Fresh Irish crab

Far too often the only use given to this versatile and decadent decapod, this abundant and delicious crustacean, is to eat the claws and forget about the rest. Fresh crab when sold whole is one of the best value shellfish on the market. The culinary uses of crab are immense and range from simple soups to some of the great classic recipes of the world.

There are many species of edible crab common to Irish waters. The most popular crab used for the table in Ireland is the common or edible crab. The shell of the common crab is about eight inches wide and reddish brown in colour. Other superb table crabs are the velvet crab and the spider or spiny crab.

The best way to kill a crab is by placing the animal into a deep freeze. This will slow the metabolism of the crab and put it to sleep. To cook pre-boil a large pot of salted water and cook the crab for around 20-30 minutes, drain, and rinse under cold water until cold. When cold pull the claws off the crab, turn the body over, and separate the body from the main shell by applying pressure behind the tail flap. Remove and discard the gills, or dead man’s fingers as they are known. The body of the crab contains meat but a lot of work is required to get to it. I normally retain this part of the crab to be used as a base for a sauce or soup. The soft brown meat left in the main shell is great when simply mixed with some lemon mayonnaise and chopped parsley. A good way in which to obtain fresh crab is to approach one of the fishermen operating out of the small Galway piers such as Barna or Spiddal and ask if he might sell you some of his fresh catch.

Whole crab is great as the base for a seafood pie.

Melt 20 grams of butter with 20 grams of flour in a saucepan and allow it to cook without colour for three minutes; this is called a roux. Add 100ml whole milk and whisk with the butter and flour mix, allow it to cook till the sauce thickens and then mix 60 grams Killeen Galway cheese into the sauce. Mix in 100 grams fresh cod to the sauce and all the white and brown meat from one freshly cooked crab. Add a dash of white wine and a tablespoon of chopped parsley and 20ml cream. Pipe some fresh hot mashed potato around the rim of a crab shell. Fill the seafood mix back into the shell of the crab, sprinkle with a little Killeen cheese, and bake in the oven at 180°C for around 10 minutes. Serve straight away with a light tossed salad.

If crab claws are the only type of crab you can get, melt 25 grams butter and the juice of half a lemon in a frying pan. Add the crab claws, giving eight medium claws per portion. Fry in the butter without allowing the butter to colour until the crab is heated through, and finish with a little chopped parsley.

Crab cakes are easy and will always go down a treat.

Mix 400 grams cold mashed potato with 200 grams mixed white and brown crab meat, add one egg and 30 grams flour. Mix in three finely chopped scallions and two tablespoons of chopped parsley. Season with salt, pepper, and a little cayenne pepper. Form the mix into golf ball sized balls and flatten slightly. Pan fry in a little butter till golden and serve with lemon mayonnaise.

Photography and text by Michael O’Meara, Oscar’s Bistro.

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