For me, nothing evokes the spirit of spring quite like fresh crab. Eaten outside on a bright sunny day it needs little more than some crusty bread and a decent mayonnaise. If you want to take it up a level, a freshly cooked crab tart, pepped up with a pinch of tarragon and saffron, makes a wonderfully decadent light lunch.
Cooking a crab is very straightforward. Choose a lively one that’s heavy for its size. Place it in the freezer for 20 minutes to put it to sleep. Fill a large pot with water, adding enough salt to resemble sea water, and bring to the boil. Cook the crab for 15 minutes for the first 500g adding an extra minute for every additional 100g. Remove from the water and leave to cool.
Getting at the precious meat is a little more complicated. Twist off the legs and claws, crack open with a small hammer, and pick out the white meat. Place the crab on its back and pull apart the main shell from the body. Discard the feather-like gills and scoop out the brown meat. Pick out as much meat as patience allows from the body shell. No matter how carefully you’ve picked the crab there will be shell, so it pays to check through what you’ve picked before using.
To make your own short crust pastry process 250g of plain flour with 125g of cold unsalted butter. Add an egg, a yolk, and a little cold water and bring together. Chill for half an hour before rolling out and lining a greased tart tin; leave an overhang as it will shrink a little. Chill again. Line the pastry with crumpled greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans. Bake at 180°C for 25 minutes, remove the paper and prick the base with a fork. Return to the oven and bake until golden. Brush the pastry with a beaten egg and return to the oven for a few minutes to seal.
Crab & Tarragon Shortcrust Pastry Tart
1 12” cooked pastry case
1 crab – cooked, white & brown meat removed
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Pinch each of saffron, smoked paprika
Chopped chives & tarragon
salt & black pepper
- Bring the milk & cream to the boil with the bay leaf.
- Whisk the eggs with the brown meat & stir in the hot cream.
- Pass through a sieve & mix in the paprika, mustard, saffron & herbs.
- Stir in the white crab meat & season to taste.
- Pour the mix into the tart shell & bake at 135C for 30 minutes.
- Leave to cool for 10 minutes before slicing. Serve with a peppery watercress salad & some aioli.