- Food & Drink
We did it: Naomi and I hosted a supper club for 30 people at 68 and Boston and everyone got fed. In fact, they got fed quite a lot. Four courses, starting with salad and ending with cheese, all loosely themed around the notion of English food.
I can’t remember how we settled on crab and chips for the main course, but somehow we did. And once that was decided there was no going back. Even when we realised we would need 30 crab picks and crackers to serve them, and that the number of crab picks and crackers we actually owned was zero.
Luckily, we knew people who did have a few highly specialised scooping and smashing tools tucked away. Tim from Fraklins, Jamie from The Palmerston, Vince from Ayres Bakery, Cherry Smart aka FeedTheTang, and Thane Prince all leant us their instruments, for which we were profoundly grateful.
We ordered the crabs from Moxon’s. Being blessed with some sense, we asked them to cook the crabs for us. At 5pm, 2 hours before our guests were due to arrive, I began taking them apart. Twisting off the claws, pulling the bodies out of the shell, quartering them with the cleaver I’d bought especially for the job.
This recipe is based on both Singapore chilli crab and moules marinières. I’d had Singapore chilli crab at Rick Stein’s restaurant in Padstow. A huge trough of claws, cracked carapaces and trailing, spidery legs. I thought that it ought to be possible to cook crab in the same way, but with English flavours.
I also thought about mussels cooked with wine and herbs and cream, the garlicky broth soaking into chunks of bread after the mussels have all been sucked from their shells.
Between these two dishes, I knew our main course lay. The sauce is flavoured with soft summer herbs, nutmeg, cider and cream – a very English combination of greens, spice, booze and dairy. It’s rich, so half a crab per person is enough, especially if you’re eating it with bread and chips.
When I first tested the recipe, it was for two, as below. For the supper club, we just upped the recipe. It’s very easy to upscale, and it’s also really good for making ahead: just take apart the crab, make the sauce and then reheat it with the crabs soaking in the pan when you’re ready to serve.
Crab with Cream, Cider & Garden Herbs
1 whole, cooked crab, weighing approximately 800g-1kg
2 garlic cloves
Freshly ground black pepper
A handful of flat leaf parsley
A large sprig of thyme
200ml dry cider
200ml double cream
A small handful of tarragon
Twist the claws off the crab and set them aside. Lay the crab on its back, tail end towards you. Put your thumbs on the shell, close to the tail and press down to pull the body (with the legs attached) away from the shell. You may need to slide a knife in-between the body and shell to help free it.
Pull the grey stomach sac out of the shell (it’s near the mouth). Pull any white dead man’s fingers (lungs) out of the shell and off the body. Scrape the brown meat out of the shell into a bowl. (This Rick Stein video is very helpful in working out how to get the crab to this point, but don;t take the legs off the body – you want them left on. See step below.)
Chop the body into quarters. Break the claws in half. Gently crack the claws. Set all the crab aside.
Peel and finely slice the shallots. Peel and crush the garlic with a pinch of salt.
Melt the butter in a deep frying pan or wok. Add the shallots. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook and stir over a medium heat for 8-10 mins till they start to soften.
Stir in the garlic, a sprig each of thyme and parsley and the crabmeat you scraped from the shell. Cook and stir for 3-4 mins till everything is thick.
Add the chopped up crab pieces to the pan. Pour in the cider and cream. Cover. Simmer for 6-8 mins till the crab is warmed through and the sauce has thickened a little.
While the crab heats, finely chop the parsley and tarragon leaves.
Grate ¼ nutmeg into the pan. Taste and add more salt and pepper if you think it needs it (it probably won’t need salt). Stir in the chopped herbs. Divide the crab and sauce between two warm bowls. Serve with bread and chips to mop up the sauce.