- When I first came to Shanagarry crabs were considered to be a nuisance by most fishermen because they found their way into the lobster pots and were much less lucrative to sell. Tommy Sliney, the legendary Ballycotton man who sold his fish from a donkey and cart on the pier occasionally brought us a few, and it was always a cause for celebration We’d prepare all the other ingredients and then my father-in-law, Ivan Allen, would mix and taste the Dressed Crab. Serves 5-6 as a main course 15 ozs (425g) crab meat, brown and white mixed (2 or 3 crabs should yield this) 3 -3 1/2 ozs (75-95g) soft white breadcrumbs 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar 2 tablespoons tomato chutney or Ballymaloe Tomato Relish 1 oz (25g) butter generous pinch of dry mustard or 1 level teaspoon French mustard salt and freshly ground pepper 6 fl ozs (175ml) white sauce, see below Topping 4 ozs (110g) buttered crumbs, see recipe below Scrub the crab shells, mix all the ingredients except the buttered crumbs together, taste carefully and correct the seasoning. Fill into the shells and sprinkle with tops with the buttered crumbs. Bake in a moderate oven 180C/350F/regulo 4, until heated through and brown on top (15-20 minutes approx.). Flash under the grill if necessary to crisp the crumbs. Note: 1 lb (450g) cooked crab in the shell yields 6-8 ozs (170-225g) approx. crab meat depending on the time of the year. White Sauce 1/2 pint (300ml) milk a few slices of carrot a few slices of onion a small sprig of thyme a small sprig of parsley 3 peppercorns 1 1/2 ozs (45g) roux, salt and freshly ground pepper This is a marvelously way of making white sauce if you already have roux made. Put the cold milk into a saucepan with the carrot, onion, peppercorns, thyme and parsley. Bring to the boil, simmer for 4-5 minutes, remove from the heat and leave to infuse for ten minutes. Strain out the vegetables, bring the milk back to the boil and thicken with roux to a light coating consistency. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste and correct the seasoning if necessary. Buttered Crumbs 1 oz (25g) butter 2 ozs (50g)) soft white breadcrumbs Next make the buttered crumbs. Melt the butter in a pan and stir in the breadcrumbs. Remove from the heat immediately and allow to cool. Spicy Crab Cakes
The common brown crab is fortunately still abundant in Irish waters, its meat is sweet and succulent when freshly cooked and picked. Sadly not everyone tastes it like that. The majority taste crab meat after it has been defrosted, the result is stringy, watery and lacking in flavour.
It comes as a surprise to some to hear that crabs contain not just white meat, but brown meat also. The white meat comes from the claws, both large and small and there are also rich pickings in the leg sockets if you have a crab pick and a little patience.
The creamy brown meat comes from the body of the crab, it is rich and delicious and greatly contributes to the flavour of potted crab, dressed crab or crab mayonnaise.
At Ballymaloe House and the Cookery School we have always had a policy of buying whole crabs rather than crab claws which are unquestionably more popular. This discourages the unscrupulous practice of pulling the large claws off and discarding the bodies, a practice which fishermen condemn themselves and deny exists.
In reality, crabs do become entangled in the nets and claws do occasionally get broken even when they are extracted with great care. If a crab is thrown back into the sea with one large claw intact, it can feed itself and will grow another claw within a short time. If both claws are missing, it simply starves to death.
When buying crab –
- Choose a crab with all the claws intact.
- It should feel heavy for its size
- Crabs, like other species can be male or female, the females are easy to recognize, they have a larger flap underneath.Female crabs generally contain more meat than males. Crabs must be either alive or cooked when you buy them.
4. Do not cook a dead crab. When they die they become toxic quite quickly, its impossible to tell the state of deterioration so do not take a risk.
Crabs are in season from April to September. Towards the end of the season the females tend to have an increased roe content in the body which is orangey red in colour. This is of course edible but it is different in flavour and texture to the usual body meat.
Crab shells have lots of flavour so reboil with a fish stock to give a rich broth for a fish soup.
Here are some of my favourite crab recipes to entice you to experiment.
How to Cook Crab
Put the crab/s into a saucepan, cover with cold or barely lukewarm water, (use 6 ozs (175g) salt to every 2.3 litres (4 pints/10 cups water). This sounds like an incredible amount of salt but try it: the crab will taste deliciously sweet. Cover, bring to the boil and then simmer from there on, allowing 15 minutes for first 1 lb (450g), 10 minutes for the second and third (I’ve never come across a crab bigger than that!). We usually pour off two-thirds of the water half way through cooking, cover and steam the crab for the remainder of the time. As soon as it is cooked remove it from the saucepan and allow to get cold.
To extract the crab meat from the shell and claws:
First remove the large claws and the small claws ensuring that you tug them out of the socket with a juicy bit of white meat at the end. Hold the crab with the underside uppermost and lever out the centre portion – I do this by catching the little lip of the projecting centre shell against the edge of the table and pressing down firmly. The Dead Man’s Fingers (lungs) usually come out with this central piece, but check in case some are left in the body and if so remove them.
Press your thumb down over the light shell just behind the eyes so that the shell cracks slightly, and then the sac which is underneath can be removed easily and discarded. Everything else inside the body of the crab is edible. The claws contain the white meat and the body has lots of brown creamy meat. The soft meat varies in colour from cream to coffee to dark tan, and towards the end of the season it can contain quite a bit of bright orange coral which is stronger in flavour. Scoop it all out and put it into a bowl. There will also be one or two teaspoonsful of soft meat in the centre portion attached to the small claws – add that to the bowl also. Scrub the shell and keep it aside if you need it for dressed crab.
Holding this piece in the palm of your hand scrape the morsels of white meat out from the leg sockets, first downwards and then flip it over and do it upwards. Put white meat into a bowl.
Crack the large claws with a hammer or weight and extract every bit of white meat from them, poke out the meat from the small claws also, using a lobster pick, skewer or even the handle of a teaspoon.
Mix the brown and white meat together or use separately, depending on the recipe.
Ivan Allen’s Dressed Crab