Simon Hopkinson shares his tips on cooking crab – with a little help from a classic book by the brilliant Rick Stein.
June 1976, Pembrokeshire, and the crabs are fantastic! It’s also noted as the beginning of one of the hottest, driest summers in living memory, but the crabs keep a-coming. We walk down the narrow lane to the small bay to barter with the crab (and lobster) men in their boats, weighing up between huge cocks and smaller hens — with their sweeter white meat and creamy roes — until we have enough to sate everyone for a big lunch in the garden.
We haul up two big buckets of seawater with us, as it has just the right salinity in which to cook the critters. The table is covered in newspaper, steel crackers for the claws, huge bowls of freshly whipped-up mayonnaise, as well as butter-dressed, tiny, new-season Pembrokeshire potatoes to pick at with the fingers and pop in the mouth.
There are pepper mills, little shakers of hot cayenne and a huge tin bath filled with ice and bottle upon bottle of Sancerre buried deep within. Shall we?
When you wish to cook crabs without the convenience of the sea a few yards away, I always look to Rick Stein, who, in his seminal first book English Seafood Cookery (Penguin, 1988), advises that a ratio of 165g sea salt to five litres from the tap will mimic the briny.
As for timing how long the crabs will take to cook, he suggests 15 minutes from coming back to the boil for anything up to 600g, 20 minutes for anything up to about 1kg, 25 minutes for 1.5kg and 35 minutes for anything larger — which would be a bit of a monster, clearly!
My humble advice, once the water has come back to the boil, is to simmer the crabs rather than continue with the water at a roll. Once the time is up, I suggest you plunge the crabs into a big bowl (or sink) of iced water to halt the cooking.
As for what to do once you’ve cooked the crabs? You can just enjoy the meat with a touch of hot sauce and that glass of Sancerre, or else use it in devilled crab – see the recipe here.
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