Earlier this year, I hosted a crab festival in Lyme Regis. Part of the event was a fund-raising dinner in the Marine Theatre, to pay for its new roof. We served tin mugs of crab soup to start, then I tipped buckets of different types of cooked crabs onto the middle of the tables, which the guests cracked away at with big pebbles. Everyone loved getting stuck in and we went around the tables giving tuition on getting the most meat out.
Compared to lobster, crab is a bargain and, like the former, can keep you going for a couple of days if you make soup or bisque from the empty shells.
WOK-FRIED CRAB (above)
I had this dish cooked on the back of a boat in Sydney years ago and what a treat it was. It’s the kind of dish you can actually cook at home, wrap in foil and take to a picnic or on a boat trip. Mine was made with Australian crabs but it works just as well with our native browns.
- 1–1.5kg live crab
- Vegetable oil for deep-frying
- 2tbsps sesame oil
- 2tbsps sea salt
- 1tsp ground black pepper
- 1tsp ground white pepper
- 2tsps ground cumin
- 2 star anise, coarsely ground
- 1tsp ground cinnamon
- Juice of 2 limes
- 8 snake beans, or 150g prepared green beans, cooked in boiling, salted water for 4–5 mins and drained
- A handful of coriander leaves
1| Place the crab in a pan of salted water, bring to the boil and simmer for 2mins. Drain and run under the cold tap for 4–5 mins to cool.
2| Remove the outer main shell and discard or save for soup or sauce. Remove the large claws and just crack them on the main piece of claw at both joints, keeping the claws intact. Remove the “dead man’s fingers” (the inedible feathery gills) and chop the main body in half.
3| Pre-heat about 8cm of oil to 140–150°C in a large, thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep-fat fryer. Fry the crab pieces in a couple of batches for 3–4 mins, remove with a slotted spoon and drain. Chop the two pieces of body in half again.
4| Meanwhile, heat a couple of tablespoons of frying oil and the sesame oil in a wok and gently fry the spices for 1 min. Add the crab pieces cook in the wok for 4–5 mins, turning occasionally.
5| Add the lime juice and stir well on a high heat, then toss in the beans. Transfer to a serving dish and scatter over the coriander.
Bisque refers to a shellfish soup made with cream thought to have originated in the Bay of Biscay. After cooking shellfish, I always freeze the shells – they contain an abundance of flavour – so I can cook some bisque. For this, you can remove the meat first if you want to and use it. A good fishmonger might save you some shells if he does his own dressed crab, but if you can’t get whole crabs use cooked or raw prawns with the shells and heads on, and follow the recipe in the same way.
- 1kg freshly cooked or raw whole crab, or the same weight of shells
- 1tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 small leek, trimmed and roughly chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1tsp fennel seeds
- A few sprigs of thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 40g butter
- 2tbsps tomato purée
- 3tbsps flour
- 1 glass of white wine
- 1.5 litres of fish stock, or a couple of good fish-stock cubes dissolved in 1.5 litres of hot water
- 100ml double cream
- Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1| If you have live crabs, plunge them into boiling water for 2 mins. Remove.
2| Use the back of a heavy chopping knife or the flat side of a meat cleaver to break the crab’s body and leg shells up into small pieces. (Doing this in a plastic bag stops the shells flying everywhere and saves on the clearing up). If the meat is still in the crab remove the “dead man's fingers”.
3| Heat the vegetable oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan and fry the crab shells over a high heat for about 5 mins, stirring every so often until they begin to colour.
4| Add the onion, leek, garlic, fennel seeds, thyme and bay leaf, and continue cooking for another 5 mins or so, until the vegetables begin to colour.
5| Add the butter and stir well, then add the tomato purée and flour, stir well and cook for 1 min over a low heat. Add the white wine, then slowly add the fish stock, stirring to avoid lumps forming.
6| Bring to the boil, season with salt and pepper, and simmer for 1 hour.
7| Drain the soup (shells and all), through a colander over a bowl, stirring the shells so that any small pieces go into the liquid.
8| Remove about one-third of the softer white body shells (not the very hard claws and main shell) and put them into the liquid. Discard the rest. Blend the shells and liquid in a liquidiser until smooth, then strain through a fine-meshed sieve.
9| Return to a clean pan, season with salt and white pepper, if necessary, and bring to the boil. To serve, add the cream and any remaining crab meat. Adjust seasoning if necessary and stir well.