I am SO excited to share this recipe with you! Yangnyeom gejang is my all time FAVORITE Korean dish, so you’ve come to the right place for the best recipe.
I always wanted to learn how to make this but couldn’t find any decent tutorials on breaking down a live crab or how to safely consume raw seafood handled at home. About 6 years ago, I was visiting family in Korea and asked my aunt to teach me how to make it. I’ve tried many recipes from restaurants to homemade, and hands down my aunt makes it THE BEST.
*EDIT: I am updating this recipe to include the use of frozen Korean blue crab. In my opinion, it actually tastes a lot better and it’s obviously much easier and more accessible. The recipe has been updated but I am still including the use of live blue crab for anyone who feels iffy about consuming frozen, raw crab.
Cut & frozen Korean blue crab can be found at any Korean market and usually comes in a box. The box should specify that the crabs are frozen immediately after being processed (washed & cut live).
I’ve tried many different brands and Wang Korea has given me the best results by far. My mom says it’s the best one as well. The crab is very meaty, sweet, and has that ocean taste that we want. Here’s what it looks like:
Live vs Frozen crab
There are of course, pros and cons to using fresh vs frozen crab. The most important difference to note is that Korean blue crab (flower crab) is NOT the same as USA blue crab.
Live blue crab is obviously a safer choice, and you would think it tastes better but thats not necessarily the case here. The reason why I actually prefer using frozen crab is because it’s a different kind of blue crab, therefore tastes different (it’s sweeter, and has more of a pleasant ocean taste to it), and it’s also WAY easier to eat. The shell is softer, making it much easier to scrape or squeeze out the meat.
The biggest con to using frozen crab (other than the fact that it is not fresh), is that you miss out on the crab roe and tomalley, which are delicious additions to the real thing you can get in South Korea.
So with this info, you can decide which route you want to take. I’ve had both live and frozen- both are good but I prefer to use frozen.
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 (the employees are Vietnamese).
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.
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. Do not spend any time cleaning the large shell because we are removing it anyway.
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 I believe 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 eyes/mouth area and spikes.
Cut the body in half, then cut off the ends of the legs and the claw.
Pictured below is what you should end up with (2 pieces per crab). 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 collecting more fat and eggs from 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.
Gather the eggs and fat from the shell. Sometimes you will find a lot of fat and eggs deep within the crevices, so don’t be afraid to dig in there for all that extra umami!
Add the fat & eggs to the cleaned crabs. That’s it! That’s how you break down live blue crabs for yangnyeom gejang.
After that, all you need to do is add the seasoning sauce and mix until combined.
I do not like my yangnyeom gejang too sweet. Most restaurants in the US make them pretty sweet to accommodate western palates, which is why it’s not something I usually order. I am extremely particular about yangnyeom gejang and here are the ingredients I use to make my sauce:
Gochugaru, plum syrup, sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, plum vinegar, garlic, ginger, thai chili pepper, rice porridge, and a little msg & black pepper.
If you prefer a sweeter sauce, you can probably get away with not making the rice porridge. Rice porridge is traditionally used to make the seasoning sauce for kimchi for a couple of reasons- it makes the sauce stick better, gives you more of that delicious kimchi brine, and it’s also healthy feed for the fermentation process. These reasons can also apply to my yangnyeom gejang, but the main reason I use it is because my recipe doesn’t have a lot of syrup sugars since I don’t like it sweet. So the viscous consistency of the rice porridge helps to make a sauce that sticks to the crab better, and also has a better mouthfeel/appearance.
Note: If you can find the spicy Korean pepper, I highly recommend using that instead of thai chili peppers. My family is from Busan so we call it “ddaengcho” (땡초), but the standard name for it is “cheongyang gochu” (청양고추). For some reason, I’ve only been able to find them at a Korean supermarket once or twice. If you can get them, definitely use them!
You can eat them right away, but I prefer to wait a few hours so the flavors can marinate. After 5-6 hours in the refrigerator, these babies are ready to eat with a fresh bowl of rice.
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.
Yangnyeom Gejang- 양념게장 (Spicy Raw Crabs)
Raw, spicy marinated blue crabs
- 2 lbs live blue crab or frozen Korean blue crab
- 1 tsp sesame seeds
- 1 lemon wedge
- 1/4 cup soju
- 5 tbsp gochugaru (korean pepper flakes)
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tbsp plum syrup (or any sweetening syrup)
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 2-3 garlic cloves
- 1 tsp ginger
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1/2 tsp plum vinegar or white vinegar
- 1/4 tsp msg
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 5 thai chili pepper roughly chopped optional (very spicy)
- 1/3 cup rice porridge
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 tsp glutinous rice flour
- If using live blue crab, put the crabs in the freezer for 2 hours to put them to sleep.
If using frozen crab:
- If you're using frozen crab, it's best to thaw it the fridge, but you can also run the block of frozen crab under cold running water. Gently pull the crabs apart as its thawing. You may find some fishing lines as well, just throw those away.
- Using kitchen shears, cut off the ends of the legs where there is no meat. Cut off the claws, then using the handle of the shears, gently pound the big leg to make cracks so that it's easier to get the meat out, and so that the meat gets marinated by the seasoning sauce better.
- After cleaning up the frozen crab, squeeze some lemon juice all over, then add soju and toss to coat evenly. These are going to help get rid of any excessive fishiness since these are not fresh crab. Let it sit in the fridge for 20-30 minutes. *Note: You do not need to do this with live crab.
- After 20-30 minutes (you should be making the rice porridge and seasoning sauce during that time), drain the lemon juice and soju, then use paper towels to pat the crab dry. Keep in the refrigerator.
Make the rice porridge & seasoning sauce
- Add 1/2 cup cold water and 1 tsp of glutinous rice flour to a small sauce pan. Mix until dissolved, then cook over low heat stirring frequently until thickened. The consistency should be a little thicker than pancake batter. Let it cool completely before adding it to the seasoning sauce.
- Roughly chop the thai chilis, then crush them using a mortar and pestle along with the garlic and ginger.
- Mix all the seasoning sauce ingredients together. I don't like it as sweet as restaurants usually make it so if you prefer it sweeter, add more sugar and/or plum syrup.
How to break down live blue crab (skip this if you're using frozen crab)
- After 2 hours, 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, and then cut the crab in half. Cut off any protruding shell pieces so its easier to eat around.
- Cut off the ends of the legs and the claw, then make some cracks in the big leg so the marinade can get inside and so that its easier to eat later.
- 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 refrigerator 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 so that you can scrape out the eggs and fat, then add them to the cleaned crabs. You can throw away the shell.
Marinate the crab
- Mix the seasoning sauce & and crabs together until fully coated. Wear latex or plastic gloves when handling- it may stain your hands and/or sting from the spiciness.
- Sprinkle some sesame seeds and store in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before eating, but after 6 hours would be best!
- Enjoy with a fresh bowl of rice.
- Keep in the fridge for up to 3 days. I do not recommend keeping them any longer than that!
- If you can find the spicy Korean pepper, I highly recommend using that instead of thai chili peppers. My family is from busan so we call them "ddaengcho" but I the standard name for it is "cheongyang gochu"
This Post Has 3 Comments
Favorite dish. Missed it dearly, so I decided to just make it myself. Thank you this was very helpful, and please thank your aunt for me also. So delicious.
Also my favorite and I’m so glad you made and enjoyed it! Happy holidays <3