Claws celebre: Mark Hix praises tasty, versatile crab with recipes inspired by his own festival
The other week I instigated a crab festival in Lyme Regis to coincide with the RNLI week, where the Red Arrows perform their annual sky show, and various sea awareness demonstrations take place. This was a great opportunity to show off our local crab and Kevin Gratton, my right hand man, did a demo on the Cob, right next to the water. Between us we cooked 20 different crab dishes and sold them at a fiver each for the lifeboat pot.
We also invited local restaurants, like Anthony and Elena from The Mill Tea and Dining Room, and Herbies, the fish and chip takeaway on the harbour, who made fantastic crab cakes. Seaside towns should celebrate their fish and seafood a bit more; my mate Mitch Tonks organises another festival in Dartmouth – it's a great way to educate people on the versatility of crab and how it's a good-value meal, especially if you make a soup out of it.
Crab summer rolls
These are commonly found in Thai and Vietnamese restaurants and they are a great light and fresh alternative to the traditional crisp spring rolls. You can really adapt the filling to suit and use prawns, chicken, etc. The rice paper wrapper is just to hold the filling together and I've enjoyed eating these at The Viet Grill and Cay Tre in both rolled-up forms and also as a kind of open cone using lettuce leaves, which makes them into a really fresh and crisp snack or starter.
The wrappers used for these are dry and white with patterns from the matted bamboo they are dried on – not to be confused with spring roll wrappers, as they are sometimes labelled.
Traditionally these would be served with nuoc cham (a Thai dipping sauce), but I've incorporated some brown crab into it. If you haven't got any use for brown crab meat, on toast for example, then just leave it out.
10-15 rice paper sheets (allowing extra for casualties)
5-6 spring onions, cleaned and shredded finely on the angle
A handful of Asian herbs such as Thai basil, mint, coriander, wild pepper leaves etc, washed and dried
120-150g freshly picked white crab meat
For the sauce
Warm water to mix
1-2tbsp brown crab meat, pushed through a sieve
1tbsp fish sauce
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
The juice of half a lime
First make the sauce: dissolve the sugar in about a tablespoon of warm water then whisk in the other ingredients.
Have a bowl of hot water ready, large enough to dip the sheets into. Dip about 2 or 3 at a time for just a few seconds, then lay them out on a clean work surface and leave them for a couple of minutes, until the water is absorbed and they become pliable. You will need to work quite quickly and expect a few casualties along the way. Lay the spring onions, herbs and crab down the centre and roll the rice paper tightly up around the filling.
Lay them on a tray until you have rolled the lot and serve immediately. Don't worry, it takes a while to get the technique right, so a bit of practice before your guests arrive won't do any harm.
Lara's crab rostis
Lara, my girlfriend, asked me if crab would work on a crisp potato rosti and I said of course it would, what a great idea. I demonstrated this dish on the Cob for those of you who watched, so here is the recipe.
2 medium-sized baking potatoes, parboiled in their skins for about 15 minutes, then left to cool
1 small onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
Vegetable or corn oil for frying
A good knob of butter
A couple of tablespoons of good-quality mayonnaise
1 small green chilli, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
A handful of small salad leaves and herbs
The brown and white meat from a 700-800g crab
1 lemon, quartered
Remove the skins from the potatoes and grate the potato on the coarse side of a grater. Mix with the sliced onions in a bowl and season.
Heat some vegetable oil in preferably a large, non-stick frying pan. Divide the potato mix into four and place in the pan, shaping into thin, roundish patties with the help of a spatula.
Cook them for 4-5 minutes on each side until crisp, then remove from the pan and keep warm. You may have to do this in a couple of batches, depending on the size of your frying pan.
Mix the brown meat with the mayo and chilli; season. To serve, place the rostis on plates and spoon the brown meat mix into the centre, then arrange the leaves and white meat on top. Serve with lemon.
Crab and samphire
This is a tasty and simple two-ingredient dish that can be served in no time and really tastes of the sea.
150g samphire, trimmed and washed
200g freshly picked white crab meat
The juice of half a lemon
2tbsp rapeseed oil
1tbsp chopped chives
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Blanch the samphire in boiling, salted water for 30 seconds, then drain and briefly refresh under the cold tap and pat dry on some kitchen paper.
Arrange the samphire on serving plates and scatter the crab on top. Mix the lemon juice with the rapeseed oil and season, then spoon over the crab and samphire and scatter the chives on top.
Spider crab and sweetcorn chowder
Spider crab is an undervalued shellfish and you rarely see it on restaurant menus – there's not an awful lot of meat compared to a brown crab, but stretched out into a soup and with the shells used for a bisque it suddenly makes good sense.
Most good fishmongers should be able to get hold of spider crab for you and you should cook and prepare it in the normal way – or get your fishmonger to do it for you.
If you are struggling to get spider crab, you can use a normal brown crab.
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
4 rashers of rindless, smoked, streaky bacon, chopped into rough 1cm squares
1.2ltr hot fish stock
1 x 250g can of sweetcorn
The brown and white meat from a 500-700g spider crab
1 large potato, peeled and cut into rough 1cm cubes
2tbsp chopped parsley
60ml double cream
Gently cook the onion, garlic and bacon in the butter for 4-5 minutes until soft. Stir in the flour and cook on a low heat for 1-2 minutes. Gradually add the hot fish stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the sweetcorn and brown crab meat and remove a fifth of the soup from the pan; blend until smooth and returnto the pan.
Add the potatoes, season with salt and pepper and simmer for another 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Add the cream and parsley and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Check the seasoning and re-season if necessary. Serve immediately.
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