I've had my crab pots in the water down near Charmouth beach since last summer, and I can think of few things that give me greater pleasure and satisfaction than catching and cooking these delicious crustaceans.
Last month, the season really took off when I discovered that my few pots had yielded a good number of crabs. Stuart Oxenbury, my neighbour in Charmouth, looks after my pots when I'm up in London and he has been potting for crabs for years. Once we've dragged our boats up the beach we always enjoy a brainstorming session about new ways to get the most out of crab.
The cost of buying a crab might seem expensive, but with a bit of know-how you can get a good few meals out of an average-sized 800g-1kg crab. I hate to throw any shellfish shells away because they produce such a great stock, soup or sauce and you can even infuse the shells in oil to make a great addition to your salad dressings.
There are many possibilities for eating and serving crab. My favourite is crab served in the shell and eaten with mayonnaise and crusty bread. Another easy idea is to make brown crab on toast by mixing the brown meat with some good mayonnaise, spreading it on to hot buttered toast and spooning the white meat on top. If you want to make a crab risotto, you could just use the broth recipe on this page (without the Asian spices) for the risotto stock and add some brown and white meat at the end with plenty of butter. Another option is crab cakes, which are made from brown and white crabmeat, breadcrumbs and spices, then moulded, dipped in crumbs again and fried. The recipes I've created here can all be made from one cooked crab and will serve two people.
Crab broth with ginger
This is a nice light alternative to making a bisque. The Asian spices give it a lovely fresh flavour with an underlying kick of ginger. You will probably end up with more than enough broth, so I would suggest freezing any surplus.
For the broth
The shells from 1 crab, broken into smallish pieces
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
A couple of sticks of celery, roughly chopped
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
30g root ginger, roughly chopped
10 Sichuan peppercorns
Stalks from the coriander (see below)
2tsp tomato purée
2ltrs fish stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 spring onions, trimmed and finely shredded on the slant
20g very fresh root ginger, scraped and very finely shredded
A few sprigs of coriander
1tbsp chopped Chinese or normal chives
1tbsp white crab meat
Put all of the ingredients for the stock into a saucepan, bring to the boil, skim and then simmer very gently for an hour, skimming regularly. Strain the stock through a fine-meshed sieve, try it, and if it's not strong enough, just return it to a pan and simmer and reduce it until the taste improves; season to taste.
To serve, just put the garnish in warmed soup bowls and pour over the hot broth.
Asparagus with crab and chopped duck egg
Asparagus and crab is a great combination and the colours look fantastic on the plate. Try to choose thick asparagus spears for this dish as they will look much more impressive when they are on the plate.
250-300g thick asparagus with the woody stalks removed
1tbsp brown crab meat
tbsp good quality mayonnaise
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
2tbsp white crab meat
1 duck egg, hard boiled for 6-7 minutes
1tsp finely chopped chives
tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
Cook the asparagus in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes or until tender, then drain and leave to cool. Whisk the brown crab meat together with the mayonnaise until smooth and season to taste.
To serve, spoon the brown crab mix into the centre of serving plates and spread a little with the back of the spoon. Chop the egg quite finely, lay the asparagus in a line on the brown crab, then spoon the chopped egg across the centre of the asparagus followed by the white crab, then the chives.
Grind a little white pepper over, sprinkle with sea salt then drizzle over the rapeseed oil.
Crab and pea salad
This is a light and fresh summery salad that you could serve as a starter for a dinner party or as a light lunch treat. You could add other vegetables like samphire, which is just about coming into season now, or even some young broad beans.
A handful of small salad leaves such as silver sorrel, rocket, land cress etc, washed and dried
A handful of pea shoots, washed and dried
60g or so of podded peas, cooked
50-60g or more of white crab meat
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
For the dressing
A good squeeze of lemon juice
1tsp white wine vinegar
1tbsp rapeseed oil or olive oil
Mix all of the ingredients together for the dressing and season. Toss the salad leaves, pea shoots and peas in the dressing and arrange on serving plates, then scatter the crab over the leaves and spoon over any excess dressing.