When the weather is cold, fish in the North Atlantic really come into their own. Cod and it’s relatives pollock, whiting and ling, the now popular gurnard and rather pricey monkfish are all at their peak during bleakest winter. However, that’s not to say that once the sun is out our seas don’t have anything to offer.
Crustaceans, although available all year, start to look better than they did a few months ago with prices beginning to drop and claws looking meatier. Although it can be interesting to kill, cook and pull the meat from your own crab – certainly giving you a better sense of what you’re eating – it can be a bit of a chore and a messy one at that. Best we think to leave the hassle to a fishmonger and buy dressed crab instead. For a little bit extra he will boil and butcher the mini beast for you and alleviate the daunting sounding task of removing the ‘dead man’s fingers’, leaving you with a bit of shell and the separated white and brown meat.
Our European Brown Crab has reasonably large claws, particularly males, and it’s these that supply us with the white meat. Sweet and similar in taste to lobster meat with a characteristically flaky texture. Within the crab shell itself lies the soft, rich brown meat. Spreadable, almost a pate in itself, with high levels of Omega 3 and bags of flavour. This is really the beauty of the crab as food, these two different textures and flavour profiles really add to the versatility of the meat. White meat is fantastic with pasta, in sandwiches and mixed into salads whereas the brown meat is perfect for subtly enriching sauces and soups.
To start try a take on the classic rarebit, a mix of white and brown meat, double cream, a strong, salty cheese like Montgomery’s cheddar or parmesan and a few shakes of Tabasco and Worcester sauce all spread on hot toast and left under the grill until browned and bubbling. Tarragon wouldn’t go amiss here. Alternatively, add extra cream put the mix into a small gratin dish, top with the cheese and some breadcrumbs and bake on high for 15 minutes or so for a traditional devilled crab.
Like it’s relatives prawns, crayfish and lobster, crab also responds well to mild (or fiery) spicing, it’s sweetness carrying gentle aromas like anise and citrus around the palette. Try a crab masala; fry off brown mustard seeds (1 Tbsp), fennel seeds (2 tsp), cumin seeds (1 tsp) and a few cardamom pods (4-5). Add a finely chopped red onion, a couple of crushed garlic cloves, ginger and green chillies and fry until softened. Toss in a little turmeric and the brown meat and stir to combine. After a minute or so tip in enough coconut milk to bring the mix together into a sauce and simmer briefly to allow the flavours to combine. Once the gravy is smooth and rich add the white meat, chopped coriander and a good squeeze of lime juice. Allow enough time to heat through and serve with soft, warm naan breads and a kachumber salad of smashed cucumber, cherry tomatoes, a little raw onion, coriander or mint and plenty of lime juice or vinegar.
Finally tinned crab, although a little weak in flavour, isn’t all bad and makes a reasonable midweek dinner in a chopped Thai style salad with lots of crunchy veg like lettuce or cabbage, radishes and carrots and a quick dressing of lime juice, sesame oil and honey.