Txangurroa Labean

Baked Stuffed Crab

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THEY SAY ONE MAN’S TRASH IS ANOTHER MAN’S TREASURE. EVEN THOUGH THERE ARE REGULAR FERRIES BETWEEN THE SOUTH OF ENGLAND AND BILBAO, IT WAS FUNNY SEEING CRABS IN THE SAN SEBASTIÁN MARKET THAT WERE CAUGHT IN ENGLAND. WHILE THE ENGLISH ADORE DOVER SOLE, COD AND SCAMPI, THEY DON’T SEEM TO SHARE THE BASQUES’ LOVE OF CRABS. THIS IS A CLASSIC DISH — A WHOLE CRAB STUFFED WITH ITS OWN FLESH, ENRICHED IN A SAUCE AMERICAINE, COVERED WITH BREADCRUMBS AND GRATINÉED. SOUNDS FRENCH, BUT THIS IS A TRUE BASQUE CLASSIC.

Ingredients

  • 160 ml ( fl oz) extra virgin olive oil, plus extra, to drizzle
  • 1 carrot, cut into fine julienne strips
  • 1 leek, white part only, cut into fine julienne strips
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped, plus 1 garlic bulb, halved
  • 8 bay leaves
  • 6 tomatoes, peeled, seeded (see glossary) and chopped
  • 6 live blue swimmer crabs
  • 400 g (14 oz) tin chopped tomatoes
  • 300 ml (10½ fl oz) brandy
  • a handful of parsley, stalks reserved and leaves finely chopped
  • 200 g (7 oz) two-day-old bread, processed into fine breadcrumbs

Method

Heat 80 ml ( fl oz/ cup) of the olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan over low-medium heat. Add the carrot, leek, chopped garlic cloves and half the bay leaves and sauté for 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are lightly browned. Season with a pinch of salt, then add the fresh tomatoes and cook for another 30 minutes, or until they have reduced down to a thick pulp. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, place the crabs in the freezer for 30 minutes to send them to sleep, then drop them into a large saucepan of boiling salted water and cook for 5 minutes. Drain and allow to cool. Pick out the meat from the legs, then carefully lift off the top shells in one piece and scoop out and reserve the brown coral. Pick out any meat from the head, then place all the meat, coral and any juices in a bowl, cover and refrigerate. Rinse the top shells well and set aside.

Place the bottom shells in a large saucepan with the remaining olive oil, the halved garlic bulb and a pinch of salt. Stir over very high heat, crushing the shells as you go, for 15 minutes. Add the tinned tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes, then stir in the brandy and bring to the boil. Add 300 ml (10½ fl oz) water, the remaining bay leaves and the parsley stalks. Season to taste, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced by half.

Strain the crab stock through a fine sieve, then add the stock to the carrot and leek mixture along with the crab meat, juices and coral. Combine well and cook over high heat for 15 minutes, or until the mixture is quite thick. Stir in the chopped parsley and check the seasoning.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/Gas 4).

Place the cleaned dried crab shells on a baking tray and divide the crab mixture among the shells. Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs, drizzle with a little olive oil, then bake for 6–8 minutes, or until the crumbs are golden. Serve immediately.