Give Your Crabmeat a Milk Bath

Packaged crabmeat can taste clean and fresh with just a simple soak.

Published Sept. 5, 2022.

Centuries ago, milk baths were considered a luxurious recipe for youthfulness and beauty.

Now? Milk baths are a surprising recipe for ensuring crab cakes that taste fresh from the ocean. 

While fresh seafood is best for these cakes, it’s not always available. Fortunately, packaged or canned crabmeat can be a perfectly good option. Check out our preferred meat here.

But sometimes, such processed seafood (which comes fully cooked) can be accompanied by an off-putting odor.

If that happens, don’t fret. 

Sign up for the Cook's Insider newsletter

The latest recipes, tips, and tricks, plus behind-the-scenes stories from the Cook's Illustrated team.

Why Does My Crab Smell Fishy?

Unless your seafood is literally catch of the day, chances are it will taste and smell a bit fishy, thanks to a compound found in nearly all seafood called trimethylamine oxide, or TMAO.

This compound is odorless when the crabs are alive, but once they’re killed, TMAO slowly transforms into TMA (trimethylamine), which has an unfortunately distinct smell. 

But that doesn’t mean the seafood has gone bad or is unusable. And there’s an easy way to restore a fresh smell: Give it a simple milk soak.

During this bath, the casein protein in milk binds to the TMA and takes that undesirable odor with it when the crabmeat is drained. The result is clean-tasting, better-smelling meat.

How to Remove the Fishy Smell From Packaged Crab Meat

  1. Fully submerge crab in milk. In a bowl, one cup of milk per 1 pound of crab meat should suffice.
  2. Refrigerate crab for a minimum of 20 minutes. (Cover the bowl first.)
  3. Strain the meat through a fine-mesh strainer. Press firmly to remove the milk—a crucial step since moisture is the enemy of a well-bound crab cake— but be careful not to break up lumps.

And finally, don’t throw out that crab milk! Just kidding. Please do.

See Lan demonstrate this method and make the full Best Crab Cakes recipe below.


This is a members' feature.