December 29, 2021
Asian shore crabs are invasive in the U.S., but Chef Bun Lai has an edible solution
BY: Emily Petsko
By Chef Bun Lai
In the United States alone, there are an estimated 50,000 non-native species, some of which become invasive species that cause widespread environmental and economic damage. The human appetite is one of the most destructive forces on Earth – responsible for the extinction of countless creatures – so shifting that appetite from overfished or factory-farmed species to invasive species is part of the solution.
I have hunted, fished, and foraged a smorgasbord of invasive species, including pythons, Japanese knotweed, a swamp rodent called nutria, and Asian shore crabs, which are eaten shell and all. Many of these have appeared on the menu at Miya’s Sushi, my family’s restaurant in New Haven, Connecticut. Our goal is to create new ways of eating that encourage greater balance in the relationship between humankind and the living planet.
Asian shore crabs are a problem where I live. You won’t find a beach in Connecticut that’s not crawling with these crabs, which grow to be about the size of a nickel. First introduced to North America in the 1980s, they now infest intertidal habitats from Maine to Florida, competing with native species for food. You can catch them by hand during low tide by lifting large rocks in the craggy areas of the coast. Be sure that you are harvesting the crabs in areas that are certified shellfishing grounds. If it’s an area that’s clean enough for clamming, it’s clean enough for crabbing!
Chef Bun Lai is the recipient of the White House Champions of Change Award for Sustainable Seafood, as well as a James Beard Foundation nominee for Best Chef in the Northeast region. He has participated in various Oceana events and campaigns, including co-hosting a live seafood demonstration with Oceana staff to highlight the importance of responsible fisheries management. Miya’s, the family restaurant his mother founded in 1982, has opened pop-ups around the country and is hailed as the first sustainable sushi restaurant in the world. Check out his recipe below to learn how to prepare fried Asian shore crabs.
Chef Bun Lai’s Fried Asian Shore Crabs
Time: 30 minutes
Around 100 Asian shore crabs
Canola oil (enough to fill a pan or pot with an inch of oil)
Juice of 1 lime
Old Bay or seasoning of your choice, to taste
- After you have collected a hundred or so crustaceans, put them in the freezer to kill them humanely.
- When you are ready to cook them, put them in cold water and bring it to a boil. If you toss them in boiling water without gradually raising the temperature of their bodies, the sudden temperature change will cause their arms to pop off. As soon as the crabs come to a boil, strain, drain, and air dry them.
- Carefully fry them in canola oil heated to 375 degrees. After the crabs have stopped bubbling, they are ready to remove. Drain on a sheet of paper towel and season with fresh lime juice and your favorite spice mixture, such as Old Bay Seasoning.
- Eat the crispy little monsters like popcorn while watching the prophetic horror classic, Attack of the Crab Monsters.
This column and recipe appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of Oceana Magazine. Read it online here.