I am SO excited to share this recipe with you! Yangnyeom gejang is my all time FAVORITE Korean dish!
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.
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, 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. 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.
Note: If you can find the spicy Korean pepper, I highly recommend using that instead of serrano 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 couple of hours so the flavors can marinate. After 2 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.
Watch How to Make It
Yangnyeom Gejang- 양념게장 (Spicy Raw Crabs)
- 2 lbs live blue crabs
- 4 tbsp gochugaru (korean pepper flakes)
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp plum extract (or any sweetening syrup)
- 1 tbsp garlic minced
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp white vinegar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 serrano pepper minced , optional (very spicy)
- 1/8 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp msg optional, highly recommended
- 1 tsp sesame seeds
- Put the crabs in the freezer for 2 hours to put them to sleep
- Mix the seasoning sauce ingredients together to form a thick paste. If you don't like your gejang too sweet, don't add any sugar. The plum extract is sweet enough on its own
- 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.
- 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 so that you can scrape out the eggs and fat, then add them to the cleaned crabs. You can throw away the shell.
- Mix the seasoning sauce & and crabs together until fully coated.
- Sprinkle some sesame seeds and store in the refrigerator for 2 hours before eating.
- 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 serrano peppers. My family is from busan so we call them "ddaengcho" but I the standard name for it is "cheongyang gochu"