Claws and effect: Shell out on fresh crabs and let the quality speak for itself

When you serve crabs straight from the sea it's best to let your star ingredient speak for itself
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Indy Lifestyle Online

One of the great delicacies to come from this country is beautiful fresh crab meat from Cornwall and Dorset. I prefer crab to almost any seafood as long as it is very fresh. Whether you pick the meat from the shells yourself or buy it ready picked, it really needs very little done to it to create a special treat.

Cooked crabs have a short shelf life and must be kept very well chilled. If you are buying a whole cooked crab, make sure its smell is sweet with no hint of ammonia – a sign that the meat is less than fresh.

Don't be tempted to get around this by buying frozen crab – it tastes dry and stringy. And don't be tempted by pasteurised crab meat, either – its texture is soft and damp and it lacks flavour.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627

Crab claws with chilli oil

You will need finger bowls to eat this.As a simple, elegant starter, serve it with really good bread and sweet, unsalted butter. Or, for a light supper, serve with a simple salad and one really good cheese, and follow with some sliced blood oranges for dessert. It is worth getting in live crabs for this – or, if you have a good fishmonger, give them the claws and ask them to cook them for you.

Allow 2 crab claws per person

For the chilli oil

1 red chilli
120ml/4fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
A squeeze of lemon juice
A good pinch of sea salt

Place a large pot of really well-salted water on to boil. When the water has boiled, drop the live crab in to cook – for a crab weighing a kilo (2lb), cook for 12 minutes; for a smaller crab, cook for 10 minutes. Remove with tongs and set on a board to cool.

Slice the chilli in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds, then slice into long, fine strips. Gather the strips and cut across into small squares. Place the chopped chilli into a bowl, add a little lemon juice, a pinch of salt, stir together and then add the olive oil.

Break the crab claws off from the body by twisting them firmly; the claws should come away easily. Take a rolling pin and crack the claws by tapping firmly the thickest part of the claw.

Arrange on a plate with plenty of wedges of lemon and serve the chilli oil separately in a bowl for people to help themselves. '

Crab cakes with Tabasco butter and puréed fennel

Makes 12-16 small cakes

For the fennel purée

5 fennel bulbs
30g/11/4oz unsalted butter
1tbsp crème fraîche or cream
A squeeze of lemon juice

For the Tabasco butter

200g/7oz unsalted butter, softened
1tbsp Dijon mustard
1tsp smoked paprika
1tbsp tabasco
A good squeeze of lemon juice

For the crab cakes

250g/8oz picked white crab meat
1tbsp crème fraîche
1 egg
1tbsp very finely chopped coriander leaves
1tsp lime juice
A few drops of Tabasco
125g/4oz soft white breadcrumbs
125ml/4fl oz clarified butter

For the fennel purée, remove the fennel's outer leaves and chop into quarters. Place in a pan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Add a pinch of salt and cook until tender. Drain to cool, then place in a blender with the butter and the crème fraîche. Purée until smooth. Season again and add the lemon and a little more crème fraîche if you think that it needs it. Set aside.

For the Tabasco butter, place the butter in a blender. Add the mustard and a pinch of salt and whisk. Once incorporated, add the paprika and Tabasco and whisk again. Finally, add the lemon juice and whisk.

For the crab cakes, mix together all the ingredients except for the breadcrumbs and clarified butter. Season, then form into 12-16 small cakes (I allow three per person). Coat each crab cake generously with the breadcrumbs.

To serve, melt the clarified butter in a frying pan. Fry each cake for about three minutes on each side and transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper. Reheat the fennel until hot and serve with the crab cakes and a dollop of Tabasco butter.

Crab with linguine

For this simple pasta dish to be really good it should be generously laced with crab and bound with good olive oil.

Serves 4

300g/10oz linguine
1 red chilli, roughly chopped, seeds left in
1 medium bunch of flat-leaf parsley
80ml/31/4oz fruity extra-virgin olive oil
500g/1lb white crab meat
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
The zest and juice of 1 lemon

Place a large pan of salted water on to boil. Drop in the pasta and cook until it is soft, but still retains a distinct bite – around eight minutes. Drain and set aside.

Chop the chilli into fine rounds, but don't take out the seeds. Remove the leaves from the parsley and chop finely. Place a medium pan on top of the stove, turn the heat to medium, pour in a third of the olive oil and warm through. Add the chilli and stir. Next, add the crab, stir again to coat it in oil and gently warm it through.

Add the linguine and cook for a further two minutes, tossing with tongs to ensure that the pasta heats through and the crab is distributed. When the pasta is really hot, pour in the rest of the oil and season generously with salt. Remove from the heat and squeeze over the lemon juice. Finally, add the chopped parsley, lemon zest and a couple of grindings of black pepper. Divide into warm bowls and serve at once.

The Forager by Wendy Fogarty

Petersham's food sourcer on where to find the freshest British crabs...

Crab season begins in early spring and lasts until early December, with a lull in July/August for the spawning season.

Beer crab, Devon

Only small boats under 10m work offshore, using pots to catch crabs, before pulling back on to the shingle beach every day. Beer Fisheries, Beer, Seaton, Devon, tel: 01297 20297

Brixham crab, Devon

Ian and Mandy Browse take the locally caught crab straight from the boats in Brixham to sell in their shop. Browse Seafoods, 2 Paradise Place, Brixham, Devon, tel: 01803 852 942

Cromer crab, Norfolk

Caught by small boats from the local fisheries, these crabs are small but well regarded for being meaty and sweet. Davies Fish Shop, 7 Garden Street, Cromer, Norfolk, tel: 01263 512 727

Cadgwith crab

Available by mail-order, these crabs have been caught inshore, from in and around Cornwall's Lizard Peninsula.