Crab is such an overlooked ingredient. For something so widely available, sustainable and delicious, I definitely don’t eat it enough. They can be pretty cheap too, and if bought near to where they were caught can sometimes just cost a couple of pounds each. Even in London they are pretty reasonable, and a good fishmongers will be able to get live crabs if you order them. Although they are often compared to lobsters, the taste and texture is so different - much more flakey and delicate - but just as good.
Crab comes available in many different forms. You can buy whole cooked crabs, or ready dressed crabmeat from most fishmongers or large supermarkets, but buying them live and cooking at home is definitely the way that I would recommend eating them. In my mind, the perfect way to eat crab is very simply - a warm, freshly cooked crab with lemony mayonnaise, thick slices of crusty bread and a simple watercress salad. You can use crab in many other (and more complicated) ways, but eaten like this emphasises the wonderful sweet flavoured meat.
However, buying and preparing a live crab is not for the squeamish, and involves killing it yourself. Performing this task always feels a bit strange and weird, but has to be done in order to kill them humanely. I personally don’t have a problem with this as all meat and fish that we eat starts off as a living thing, but if this isn’t for you, then buy a ready-cooked crab. Shelling and picking all of the meat from the crabs can be a slow and laborious task, but once you have done it a couple of times it becomes quicker and easier.
This recipe shows you how to cook and prepare the crab, and serve with a homemade mayonnaise, but once you know the basics you can use the finished crab meat in loads of other dishes.
Serves 2 as a decent lunch or light supper, with leftover crab meat if you get larger crabs.
2 live crabs, about 1kg each
For the lemon mayonnnaise:
1 egg yolk
200ml vegetable oil
1tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1 small clove garlic, very finely chopped
1 lemon - juice
Salt and pepper
For the watercress salad:
2 large handfuls watercress, washed
1 lemon - juice
3/4tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Fresh crusty bread, thickly sliced
Wedges of lemon
Put the crabs in a tray and place in the freezer for about half an hour - this will put them into a deep sleep.
Heat up a saucepan large enough to easily hold both crabs with very salty water until it comes to a rolling boil.
When the water is boiling, take the crabs out of the freezer and kill them quickly. To do this, flip the crab onto it’s back and drive a sharp metal skewer through the small hole underneath the tail flap towards the roof of the shell, moving the skewer around a couple of centimeters. Once this is done, turn the crab back over and push the skewer deep through the mouth. The crab will die instantly, and this is widely viewed as the most humane way to kill them. Once this has been done, plunge the crabs into the boiling water and cook for 15 minutes, adding a couple of minutes if the crabs are bigger. Remove and allow to cool on a plate.
While the crabs are cooking and cooling, make the mayonnaise. Put the egg yolk, garlic and seasoning in a bowl and whisk until the mixture thickens. Add the white wine vinegar and dijon mustard and whisk well again. Using a measuring jug, very, very slowly pour the vegetable oil into the mixture, whisking all of the time until all of the oil has been emulsified. Once all of the oil has been added, taste and add the lemon juice and adjust with salt, pepper and white wine vinegar. Cover and put aside.
To make the dressing for the watercress, put the lemon juice and the olive oil in a bowl and mix together. Add salt and pepper to taste and put aside. Only mix with the watercress at the last minute before serving.
Once the crabs have cooled down a little you can pick out the meat. Pull the legs and claws off of the main body, and with the crab upside down and facing away, push the central part up and away from the main body. Remove the the grey gills - the dead mans fingers, the small yellow stomach sac and the membranes inside the shell. Scrape the rest of the brown crab meat from the inside of the shell and place in one bowl. You can now wash and clean the main shell if you want to use it (in a very 1980s fashion) later for presentation.
Now you can pick the meat out of the main body. Using a heavy knife, cut it into two pieces, and using a metal skewer pick out all of the white crab meat from all the little gaps. Be persistent! Place the white crab meat in a separate bowl.
Crack the claws and legs and pick out the meat from there - there is loads stored in here - and add to the white meat. Try not to mash the meat up too much, it’s nice to have a mixture of textures. Pick through the meat carefully and pick out any shell that might have got in. Season with a little salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice.
To serve, warm the bread through in the oven or toaster, dress the salad and serve on a board with piles of the crab meat and the mayonnaise.
Keep any leftovers - they are great tossed through some linguine with garlic, chilli, parsley and lemon.