Picking a crab

Some jobs in the kitchen require a little time and patience. Not usually something I hold a lot of truck with to be honest, but I do recognise that sometimes things are good for me.

Picking a crab is one of these tasks.

The first few crabs that you pick are seemingly fraught with danger and mystery – where are the ‘dead mans fingers’, what do they look like, can I eat this and what the hell is this gunk? But after a few attempts and the trusty River Cottage Fish Book as a companion, it’s plain sailing.

I find sitting at the table in the garden the perfect location – crab can be a very messy business, with shell pinging off the walls and work surfaces, resulting in complaints from the wife. But if the weather is fine, there’s no better way to spend an hour or so accompanied by a nice bottle of Rose.

Working methodically and carefully, the carapace is cleared of the brown (and tasty) meat and then it’s on to the abdomen. This is where the impatient pickers fall down I reckon, as there’s much white meat to be had in here but it really does require some careful wheedling to get it all out. Then it’s on to the claws which are satisfyingly cracked with a heavy knife before extracting the firm, sweet white meat.

By the time you’ve finished, you’ll have a good sized bowl of white meat and half a bowl of brown meat and you’ll be wearing the smug smile of a job well done. In this world of fast everything and instant gratification, it’s incredibly satisfying to take the time to pick your own crab.

And next time you see a dressed crab in a fishmongers or on the supermarket counter you’ll remark at how expensive it is and how little real meat is in there ‘plenty of egg to fill it out, no doubt’. The humble crab is the tastiest of all crustaceans in my opinion – finer than lobster, I believe – and we are blessed with a plentiful and easily available supply via Leeds Kirkgate market via Whitby.

Have a go. Arm yourself with a good guide of what to do, plenty of implements to winkle and wheedle every scrap of meat and a glass of something chilled and you’ve found the perfect way to spend a summer’s morning that will result in a job well done and a lunch to follow.

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