The Microwave: King Crab Legs with Not Your Mother’s Cocktail Sauce

Sunday December 28, 2014

this will give you a perspective of how large king crab are

Crabs are the second most popular seafood after shrimp. With the fishing limits put on Dungeness crabs, there is now a glut of King crab legs available to fill the gap.

What exactly is a King crab? The delicious giant crustacean has ten legs, the front two being pincers, and can easily weigh over 10 pounds. It is cooked then flash-frozen immediately on the ship, so it retains its fabulously fresh and sweet succulent taste since crab is best within 24 hours.

Commercial fisheries have existed for them in the icy waters of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands bordering Japan, Canada, Russia, Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, and Chile (when buying, check if imported or domestic, choosing a domestic Alaska crab if possible). The main species are red, blue, and golden king crabs. King crabs have “tails,” or abdomens, that are distinctive, being fan-shaped and tucked underneath the rear of the shell. They also have five pairs of legs; the first bears their claws or pincers, the right claw is usually the largest on the adults, the next three pairs are their walking legs, and the fifth pair of legs are small and normally tucked underneath the rear portion of their carapace (the shell covering their back).

Because a crab’s skeleton is its shell (made mostly of calcium), it must molt its shell in order to grow. Juveniles molt many times in their first few years, then less frequently until they reach maturity in about 5 years. Adult females must molt in order to mate but males do not. Red king crabs are the largest of these species with the record female and male weighing 10.5 and 24 pounds, respectively, measuring up to 5 feet across. These large crabs were estimated to be 20 to 30 years old.

Red and blue kings can occur from the intertidal zone to 100 fathoms or more. King crabs live mostly between 100-400 fathoms, in the deep waters. Adult red and blue king crabs exhibit near shore to offshore (or shallow to deep) and back, annual migrations. They come to shallow water in in a vertical migration in late winter and by spring the female’s embryos hatch.

Food eaten by king crabs varies by species, size, and depth inhabited. King crabs are known to eat a wide assortment of marine life including worms, clams, mussels, snails, brittle stars, sea stars, sea urchins, sand dollars, barnacles, crabs, other crustaceans, fish parts, sponges, and algae. King crabs are cannabalistic. Oh yeah.

While crabs are usually sold as a whole body or as lump meat, King crab is sold in individual leggy portions with a bit of the body still attached. King crab legs are sold in two forms.. pre-cooked and frozen legs.

Once you wash and clean the crab legs you can start their heating process if you want them warm. Or,  just thaw them out and since they are precooked, you are good to go. You can steam or oven-roast the crab legs. You can place them on a steamer and let them steam for around 5 minutes. If you have several crab legs it might take a little more time. Or you can get them heated on an oven at 400º F. Place all the king crab legs inside a rectangular baking dish and let them roast for about 5 minutes. If all the legs are heated, slowly remove them from the heat. But the easiest, is to microwave. Very quickly, of course, since you don’t want to toughen the tender meat.

For a main dish, consider one leg per person, which is an average of at least one pound, and serve with a seafood fork for removing the red-edged snowy white meat out of the thin shell. Defrost your legs on the kitchen counter for the afternoon, or more slowly in the refrigerator overnight (up to 2 days in the original wrapping). You can dip into regular tomato cocktail sauce, or my special sauce created by my mother, the King crab lover.

Serve with a green salad and some fresh crusty rolls, such as from La Brea Bakery, sourdough, or hoagie rolls, which will taste good dipped in the sauce as well.


Cookware: 10-to 12-inch Pyrex pie plate or platter

Microwave Wattage: 1,100 to 1,300

Cook Time: 3 minutes

Standing Time: 5 minutes

Serves 2 to 4


  • Not Your Mother’s Cocktail Sauce
  • 1 cup mayonnaise, regular, fat-free, or Veganaise soy mayonnaise
  • 6 tablespoons ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons Grand Marnier orange liqueur
  • 4 frozen King crab legs (about 4 pounds), thawed and rinsed


1. In a small bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, ketchup, and Grand Marnier. Cover and refrigerate until serving time.

2. With a chef’s knife on a cutting board, cut each thawed crab leg into 4 to 6 chunks or bend the crab leg at the knees into a V shape and place on a 10- to 12-inch Pyrex pie plate or platter (I do on directly on the 12-inch diameter glass turntable) in a spoke pattern, shell side up. Partially cover with plastic wrap.

3. Microcook on HIGH for 3 minutes, until flesh is opaque. Let stand 5 minutes. Divide the cocktail sauce equally between small shallow dishes for dipping and place on the dinner plate. Divide the crab legs between the plates and let diners crack, shell, and pick out the meat. Serve immediately with some large soft paper napkins and maybe a bowl for the shells.

Excerpted from Not Your Mother’s Microwave Cooking, by Beth Hensperger. (c) 2010, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.

Text copyright Beth Hensperger 2014

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.

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