JAPANESE SNOW (MATSUBA) CRAB
Although Hokkaido is the most famous supplier of crab in Japan, Sakaiminato City in Tottori produces the most crab in all of Japan. Snow crabs caught in the Tottori area are called “Matsuba crab”, which are adult male snow crabs caught during the winter season.
Tottori is a coastal prefecture in southern Honshu island, Japan’s main island. To the east lie the Tottori City Sand Dunes next to Japan Sea, the largest sandhills in Japan.
The best time to enjoy the elegant Matsuba crab is from November to March. The Sakaiminato Direct Sales centre is a place where both residents and tourists can purchase Matsuba crab directly. Snow crab is named from its meat, which turns from red to snowy white when cooked and boasts a sweet, subtly briny flavour. The texture is firm and tends to be more fibrous (easily shredding into pieces) than king crab. Snow crab leg shells are fragile enough to simply cracking open with your hands.
Sashimi is the best way to preserve its original qualities. Another simple way of preparation is nabe (or, hotpot). The combination of crab and vegetables in hot broth keeps our body warm during the winter months. For the smaller oyagani, it can be added in whole into miso broth or paired with rice wine. One of my favourites is grilled crab miso. Crab miso (also known as crab brain, or crab tomalley) refers not to actual miso paste, but to the innards of the crab you find inside the shell. The slightly acidic, full-flavoured crab miso is delicious with dry sake.
Female snow crabs are known as Kobako crabs or Seiko crabs, and contain orange egg sacks (that are deliciously served over rice or as sushi), up to 16,000 to 160,000 eggs in the spring which are brooded by the mothers for up to 2 years, depending upon ambient temperatures and food availability. The eggs hatch to larvae from late spring to early summer when there is plenty of food in the water column, where the larvae live and feed on plankton.
They will grow through three larval stages before becoming megalops, which looks like miniature crabs with long tails. Megalops settle to the ocean floor, moult, and metamorphose into the first crab stage. From this point onwards, they look like tiny versions of the adult crabs and will live on the ocean floor for the remainder of their lives. Snow crabs grow by regularly shedding their shell and growing a new and larger one. They are very vulnerable during this moulting period until their new shell hardens. When they have reached sexual maturity they have a final, terminal moult, after which they will not moult again. They settle to the bottom in late autumn and winter. They can live for up to 20 years.
The snow crab is slightly smaller than the red king crab, has a bumpy shell, and inhabits the deep sea anywhere from 50 to 300 meters below the surface. The males are considerably larger than the females, their shells growing to around 15 cm wide, have more meat, and can, therefore, be more expensive. Their primary food includes shrimp, fish (capelin and lumpfish), starfish, sea urchins, worms, detritus, large zooplankton, other crabs, sea snails and sea anemones. Predators of snow crab are halibut, skates, cod, seals, plaice, squids, and other crabs.
A Matsuba crab sold for a breathtakingly record high of 5 million yen in the season’s first auction, held at Tottori Port in the western Japan city of Tottori in 2019. Apparently, the crab, which was classified as exceptionally valuable due to its size, weight, shape and colour.
How to get to Sakaiminato City:
To Yonago Kitaro Airport is approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes flight from Haneda Airport. From Yonago Kitaro Airport, take the train to JR Sakaiminato Station (approx..20 min). From JR Sakaiminato Station, it takes 15 minutes by bus.