Scottish seafood and shellfish are some of those ingredients that still get my pulse racing, even after many years of cooking. Nothing quite beats the excitement of my trusted suppliers arriving at the door with their catch of the day – fresh shellfish straight from local waters.
At this time of year, Scottish crab is just magnificent. Freshly cooked brown crab, eaten while still warm, is one of my all-time favourite dishes – served as fresh as can be, with some bread and crisp white wine, it is pretty close to food heaven. Despite being such a glorious ingredient, though, I find many people are slightly fearful of preparing crab at home.
It may seem hard to believe but there are more than 4,000 species of crab out there, and many of them are abundant. There are a number of wonderful local species to be found in Scotland but I really don’t think we make the most of them. For example, velvet crabs are widely available here. They are a very sustainable species and taste great but people rarely seem to eat them at home.
I recommend that you head along to your local fishmonger, who can help you select the best crab that has come in fresh that day. Fresh crab should feel heavy for its size, and you can buy it either live and boil it yourself at home or you can ask your fishmonger to kill it for you.
Crab meat is never quite the same if it has been in the fridge for a few days, so always try to eat it as fresh as possible. Cooked crab meat can be bought in cans too, but the flavour is not as good as that of fresh crab, and you really will taste the difference.
It’s important to understand the different flavours of each part of the crab before you start cooking with it. Almost all are edible, and making sure you get every single piece of the meat from all the different parts is important, as you could be missing out on the very best flavours. In my eyes, wasting any of an ingredient like crab is heartbreaking.
A sweet, dense flavour can be found in the claws, with the taste often described as being similar to that of lobster meat. The flesh that comes from under the hard upper shell is soft, rich and brown. Crab liver is also considered a delicacy.
If you prefer the white meat, its best to buy male crab as they tend to have larger claws, which is where you will find the white meat. However, if you get a female crab it will sometimes contain coral – the flavoursome red roe that many people enjoy.
The only part of the crab to be cautious about is the grey gills – it is vital you remove these as they are very rough and indigestible.
When it comes to cooking the crab, place the whole creature in a large pan of salted, boiling water. When the water comes back up to the boil, turn it off and let the crab cool in the water. It should be left for approximately ten to 15 minutes before removing it in order to start preparing the meat.
Crab meat is just as good eaten hot as it is cold. You can relish the wonderful taste in so many different dishes, from salads to soups and soufflés. I love to eat it in a really simple way and often serve the crab and claws whole – placed in a big dish on the middle of the table – so everyone can get stuck in and pick the meat from the shells themselves. It’s messy stuff but a lot of fun, but just make sure that you lay on some finger bowls of water and lemon at the side so diners can wash their hands when they need to.
There’s no denying it’s not a quick or simple task to prepare crab, as fresh as possible, straight from the sea. If you can’t be tempted to try the process for yourself, your local fishmonger can help you prepare the meat for any dish you might decide to try.
If you are buying cooked crab meat from your fishmonger, it’s much easier to buy it already out of its shell. Hand-picked meat consistently has the best flavour. However, I highly recommend you give it a go – it’s truly rewarding to enjoy the juicy, succulent crab as fresh as can be. And once you’ve got to know the produce, you’ll know how to make the most of all of its different parts.
Crab and pea cocktail
200g fresh peas
2 baby gem lettuce, thinly chopped
drizzle of olive oil
squeeze of lemon juice
200g white crab meat
100ml curried mayonnaise
1 tbsp chopped chives
salt and pepper
Bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Add the fresh peas and blanch for one or two minutes, until soft.
Remove from the heat then place the peas in a blender with 10g of butter and a ladle of the cooking liquor from the pan. Blend the butter and peas fast, adding water when necessary, until you have a smooth purée.
Once blended, transfer the purée to a chilled bowl, placing in the fridge immediately to cool it quickly and keep its vivid green colour.
Place the chopped lettuce in a bowl and drizzle with the olive oil and lemon juice.
Place the lettuce into martini glasses, then spoon the pea purée on top of the lettuce in each glass.
For the crab
Place the crab meat in a bowl and add the curried mayonnaise. Add the chives, then season with salt and pepper and mix well.
Place the crab mixture on top of the pea purée, then garnish the dish with a few fresh peas.
This cocktail is delicious served with toast or some raw vegetables.
2 whole crabs
2 baby gem lettuce, thinly chopped
200g white crab meat
1 tbsp chopped herbs
wedge of lemon
Bring a pan of water to the boil, making sure the water is well salted as this will bring out the flavour in the crab.
Holding the crabs from behind, carefully plunge each into the boiling water.
When they hit the water, the temperature will drop. Bring the water back to the boil – as soon as it starts to boil, remove the pan from the heat, leaving the crabs to cool in the water for ten to 15 minutes.
Remove the crabs from the water then carefully break the legs off one of them and place on a serving plate. Now take off the claws and place at the top of the plate to create the shape of a crab.
Carefully pull the body away from the shell of each crab, keeping the brown meat inside. Clean out the interior of one crab shell and place in the middle of the plate.
Place the lettuce in a bowl, then add the mayonnaise, crab meat and chopped herbs and mix together well.
Spoon the crab mixture back inside the scooped-out crab shell. Serve the dish with crackers and a large wedge of lemon.