I’m sure many of you will have seen the recent BBC documentary, The Fisherman’s Apprentice with Monty Halls – a fascinating insight into the goings on down in Cadgwith Cove in Cornwall. Well, Harvey’s is based there, the company from which we’ve been buying our shellfish for three generations.
My personal favourite is the spider crab which offers a chunkier, sweeter meat than the more common edible crab. We’ve always sold these monsters from the deep, buying them in live and doing all the hard work in the mornings preparing them ready for the hungry diners. So, how would you undertake this at home with a crab bought live from your fishmongers? Here are my tips for cooking this delicious shellfish:
Killing a crab not only prevents the animal from suffering, but it also ensures that the crab does not shed its claws and legs when placed in the pot. To kill the crab, you need to first turn it over on to its back, where you’ll notice a small pointed flap with a small hole. Push a screwdriver into the hole and sharply move it back and forth. This will instantly kill the crab; any leg movements are simply caused by nervous energy, so don’t panic.
Turn the crab back over and allow it to drain. Meanwhile put a large pan of water on to boil and add about five tablespoons of salt. Once the crab is submerged, wait until the water returns to the boil and only then start your timer. You’ll need around 15 mins for a large crab (2lb/1kg) and 10 minutes for smaller crabs. Then you must allow the crab to cool naturally.
Once you are happy that the crab is cool enough to handle, you must turn it on its back and ‘pop’ the shell from the body. (It’s a good idea to have two bowls ready at this point.) This is done by holding the crab upside down with its eyes facing away from you. Use your thumbs to push the body where the rear legs attach and the body will come away.
Once the body and shell is separated, first you must remove the rich brown meat from inside the shell. Moving back on to the main body, you’ll see two rows of feathery ‘fingers’ – these are the crab’s gills and MUST be removed. They act as the crab’s main barrier to bacteria and can make you ill should you consume one – they simply just pull off. You’ll notice the centre also contains some more brown meat. Then pull the legs and claws off and put them aside to serve with your finished crab.
Using the handle of a tea spoon (or a crab picker), you can now work your way around the carcase picking out all the juicy sweet white meat – the challenge is not to eat it all. Now you must inspect your white meat for any shell. Just work through your bowl with your fingers, ensuring that there is nothing sharp or hard in there. A neat trick is to use a metal or tin bowl, as you can hear if you drop any bits of shell into your meat.
Now you’re ready to dress your crab shell. Give it a good clean first with hot water, making sure you scrub off any dirt. Then place on a dish and spoon your brown meat in to the sides, leaving room for the white meat in the centre. Serve as and when you want with some cracked black pepper, mayonnaise, bread, new potatoes and a fresh salad. Yummy! Don’t forget the crab crackers to break those claws open to reveal even more succulent meat.
Matthew Sankey of Sankey’s Seafood Brasserie & Fishmongers, Tunbridge Wells