Stalin's crabs the new gourmet treat

They're the reds on top of the beds (of lettuce) in London's exclusive restaurants

Jonathan Owen
Thursday 20 October 2011 13:45

Forget snail porridge, belly tuna and squat lobster: Britain's top chefs are looking to a legacy of Soviet Communism to provide this year's culinary sensation.

A little over half a century ago, massive red crabs were moved across the world on the orders of Joseph Stalin. Now, their descendants are finding their way to banqueting tables and sushi platters in some of London's most fashionable restaurants.

Gastronomes say the Norwegian red king provides a unique taste sensation and that the days of the lobster as the ultimate dining experience are numbered. Not only does the red king offer incredible flavour, but when placed whole on the table it makes a striking impression. At one and a half metres and weighing about 4kg, the crustacean also contains masses of meat in its giant legs.

At the Nobu restaurant in London's Park Lane, the chef Scott Hallsworth enthused about the Red King. "We've started creating more dishes with it and they selling well. We are running it as a permanent special but it will probably make it on to our main menu soon. Just about every time I've had it, it has been juicy and full of flavour.

"It has got a great texture, something to really bite into."

The success of the red king comes despite sushi-sized portions selling for more than £18.

Mr Hallsworth's enthusiasm for the red king is echoed over at the One-O-One restaurant in Knightsbridge. There the owner, Pascal Proyart, has a whole page on his menu dedicated to it.

"The king crab is in a league of its own," he said. "It is very versatile with a truly unique flavour."

The king crab now accounts for around 70 per cent of all starters sold at the restaurant, at a price tag of around £19 each. In total some 60kg is served up each week.

"It is not really a lobster flavour; it is very meaty and a bit sweeter than normal crab meat. It doesn't have the chewiness of lobster and is much more tender," said Mr Proyart.

Stalin, an early fan of aquaculture and of transporting species that might feed the masses, ordered the red crab to be flown in from the Pacific and raised on the shores of the Barents Sea. It thrived, and since the 1990s it has rampaged down the coast of Norway, eating everything in its path. Its population has leapt to an estimated 50 million.

Predicting the crab's impact on the marine ecology is difficult. There is some evidence that the crabs, which often live at great depths, have been eating the eggs of the caplin, a small fish that is a main source of food for cod.

Maren Esmark, marine conservation officer for the WWF in Norway, said: "This is an introduced species. It is unwanted and a disturbance to the ecosystem. Stocks should be kept as low as possible."

Norwegian authorities are delighted that the Red King finally has a predator in its midst. They are encouraging the new-found interest in its meat and telling fishermen to pursue the crabs. Russian and Norwegian fishermen have been licensed to kill more than three million crabs this year.

Food lovers, it seems, might just be the key to stopping Stalin's last red army in its tracks.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments