The last few weeks of my life have been all about crabs and clocks. In a literal way but also, and perhaps more importantly, in a symbolic way. The clocks symbolize the time I haven’t had, and crabs, perhaps my favorite food of all, are a good symbol for all the food madness that’s been going on around me. We’ve had very interesting and lovely guests over the last few weeks, lots of exciting projects and many more sumptuous meals. Around two weeks ago I bought the most luscious spider crabs at the market and had all kind of ideas for preparing them. Time did not allow me to cook them how I had planned so I enjoyed them with a simple glass of wine and of course mayonnaise. Since then we’ve been filming a cooking show here in Médoc with lots of good food and even a few crabs but they too were enjoyed in a simple way. We had a marvellous time, making new discoveries every day and made frequent visits to one of my favorite places, the ‘Côté Gironde’ brocante in St. Christoly. Anne Bouteillier has so many beautiful objects, too many, and I’ve got my eye on a clock in her store that may be the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t work which suits me fine, it means there is no rush, that I have all the time in the world.
Now that the film crew has left us we’re again just by ourselves here in the countryside and time is once again on my side, allowing me to indulge in my cravings. The first thing on my list, spider crab.
I have always had a special fondness for crabs. There are over four thousand species of them, tiny ones, giant ones. They are all beautiful, born in the sea and I love how they move sideways. Ever since I was a child, I have fond memories of seafood restaurants in Hong Kong. In Asia, it is customary to see your seafood order ‘alive and snapping’ brought to your table before being cooked. As soon as the adults would loose themselves in conversation I would slide down from my chair, run off to the seafood tanks and explore the mysterious world of the sea. Great big fish, tiger prawns, all sorts of crabs, and more crabs. Crab is what I wanted most, so I would cheekily tell the waiters that my parents wanted crabs at our table, and if it was possible to fry them in chilli and black bean sauce, as a side dish. Often I would even finish them before anyone noticed what I was up to.
I guess this craving for crabs has never left me, I’m under their spell I think. The long claws are so elegant to my eye, the spiky armour makes them look like little warriors. In a way it’s a shame to eat them, but then I can’t resist the sweet chunky meat.
Here are two recipes I made this week – one is French inspired and the other one Asian. I am happy now.
Many thanks to Anne Bouteillier and her amazing ‘Côté Gironde’ antiquités/ brocantes store, Place de la Mairie, 33340 St Christoly de Médoc.
Spider crab macaroni gratin (serves 3-4)
230 g/ 8 ounces cooked spider crab meat (1-2 spider crabs, depending on size)
1 leek, white part only, chopped finely
5 leaves of Savoy cabbage, sliced finely
1 tomato, cut into small cubes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp chopped tarragon
30 ml/ 2 tbsp white wine
A few threads of saffron
2 tbsp olive oil
30 g/ 2 tbsp unsalted butter
30 g/ 1/4 cup plain flour
475 ml/ 2 cups milk
150 g/ 1/3 pound comté or gruyere cheese, grated
50 g/ 2 ounces parmesan cheese and 50 g/ 2 ounces comté or gruyere cheese, to sprinkle on pasta
3 tbsp unsalted butter
A handful of fresh breadcrumbs (optional)
350 g/ 3/4 pound pasta shells – I used local shell pastas called Margot – they look like little seashells.
Salt & pepper
A dash of piment d’espelette
Heat olive oil in a frying pan, add leek and garlic. Stir in the crab meat, saffron, salt and black pepper. Add white wine and reduce for a minute and a half. Add tomatoes, sliced cabbage, chopped tarragon and continue to cook for 3 minutes. Sprinkle with piment d’espelette.
Cook pasta shells in boiling water – it’s best to have them slightly undercooked. Drain under cold water and set aside.
Melt butter in a saucepan and add flour – pour milk slowly and whisk continuously for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add 150 g grated Comté (or Gruyère)cheese and mix well until melted. Set aside.
Stir the crab into the cheese béchamel sauce. Pour mixture into the pasta – mix gently and transfer to an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs (optional), parmesan and Comté cheese, dot with butter all over. Bake in a preheated oven 180°C/ 350F for 15-20 minutes until golden.
Cabbage crab rolls (for eight rolls)
8 cabbage leaves (1 per roll)
10 tbsp cooked spider crab meat
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 shallot, sliced finely
1 garlic clove, minced
15 ml/ 1 tbsp Shao xing wine (or sherry)
20 ml/ 1 & 1/2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tbsp grated ginger
Heat olive oil in a pan and fry the cabbage leaves 5 seconds on each sides. Set aside.
In the same pan, add a bit of olive oil and fry ginger, garlic and shallot for a few minutes. Add the crab meat and stir for a further 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add Chinese rice wine and reduce for a minute. Set aside.
Place one tablespoon of crab meat mixture in the cabbage leaf and roll. Slice the edges to make them even. Serve with sauce on the side.