Ganjang gejang is a traditional raw crab dish that is marinated in a soy sauce brine and eaten with rice. I am personally team yangnyeom gejang (the spicy version), but ganjang gejang remains to be the more popular one!
This recipe is adapted from my mom’s, who LOVES to eat any kind of seafood raw. Over the years, her recipe has changed quite a bit. My mom says she had been trying to perfect this recipe for years, like all of the amazing seafood restaurants in Busan. She is not the type of person to shy away from MSG, and we both agreed that it is absolutely necessary in this recipe to make it perfect. You can leave it out if you prefer, but I highly recommend using it.
Where to find live blue crab in SoCal
I get this question a lot, and I actually struggled to find a place that always has them. I used to get my blue crabs from Hmart or Arirang market in Garden Grove, but they rarely have them these days.
I get my live blue crabs from USA Daily Live Seafood Market in Long Beach. They have ALL kinds of live seafood options, all the time! I am not 100% sure, but I believe it is also an Asian-owned business.
I’m going to show you step-by-step how to breakdown a live blue crab and make the seasoning for this dish. It seems a little intimidating at first but I promise it is really not that difficult. It used to take me about 10 minutes to break down one crab and now it only takes me about 2 minutes.
Female vs. Male blue crabs
To make the best yangnyeom gejang, only pick the female crabs! The female crabs are likely to be carrying eggs and trust me, you want the eggs. They add so much flavor and a touch of creaminess to balance all the spicy elements to this dish.
To identify a female, you will need to look at the apron on the belly side of the crab. A female crab’s apron is shaped like a breast. And a male crab’s apron is shaped like uhh…a penis. Ok glad we got that over with. Easy to remember, right?
One important note- the crabs used for gejang in Korea are NOT the same as the blue crabs we can get in the US. The crabs used in Korea are called “ggot-gae” (꽃게) and they are different from our blue crabs. The shells are softer and the meat is a bit sweeter. If you can get your hands on them, I HIGHLY recommend using those instead. But I have never been able to find them, so I use blue crabs.
How to break down blue crabs:
Before we begin, it is important to understand why the crabs have to be alive when you break them down. I am not a crustacean expert but I have done a lot of research to cover this topic. Dead crabs are NOT SAFE TO CONSUME RAW. Do not use dead crabs for this or any dish, ever!
When crabs die, they release enzymes from their gut that decomposes the rest of the body very quickly. Ammonia from the bacteria builds up very fast and will taste bad, change the texture of the meat, and undoubtedly make you sick. With that said, please be VERY careful when handling live crabs for consumption, especially raw!
Gather your crabs in a bag or container and place them in the freezer for 2 hours. This will slow them down, making them easier to handle. It is also the most humane way to kill them.
While the crabs are in the freezer, make the seasoning sauce.
Wash the crabs under cold water as thoroughly as you can. Use a stiff brush. Remove as much of the dirt as you can.
Remove the apron. Lift the apron from the body and twist it off. It helps to lay the crab on a flat surface and hold it down with one hand while twisting the apron off with the other. Leverage is your friend for these next few steps!
Place your non dominant thumb on the furthest leg to the back with a firm grip, and pull the shell off with your other hand. It is totally fine if the shell breaks- it will take practice getting it off in one smooth motion.
Do not throw away the shells that are removed! We will be coming back to those.
Remove the gills. This is more of a preference thing- I know that gills are edible but I personally do not want to eat them. You can leave them on if you’d like but they are traditionally removed for this dish.
After the gills are removed, cut off any protruding pieces of shell and body parts that we will not be consuming, such as the mouth area and spikes.
Cut off the ends of the legs, and the claws if you prefer. I left them on for aesthetic purposes, but it would be easier to eat if they are cut off.
Pictured below is what you should end up with. Once you get to this point, give them another good wash (careful not to remove the fat and eggs) then place them in the freezer while we work on cleaning the outer shells.
Remove all the black stuff stuck to the shell by running it under a gentle stream of cold water and scraping it out with your finger. Careful not to wash away the fat and eggs. This is arguably the best part of the crab!
Put the shells back onto the body. Your marinade should be completely cool by now and ready to submerge the crab into.
If you aren’t familiar with this dish, I bet you’re wondering how the heck you eat it.
There is no graceful way to eat this- it’s going to get messy. To get the meat, you have to scrape it out with your teeth kind of like how you would eat edamame. That, and a lot of sucking. Same with the legs, although you won’t get nearly as much meat out of those. There can be a decent amount in the claws, but you really need to be careful eating around that area because the shells can get stuck between your teeth.
One of the best parts of ganjang gejang is mixing your rice into the shells with some of the seasoning sauce, roe, and fat. It is sooo delicious! I like to add a little furikake into my rice, and I also chop up some fresh peppers and green onions.
Ganjang Gejang 간장게장- Soy Marinated Raw Crab
- 2 lbs live blue crab or swimming crab
- 2 5x5 sheets of dried kelp
- 1 small onion sliced
- 1 small apple sliced
- 2 Korean pepper sliced
- 5 garlic cloves
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger sliced
- 3 dried red chili peppers
- 2 cups low sodium soy sauce Sempio brand #501 or #701
- 6 cups water
- 1/4 cup rice syrup or sugar
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp msg optional, highly recommended
- green and/or red pepper slices
- chopped green onion
- furikake (for the rice)
- Put the lives blue crabs in the freezer for 2 hours to put them to "sleep."
- Mix the seasoning sauce ingredients together in a pot. Cover and bring to a boil.
- When it starts to boil, reduce the heat to low and boil for another hour.
- Strain the seasoning sauce and let it cool completely.
- After 2 hours in the freezer, the crabs should be asleep and easy to handle. Scrub them under cold water with a stiff brush.
- To break down the crab, lift the apron and remove it by twisting it off. It helps to lay the crab on a flat surface and holding it down.
- Place your non-dominant thumb on the furthest leg to the back with a firm grip, then pull off the shell with your other hand.
- Remove the gills and mouth area with kitchen shears. Cut off any protruding shell pieces so its easier to eat around.
- Cut off the ends of the legs and the claw.
- Give it another good rinse, making sure you don't throw away any of the eggs and fat.
- Put the cleaned crabs back in the freezer while we finish the next steps (you don't want to keep them out in room temperature for too long).
- Next, clean out the shells under cold water. Remove all the black stuff without removing too much of the eggs and fat.
- Place the shells back onto the bodies and put them in a glass or plastic container. Pour the cooled down marinade over the crabs and make sure they are fully submerged.
- Refrigerate for at least one day before eating, or up to 3 days. I recommend eating them by the 4th day- after that they will start to get too salty.
- Tip: I like to enjoy these with some fresh sliced peppers, green onions, and a little furikake in my rice when mixing into the shells with the roe and fat.