Devon crab

Photograph by Kim Millon

Exmouth, Devon May 23, 2005 To my way of thinking, crab is even finer, infinitely sweeter than lobster. And our local Devon crab, landed at Exmouth and boiled straight away on the quay, is the best there is. Exmouth Fisheries is a small family run concern with its own fleet of dayboats that land shellfish daily. They are specialists in cooking and in hand picking crabmeat. Much of it gets sent up country to London as well as to restaurants all over the South West. We try and do our bit for the local economy and eat it as often and as regularly as we can. It’s never ridiculously expensive either: whole boiled crabs go for just a couple of pounds (depending on size) while a luxurious pound of pure hand-picked crab meat sets us back around seven quid.

Going direct to the source is what it’s all about. I like nothing more than to give the Fisheries a ring (01395 272903), then hop on my bike and cycle down from Topsham to the Exmouth seafront to purchase up a couple of beauts, fresh out of the boiler and still piping hot. Picking a crab to extract all the precious meat is a fiddly and time consuming task so more often than not, I’ll choose instead to buy the crab meat already picked. This may seem lazy, I know, but I justify my sloth in the knowledge that the crabs have only been boiled and picked that very morning, and so are near enough dammit as fresh as it’s ever possible to get.

With crab this fresh, you really need do very little. You can of course simply crack the claws with a hammer and present the whole crabs on a plate. Indeed the pleasure of such a simple meal is the fact that it takes so ridiculously long to prise out the tiniest, most stubborn morsels from knuckles, legs and other crevices, nooks and crannies. Indeed, the sweetness of the meat, it sometimes seems, is in direct proportion to the efforts required to prise it out. All you need to add is a finger bowl and copious quantities of dry white wine. To me, this is really what simple, leisurely, relaxed summer dining is all about.

Sometimes we may choose instead to prepare crab Chinese style: cut the crab, still in the shell, into pieces and stir fry with black beans, ginger, spring onions and soy sauce. Or if we want to be fancy, we’ll layer up a ‘tian’ of crab, with tomato and avocado and plate it with some lettuce and a drizzle of basil oil. I love crab cakes, not mixed with mashed potato, but simply Korean style, with chopped spring onions, garlic and ginger, a little flour and beaten egg, to fry on the griddle, pajon style. Sometimes I just mix the crab meat with lime juice, a spoon or two of crème fraîche and some fresh, finely chopped dill. Nada más. We eat it as it is, or pile it into soft rolls. Absolutely sensational!

My all time favourite, however, is linguine with crab, chilli and lemon sauce. What I do is simply this: first gently stew some sliced garlic and a crumbled dried chilli or two in extra-virgin olive oil, then add a glass or two of white wine. Bubble down a bit, then stir in the brown crab meat and the juice of a lemon, and mix to make a creamy emulsion. Cook the linguine until only just al dente, then drain and add to the crab, chilli and lemon sauce. Toss well, then serve immediately, topping each portion of pasta with a spoon or two of white crab meat and a sprinkle of chopped flat leaf parsley.

Though crab may be fished all year round, winter gales often keeps the boats in shore. In any case, crab is most definitely a seasonal treat best at this time of year. Crab is also cheapest during summer, so make the most of this delicacy from the sea while it lasts.

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