As the sun warms up and the seas beckon, brown crabs make their way to shallower waters, providing an easier catch for seafood enthusiasts. With its low-impact fishing method using pots baited with fish, crab fishing is sustainable and eco-friendly. The crabs scuttle into the narrow entrances of these pots in search of food, and the pots are regularly hauled up, ensuring there is no by-catch and anything too small is released back into the sea.
Preparing crab may take time, but the effort is well worth the reward. Opting to prepare it yourself guarantees the freshest and most flavorful experience. However, if time is not on your side, hand-picked crab meat is a great alternative as it offers more flavor compared to machine-processed alternatives.
While a simple squeeze of lemon is a delightful way to enjoy crab, we have curated four recipes that will truly make your taste buds sing.
How to Master the Art of Killing and Dressing a Crab
Yield approximately 20-25% of crab meat from a whole crab. Our recipe is designed for a 2kg crab, which should provide about 500g of crab meat, enough for the following four recipes.
Begin by bringing a large pot of salted water to a boil. The water should be as salty as the sea. To ensure humane practices and avoid legs shedding during boiling, flip the crab upside-down and open the abdominal flap. Skewer the crab through the center point with a small sharp knife or skewer and move it from side to side, instantaneously killing the crab.
Place the crab in the rapidly boiling water, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 12 minutes per kg. Our 2kg crab will take approximately 24 minutes to cook. Once cooked, remove the crab from the water, rinse, and allow it to cool. Set aside the legs and claws. Scrape the brown meat from the shell into a bowl, and remove the gills from the body. Cut the body in half and use a skewer to extract the flesh from the honeycombed center. Keep the shell and legs (except the gills) to make stock for the jungle curry recipe below. Wrap the legs and claws in a tea towel, crack them open with a rolling pin or hammer, and extract all the meat. Refrigerate the meat covered for up to 5 days or freeze it in 125g portions.
The Fiery Delight: Jungle Curry with Crab
Originating from northern Thailand, Kaeng pa or jungle curry boasts a spicy thin sauce filled with aromatic flavors like makrut lime, shrimp paste, and lemongrass. This recipe is an adaptation of David Thompson’s Thai Food cookbook, known for its comprehensive exploration of Thai cuisine.
Crab carcass, shell, and legs for stock
125g crab meat
2 crab claws, partially cracked
3 tbsp vegetable oil, for frying
3 red shallots or 1 red onion, thinly sliced
½ tbsp fish sauce
5 sprigs coriander, leaves picked, stalks reserved for curry paste
Rice, to serve
For the curry paste
5 green bird’s eye chilies, deseeded, finely chopped
1 stick of lemongrass, peeled, finely chopped
1cm galangal or ginger, finely chopped
1 red shallot or half a red onion, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
5 stalks of coriander, finely chopped
1 tsp roasted shrimp paste
Zest and juice of 1 lime
Salt, to taste
- Start by making the stock. In a saucepan, combine the crab shell, carcass, legs, and veg scraps from preparing the curry paste. Cover with water and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain and set aside.
- Prepare the curry paste by grinding together salt, chilies, lemongrass, galangal, shallot, garlic, and coriander using a pestle and mortar or blender. Stir in the shrimp paste and lime juice. Set aside.
- In a medium-hot oiled wok or frying pan, fry the shallots until golden and crispy. Set them aside and fry the curry paste in the remaining oil. Fry until fragrant, then add the fish sauce and 500ml of the crab stock. Bring to a boil.
- Add the crab claws and meat to the boiling sauce, cover, and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in the fried shallots and coriander. Serve with rice.
The Spring Sensation: Crab, Celeriac, Chicory, and Swede Slaw
Slaw is a versatile salad that can be enjoyed all year round by using the best seasonal ingredients available.
Serves 4 as a starter
80g celeriac, peeled and finely sliced into matchsticks or grated
½ lemon, juiced, rind boiled in salty water until soft and finely sliced
1 head chicory, finely sliced
1 red shallot, peeled and finely sliced
80g swede, peeled and finely sliced into matchsticks or grated
125g crab meat
80g aioli or mayonnaise
A pinch of chili flakes (optional)
Wholemeal bread, to serve
For the aioli (makes a small jar)
1 large egg
3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tsp lemon juice
150-170ml rapeseed or canola oil
- Begin by making the aioli. Blend the egg, garlic, and lemon juice into a paste, then slowly pour in the oil until the mixture thickens into a creamy sauce. Store in the fridge for up to 4 days.
- In a bowl, mix all the slaw ingredients with 80g of aioli or mayonnaise. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with chili flakes if desired. Serve with wholemeal bread.
The Tempting Snack: Deviled Crab Toasts
“Deviled” refers to seasoning with hot ingredients like chili or Tabasco sauce, a cooking method that perfectly complements the flavors of crab.
125g crab meat
A few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley, leaves whole, stalks finely chopped
50ml sweet sherry or brandy (optional)
2 tsp English mustard
2 tsp sweet jelly (e.g., rosehip, redcurrant)
A pinch of cayenne pepper
A dash of Worcestershire sauce
50ml double cream
Salt and black pepper
4 large slices of wholemeal bread
- In a frying pan over medium heat, melt the butter and add the crab meat and finely chopped parsley stalks. Warm through.
- Add the sweet sherry and let it catch alight, then add the mustard, jelly, cayenne pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. Mix well, reduce the heat if necessary.
- Pour in the cream, return to a boil, and season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Remove from heat when the cream begins to thicken. Serve the mixture on wholemeal toast, garnishing with scattered parsley leaves.
The Pasta Perfection: Spelt and Crab Ravioli
There’s nothing quite as satisfying as making your own ravioli from scratch, creating a pasta dish that surpasses anything store-bought. Wholemeal spelt flour adds a robust flavor and delightful texture to these mouthwatering ravioli.
200g wholemeal spelt or wheat flour
2 large eggs
25ml rapeseed or olive oil
125g crab meat
A good grind of black pepper
½ lemon, zested and juiced separately
Turkish red pepper flakes, for finishing
3 sprigs of dill, pulled into fronds, stalks finely chopped
- In a food processor, blend the flour, eggs, and oil until the mixture forms a ball. Knead the dough on a floured surface for a few minutes, then wrap in clingfilm or a clean carrier bag. Let it rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Season the crab meat with black pepper and lemon zest.
- Roll out the pasta dough on a lightly floured surface into a large rectangle, about 1-2mm thick. Cut the pasta into long, 5cm-wide strips. Spoon 1 tsp of crab meat every 5cm along the center of half the pasta strips.
- Dampen the pasta around the crab meat mounds with a little water, then place a fresh pasta strip on top of each prepared strip. Press the pasta down around the filling, allowing any air to escape before sealing the edges. Cut into individual ravioli squares. Any leftover pasta scraps can be saved for another meal.
- Cook the ravioli in a large pot of salted boiling water for about 3 minutes or until they float. Drain and set aside.
- In a small pan, heat the butter, lemon juice, and dill stalks. When the butter begins to foam, add the ravioli and gently coat them in the butter. Serve the ravioli with a sprinkle of Turkish red pepper flakes and dill fronds.
Savor these four delectable recipes and indulge in the flavors and textures of brown crab like never before. The versatility of crab shines through in these dishes, showcasing its ability to elevate any meal into a memorable culinary experience. So, gather your friends and embark on a crab-filled adventure that will leave you craving for more!
Note: Tom Hunt, an eco chef, director of Poco restaurant in London and Bristol, and author of The Natural Cook, contributed to this article.