Fed up with a fairly constant diet of crayfish I went crabbing at Hayling Island a few days ago. The tide was in and I was facing stiff competition from the children but in the end managed to bag about thirty shore crabs. Now shore crabs are not usually eaten in the UK but I had a recipe for them so thought I would give it a try. At the end of the day the children let their crabs out of their buckets, taking great pleasure in watching them race back down the slope into the sea. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that mine were meeting a more prosaic fate. I am sure most shore crabs spend half their life in a bucket.
It wasnt a particularly hard soup to make although a little extravagant by my usual frugal standards. I left out the celery as I loathe it, but found it very pleasant. I managed to freeze some for later.
Crab bisque. (from Edible Seashore by John Wright. UK measurements)
1 large fennel bulb, finely chopped 1 tbsp lemon juice
1 Kg Shore crabs 1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
a knob of butter 3 celery sticks, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 bay leaf 1 tsp paprika
pinch of cayenne pepper 1/2 glass of white wine
250g of chopped skinned deseeded ripe tomatoes, small glass of cider brandy
or tinned chopped tomatoes 1.75 litres of fish stock
1 large sprig of tarragon 50 ml of double cream
sea salt and ground black pepper
NB PRIOR TO MAKING THIS SOUP THE CRABS SHOULD BE PURGED AND THEN KILLED HUMANELY. TO KILL THEM PLACE THE CRABS IN A PLASTIC BAG IN A FREEZER FOR BETWEEN ONE TO ONE AND A HALF HOURS UNTIL THEY BECOME UNCONSCIOUS. PLEASE DO NOT PLACE THEM STRAIGHT IN BOILING WATER.
Bring a large pan of well salted water to the boil. Drop the torpid crabs into the boiling water, bring back to the boil and cook for two minutes. Remove the crabs and let them cool slightly then chop them roughly with a large heavy knife ( I found this easiest to do when still in the pan).
Melt the butter and olive oil in a large pan. Add the onion, fennel, celery, garlic and bay leaf. Saute gently, without browning for about five minutes until the vegetables are softened. Add the paprika and cayenne and cook for another minute.
Add the wine, tomatoes and crab, and give the mixture a good stir. Cook for a further five minutes, then pour in the brandy and bring to a simmer. Take off the heat and ignite the brandy ( the best of luck with this)! When the flame hopefully dies down ( that’s if it ever started or hasnt burnt your house down..I have never got the knack of setting fire to soup, which strikes me as a strange occupation ) then add the stock and tarragon. Return to the heat and cook gently for twenty-five – thirty minutes.
In small batches strain through a conical strainer into a bowl, pushing as much liquid and vegetables through as you can. Pass the soup through a fine strainer into a clean pan and return to the heat. Bring to a simmer and stir in the cream and lemon juice. Season to taste.
Voila! A very tasty bisque. Serves 8.