Dungeness Crab with Lemongrass, Black Pepper, and Basil

Every winter I'm tempted by the stock of fresh local Dungeness crab in the markets. For one reason or another (usually the exorbinant cost), I've never pulled the trigger and purchased. This year was different - the sea stars aligned and the crab were fat and plentiful which meant that I could buy this little luxury without breaking the bank. 

I wanted to do something special with my bounty, not your standard butter and herbs. I thank my lucky stars that I didn't buy crab until I came across this recipe from Sunset Magazine. Their Thai-inspired marinade is filled with lemongrass, ginger, honey, soy sauce, loads of black pepper and finally fresh herbs. It's seriously, and I mean seriously, out of this world delicious. Butter is not always better. 

Your local fish monger can do all the dirty work - just ask them to quarter the crab bodies and clean and crack the legs for you (nicely). All you have to focus on is making this marinade. Easy peasy. After you've whipped up that marinade? Just let it work it's magic on the crab for an hour or so. When you're ready to eat, you'll spend 10 minutes tops cooking at the stove top. Sounds pretty nice right?

This marinade is super versatile and could be used on shrimp, beef, chicken, vegetables, you name it. Fair warning - this is not a silk blouse and white shirt kind of meal, things may get messy but it's worth it. Make sure you're with guests you can high five with sticky fingers and eat in silence with until the bowl of crab is no more.

Cracked Crab with Lemongrass, Black Pepper & Basil - Sunset Magazine

Serves: 4

Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes


  • stalks fresh lemongrass, ends trimmed and coarse leaves discarded
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic 
  • 1/4 cup honey 
  • 1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper 
    • f this amount of black pepper sounds like too much for you, feel free to cut it down. If you used 3/4 of a tablespoon it would still taste great. 
  • fully cooked Dungeness crabs (about 2 lbs. each), cleaned, legs cracked, and bodies quartered
  • 3 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil 
  • 1 cup loosely packed cilantro sprigs
  • 1 cup loosely packed Thai basil leaves or small regular basil leaves


1. Chop lemongrass. Put in a food processor with ginger and garlic; whirl until minced. Scrape into a large bowl and stir in honey, soy sauce, and pepper. 

2. Add crabs to the marinade and stir to coat well. Cover, then chill at least 15 minutes or up to 1 hour.

3. Pour oil into a 14-in. wok or a wide 8- to 10-qt. pot over medium-high heat. With a slotted spoon, add crabs (reserve marinade). Cover and cook, stirring often, 5 minutes (omit this cooking time if using fully cooked crabs).

4. Uncover pan, add marinade, and cook, stirring often, until crabs are steaming and meat is opaque, about 5 minutes.

5. Stir in cilantro and basil, then transfer crabs and juices to a serving bowl.

Word to the wise - have a crusty baguette or loaf on hand to soak up all the marinade. You won't regret it.