step 7: Remove the bags from the water bath and place them in an ice bath. This will ensure that the crab legs stop cooking. Keeping them at room temperature might cause them to overcook because of the heat trapped inside the bag.

Step 8: Now that you have cooked crab and crab stock, it is time to serve them. While cooking them sous vide for 30 minutes to an hour should be enough, you should still check whether or not they are done.

How Do You Tell if Crab Legs Are Done?

Crab legs come in a lot of different varieties. Most crab legs sold on the market are already cooked, which is why it won’t take too long for you to cook them in an ice bath. Here’s how you figure out if your crab legs are pre-cooked:

Cooked: If your crab legs have a white, pink, or reddish shell, this means that they’re cooked. Crab legs are not sold uncooked at supermarkets or grocery stores. 

Uncooked: You will never find uncooked crab legs that are not attached to the crab. Raw crabs have a greenish-brown shell. Learn more about this by checking out this article on cleaning live crabs before cooking.

Whether you’re buying frozen crab legs or going to your fishmonger, you will get pre-cooked crab legs basically every time. This means that what you’ll be doing to cook them at home will be reheating them. 

You will not notice any color difference when you’re reheating a pre-cooked crab leg. The reddish white or pink color will remain the same. Crab legs usually give off a delicious seafood smell when they’re cooked, which is a good sign that they’re ready to eat.

However, since we’re talking about a sous vide procedure here, you might not be able to smell the crab legs from the sealed packet. You can open the packaging after submerging it in an ice bath to smell it. 

Another way to test if crab legs are done is to crack one open. Check if the meat inside is cooked and steaming. If one of the crab legs is cooked properly, all the others are done too. 

can you sous vide crab legs

 

Serving Crab Legs

There are a number of ways to serve crab legs. The easiest way is to serve cooked (unseasoned) crab legs with a side of butter and lemon slices. This way, you can remove the meat from the hard outer shell and put butter and lemon on it for a delicious meal. 

If you seasoned your crab before putting it in the ice bath, you don’t need lemon wedges. Just some butter on the side will make for a good snack. You can also use the stock left over after the cooking process for other dishes. 

Besides this, you also have a lot of options when it comes to sides. Roasted, baked, or fried potatoes can be a great combination to go with crab legs. Other veggies include corn, coleslaw, roasted vegetables, or a mixed salad. 

While your options when it comes to serving sides with heavier meats are limited, crab legs are much lighter. They come with a large amount of protein and a much lower fat content. Crab legs are even used as sides for steak!

This means that you have more options for sides with crab legs. Dishes like mac and cheese, lemon rice, and cheddar bay biscuits are great additions. If you’re looking to serve wine with your crab legs, you can opt for Chardonnays, Rieslings, or Sauvignon Blancs. 

Advantages of Sous Vide Crab

While crab can easily be cooked in other ways, using the sous vide method for crab legs comes with a number of health and taste benefits. 

Overcooking

Crab meat, like most seafood, is much more sensitive to heat than poultry or beef. This means that it is very easy to overcook it. Using boiling water to cook your crab legs directly can cause the meat to get overcooked and break down more easily, ruining its texture and taste. Using the sous vide method allows you to get a much better flavor profile without adding extra fat to your recipe.

Stock

If you use the boiled water from cooking your crab legs as stock, you are definitely getting the nutrients and the taste back. But what about the meat itself? Cooking crab legs in a pot of water will cause a lot of its taste to seep into the water, leaving the meat itself tasteless.

However, using just a small amount of water as stock in the sous vide cooking method lets the meat retain its taste and flavor, giving you a more delicious result. You also get a thicker, more flavorful crab stock at the end because you don’t use as much water in the cooking process. 

Temperature

Sous vide is a low-temperature cooking method. To put this in perspective, water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. However, crab legs cook at 140 degrees Fahrenheit during sous vide. This lower temperature of cooking comes with multiple benefits. 

First, you’re using less energy to cook. The latent heat from the water vapor that condenses on the hard exterior of the crab leg releases energy that helps it cook without losing its taste. 

Texture

As mentioned previously, you are not only losing out on the delicious seafood taste of crab legs by cooking them in boiling water, but also on the texture. Sous vide gives your meat and seafood the texture that it is meant to be eaten at. You can expect juicy, tender, and fork-ready crab meat when you’re finished. 

Consistency

One of the most important aspects of sous vide seafood cooking is the consistency of the results. Once you have figured out the temperature and the time that you need to cook crab legs, you can expect the same results every time you follow these steps. 

Even though you might have to spend some more time waiting for your crab legs to cook, the higher times and lower temperature of the process produce similar results every time, greatly enhancing your cooking experience. 

The Bottom Line

Cooking crab legs with the sous vide method is slightly different from cooking other types of meat. While it does not take as much time as cooking beef or poultry, the sharp edges of crab legs might puncture your bags, and their low weight might cause them to float on the water and result in uneven cooking. 

However, adding some water and butter to your plastic or silicon bag and not vacuum sealing it can take care of both these problems. So, can you sous vide crab legs? Of course you can! To learn more about this method of cooking and the equipment you can use for it, check out our other articles as well.

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