Basque-style baked crab dish from North Spain

Basque-style baked crab dish from North Spain.

25-04-2021Marc Fosh

As the sun starts to return and the seas warm up, crabs begin moving towards warmer, shallower waters, allowing for an easier catch. These amazing creatures are in season from April to late autumn so it’s the perfect time to enjoy their delicate, fragrant and delicious meat.

Ok, I know that wrestling a fresh crab into submission can be a torturous and messy business that’s definitely not for the faint hearted. But there’s something heroic about going through all the cracking of claws, the dismantling of limbs and dealing with those little hairy claws and "dead men's fingers" for such a small amount of sweet, ozone-scented flesh. Because after all that effort you’ll be well rewarded with beautiful white and dark, savoury flesh perfect for a chilled soup, a summer salad, spicy linguine or mouth-watering crab cakes.

Many different types of crabs are found all along the Spanish coastline from “centollo” (spider crab) also known as “Txangurro” in the Basque country to “Buey de mar” (common crab) and “Necoras”, small black crabs that are used to flavour the fish soups and stews all over the Mediterranean.

So once you’ve been brave enough to buy a live crab, it’s time to cook it. Start by bringing a large pot of water to the boil. Salt the water so it tastes as salty as the sea. It’s more humane to kill the crab before cooking so turn it upside-down and pull open the abdominal flap on the underside. Skewer the crab through the centre point with a small sharp knife or skewer and move from side to side.

This will kill the crab instantly. Place the crab in rapidly boiling water and cook for 10 minutes per kg. Once cooked remove the crab from the stock, rinse and allow it to cool. For me, freshly cooked crab is delicious when served with nothing more than mayonnaise and a squeeze of lemon but I also love this Basque-style baked crab dish from San Sebastian. Try a chilled glass of Txakoli for the perfect accompaniment.

Basque style baked crab

This dish is traditionally served in crab shells but earthenware dishes are also a great option.

  • Ingredients serves 4-6
  • 1 large, cooked spider crab or
  • 450g white crab meat and 150g dark crab meat
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 100ml Spanish brandy
  • 350ml fresh tomato sauce
  • 1tspn paprika
  • 3tbsp olive oil
  • 50g breadcrumbs
  • 3tbsp freshly chopped parsley
    a knob of butter

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 200c, gas 6. Clean the crab and separate the white meat from the dark.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan and add the chopped onions, crushed garlic cloves and paprika. Cook gently until the onions start to soften and add the brandy, tomato sauce and the brown crab meat.

Cook over a gentle flame for 10 minutes. Stir in the flaked white crab meat, chopped parsley and season with a little salt. Fill the crab shells or earthenware dish with the mixture, sprinkle with breadcrumbs, place a knob of butter on top and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes until golden brown.

Tomato Sauce

Ingredients: serves 8

  • 1kl chopped tomatoes (skinned and seeded)
  • 6 shallots (finely chopped)
  • 100ml olive oil
  • 2tbsp Sherry vinegar
  • 1tbsp Sugar
  • 2 garlic cloves (crushed)
  • 4 torn basil leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme
  • Seasoning

Sweat the shallots and garlic in a heavy-bottomed pan with the olive oil until they just start to break down. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Add the sugar, vinegar and herbs and cook slowly for about 20-25 minutes. Pass through a fine sieve and season to taste.

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