Crab is fine to eat now, because there is an “R” in the month, although in these days of refrigeration, that rule no longer really applies, thank goodness! But it is still at its best during these winter months because it is in prime condition.
Crab, for me, knocks spots off lobster. It has far more taste and is far more interesting and versatile. If I have to choose, though, I think crab is best of all eaten at its most simple, dressed with a lemon wedge, a spoonful of good mayonnaise, and some brown bread and butter. But it is delicious when combined with a simple collection of ingredients and baked au gratin. This makes an excellent main course, served with rice, or in smaller amounts it can be a perfect first course.
Crab mousse is one of my favourite dishes – and it is so easy. And my recipe using white crabmeat combined with lemon, garlic, chilli and parsley is the most luxurious of pasta main courses –it’s true the very simplest of dishes usually are the best.
Crabmeat, lemon, garlic and parsley pasta
This is a revised version of my recipe for crabmeat with pasta, and an improvement on the original. For this, I use spaghetti as my choice of pasta.
1lb/450g spaghetti, boiled in salted water till just tender, about 6 minutes. Drain and immediately mix into the drained spaghetti the following:
1lb/450g white crabmeat – this is the only recipe in which I use only white crabmeat, but not brown – the texture of the brown crabmeat renders the pasta stodgy
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 fat cloves of garlic, in their skins and blanched twice by putting them into a small saucepan of cold water, bringing the water up to a fast boil, draining it off then repeating the process. Skin the twice- blanched garlic cloves, and chop the flesh finely.
2 heaped tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt, about 15 grinds of black pepper
1 level teaspoon dried chilli flakes
finely grated rind of 2 lemons
Combine all the above ingredients in a bowl, and mix them thoroughly through the drained spaghetti, with the pan on a medium heat. Serve immediately, with a mixed leaf salad as an accompaniment.
Devilled crab au gratin
Serves 6 as a main course
For the top
1 teaspoon salt
4oz/112g fresh white breadcrumbs
1 rounded tablespoon finely chopped parsley – you can whiz the whole parsley with the bits of bread as you make the crumbs.
1 fat clove of garlic, skinned and diced very finely
1 rounded tablespoon flour
1 pint/568ml milk
1 teaspoon salt, about 15 grinds of black pepper, a grating of nutmeg
2 tablespoons Worcester sauce
2 teaspoons tomato purée
3 tablespoons medium-dry sherry
1lb/450g each of white and brown crabmeats
First, start by making the top of the gratin; in a wide sauté pan melt the butter and, when foaming, add the salt, breadcrumbs and parsley and, over a fairly high heat, stir and fry until the parsley crumbs are golden brown and fairly crisp.
Scoop the contents of the sauté pan on to a kitchen-paper-lined plate to cool.
Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan and add the finely diced garlic.
Cook for a minute before stirring in the flour.
Let this cook for a minute and then gradually add the milk, stirring all the time until the sauce bubbles gently.
Draw the pan off the heat and stir in the salt, black pepper and nutmeg, the Worcester sauce, tomato purée and sherry. Mix the crabmeats into the sauce, tip the contents of the pan into an ovenproof dish and smooth the surface even.
Scatter the parsley crumbs evenly over the surface and bake in a moderate heat 350F/180C/Gas Mark 4 for 20-25 minutes.
Serves 6 as a first course
4 leaves of gelatine soaked in cold water for 10 minutes
½ pint/284ml hot stock – I use marigold vegetable stock powder made up with boiling water for this
1lb/450g mixed white and brown crabmeats
½ pint/284ml crème fraiche
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon Tabasco
1 rounded teaspoon salt, about 15 grinds of black pepper
2 large egg whites
Lift the soaked gelatine from its water bath, dripping off excess cold water, and drop them into the hot stock.
Swirl the saucepan and the gelatine should dissolve almost immediately.
Give it a stir to be sure that it is evenly dissolved, then leave the gelatine stock to cool and start to gel.
In a mixing bowl, tip in the crabmeats, add the crème fraiche, lemon juice, Tabasco, salt and black pepper.
Stir in the cold, almost gelling gelatine stock.
In a separate bowl add a pinch of salt to the 2 egg whites and whisk them up to stiff, then fold the whisked whites quickly and thoroughly through the crab mixture.
Pour and scrape this into a serving dish, or if you prefer, divide evenly between 6 individual glass or china dishes.
Cover, and chill until 30 minutes before serving.
Serve with warm brown bread and a small clump of mustard vinaigrette-dressed salad leaves as an accompaniment.