We had the last of the crabs last night, and I steamed them as usual, but a lot of them were on the mushy side. I have never figured out what causes that; they were frozen for a few weeks, but that doesn't seem to be the relevant variable. Once in a while we'll get mushy crabs in a restaurant, too, so I know it's not just me. Ideas?
Nobody along the central Gulf Coast steams crabs so I wouldn't know about that. Everybody only uses live ones and boils them alive or has the pot boiling while they clean them and boil small batches immediately. I've always heard that if the meat is mushy it's because the crab was dead and had started breaking down. They start spoiling immediately although they're still safe to eat for a short while. Frozen ones retain quality best if frozen alive or if they've been continuously chilled up to that point.
They can be held in a state of suspended animation for quite awhile if put on ice. I've had them in the refrigerator or a cooler overnight and they resuscitate if you let them warm up. They can suffocate, their gills can dry out quickly or they can overheat if not handled properly.
I've seen the commercial crabbers in action many times. They cut the throttle, hook the trap, shake it, replace bait if necessary and open the throttle again and all this is done so quickly that the boat never completely stops moving. They can whiz through a lot of traps in a very short time and be back at the dock. They quickly transport to wherever they're taking them. They have to be hosed down regularly and spread out some or the weight of the top ones will crush or suffocate the ones on the bottom. Good help is hard to find so I imagine some aren't handled ideally.
Twiggy, some of the crabs we cooked the other night were from our own dock; the rest were bought from a place that cleans them before you buy them. We ate half of that batch several weeks ago and they were fine. So I'm not sure what's up, unless it's the too short cooking time that some people suggested. As I said, we have had them that way occasionally in restaurants where I know the crabs are probably very fresh and the turnover is rapid. We have also frozen our own crabs, cleaned and packaged, for long periods and they were excellent when we finally cooked them.
I mostly always caught my own and I know there will occasionally be one or two in a batch that will be mushy. Sometimes I know for a fact there were no dead ones although that's the only explanation I've ever heard for it. I don't believe a word of that undercooked theory.
If they're undercooked the meat is very difficult to pick out. I've never had a problem with a whole batch being mushy so that leads me to think it's something related to the individual crabs. Maybe they've just finished molting or shedding eggs. I think it's most likely something in their life cycle that's caused a temporary physiological or chemical change.