Gejang (게장) is a traditional dish that’s made by marinating raw crabs in soy sauce. Historically, a very salty soy sauce brine was used as a way of preserving the crabs for a long time. Nowadays, gejang is enjoyed for its taste, so fresh crabs are marinated in a mild soy sauce-based brine and usually eaten within a few days. This modern version is enormously popular in Korea. The soy sauce-based gejang is also called ganjang gejang (간장게장) to distinguish it from a spicy version, which is another modern concoction, called yangnyeomgejang ( 양념게장).
In my family, two of us are big fans of gejang. When I was pregnant with my first child, gejang was what I craved the most. Interestingly, my first born loves gejang. During one visit to Korea, he waited 45 minutes in line outside on a hot summer day to eat at a restaurant well known for its gejang. I wonder if his love for gejang has anything to do with my pregnancy cravings.
In Korea, gejang is most commonly made with a crab species called, kkotge (꽃게), aka horse crab. The Korean name literally translates into “flower crab”. Here on the east coast of the U.S., we have blue crabs. I started this gejang post earlier in the summer, when the peak season for Chesapeake Bay blue crabs had just started. But even now, I am still able to find fresh female crabs with roe. We Koreans prefer female crabs for making gejang, but you can also use male crabs, especially in the fall when they are fat and bountiful. As is the case with the consumption of any raw seafood, be sure to use only the freshest crabs.
The method for making ganjang gejang is relatively simple. Dealing with the live crabs will be your biggest challenge. However, it’s very common in Korea to freeze live crabs since fresh crabs degrade very quickly. I always put them in the freezer for a while for easier cleaning. To make the brine, Korean cooks tend to use a wide variety of aromatic ingredients. The goal is to eliminate the raw, fishy taste while enhancing the flavor of the crabs at the same time. The brine should be flavorful, but not overpowering and too salty.
Gejang is eaten with a bowl of rice. Koreans even refer to this dish as a “rice thief” (밥도둑). Your bowl of rice will be gone in no time as you enjoy sucking the flavor-packed crab meat out of the shell. Be sure to leave a spoon or two of rice to mix with the roe and tomalley in the top shell. The crab infused brine is also delicious mixed with the rice or as a sauce for other dishes.
After one day, strain the brine into a pot (and put the crabs back in the fridge). Bring the brine to a boil over medium heat, and boil for 3 to 4 minutes. Wait for the brine to completely cool, and then pour it back over the crabs. You can skip this process, but it enhances the flavor of the brine and helps the crabs to last longer.
The crab infused leftover brine can be re-used to marinate meat or as a dipping or seasoning sauce. Boil it for a few minutes and cool before saving it in the fridge for later use.