Getting to Know the Peekytoe Crab

Peekytoes Are a Variety of Atlantic Rock Crab

USA, Main, Portland, Hand holding peekytoe crab
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The peekytoe crab story, like its name, is an interesting one. These are Maine rock or sand crabs, which were pretty much a throwaway by-product of lobster fishing before a brilliant marketing move changed their name to "peekytoes" around 1997. They are classified as Cancer irroratus, also known as bay crab and rock crab.

Nowadays this crab is highly sought by the most discriminating chefs around the world.

Only rock crabs from Penobscot Bay in Down East Maine were called peekytoes until demand increased; now they are sourced from Rhode Island to Nova Scotia.

Peekytoe Crab History

There are a couple of theories on how it became known as peekytoe crab. Peekytoe is the slang name for these crabs in the lobster fishing villages of Maine. Rod Mitchell, the owner of the Browne Trading Company, a seafood wholesaler in Portland, Maine, gets the credit for the marketing genius of calling them by their slang name.

Peekytoe comes from "picked toe" -- '"picked'' pronounced as if it had two syllables (like picket) -- because the crab leg has a very sharp point that turns inward. ''Picked" is Maine slang for pointed. Others called them picket toe crabs The Maine accent no doubt contributed to the resulting name of peekytoe. You will even find them called picky toe crabs on some menus.

Other than being a specific type of Atlantic rock crab, the other thing that sets peekytoes apart is the care with which they are handled, cooked and picked.

They cannot be shipped live. Picking over the meat to remove all bits of shell and strict adherence to freshness makes good pickers very much in demand by chefs who favor peekytoes.

Peekytoes are caught in waters that are 20- to 40-feet deep in traps baited with bits of fish. They are not to be confused with Jonah crabs.

The meat is pink with a sweet, delicate flavor. Maine crab, stone crab or Dungeness crab can be substituted for peekytoe as long as it is fresh and unpasteurized.

Maine residents most often in peekytoe crabmeat cut up and mixed with mayonnaise and served in crab rolls or as crab cakes. It's also great in dips and spreads, Peekytoe crabmeat can be used in virtually any recipe where crab is required.

Crab as Health Food

Crab is relatively low in calories; varieties vary slightly, but a 3-ounce serving of Dungeness crab contains around 100 calories. It has just about 1 gram each of carbohydrate and fat. Crab is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, riboflavin, copper and phosphorous.

Crab Cookbooks

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  • "Crazy for Crab: Everything You Need to Know to Enjoy Fabulous Crab at Home"
  • "Cape Cod Cookbook: 210 Traditional Recipes From Chatham Cranberry Salsa to Provincetown Crab Cakes"