Dressed crab is a time-consuming dish, whether you stuff the crabmeat back into its shell in the traditional manner or, as here, use the cooked meat separately. The care with which the meat is picked from the claws and cartilage determines whether the dish is a pleasure or an adventure, for nothing spoils the appetite more quickly than a mouth full of sharp shell.
Sadly, frozen crabmeat is a mediocre product and will not substitute for fresh. Similarly, the crab dressed with stale chopped-up boiled egg and parsley that your fishmonger may sell is unlikely to be adequate either. They are typically cooked on the quayside by people taking no chances on the health front and with only limited interest on the gastronomic front. Dryness through overcooking is standard.
Peel the root vegetables and cut them into 1cm (½in) dice.
Boil until tender, then drain and set aside to cool.
In a large saucepan of simmering highly salted water, cook the crab for 30 minutes per kilo. Drain and let cool.
To dismantle the crab, break off the claws and legs. Crack them with one sharp tap using the back of a knife or a mallet – your aim is a clean break with the least splinters. Spoon the white meat into a container. Crack each of the thin legs and winkle out the meat with a needle.
Break off the tailflap on the centre of the main shell and pull out the body. Pull off and discard the rows of ‘dead man’s fingers’ (the lungs) along each side.
Scoop out the brown meat from the rest of the shell, then pick out any meat you can find between the many layers and crevices of the main body, keeping the white and brown meats separate.
To dress the crab, carefully check the meat for any slivers of shell. Measure out an equal volume of vegetables to crabmeat.
Mix the mayonnaise, lemon juice and parsley with the white crabmeat and taste to check the seasoning. Mix the mustard, horseradish and vinaigrette with the brown meat. Toss the root vegetables in the olive oil, Tabasco and some salt and pepper.
If you want the dish to look like a restaurant offering, use a round pastry cutter as a mould for each plate, then spoon in the diced vegetables, the brown meat and finally the white meat in layers. Alternatively, spoon the layers into ramekins and serve.
© 2000 Shaun Hill. All rights reserved.