Crab is cheaper than and just as tasty as lobster, and it’s also full of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which help build muscle, protect against heart disease and support the immune system
No wonder crab rarely appears on the home cook’s shopping list. The “dressed” ready-prepared sort is often chilled into taste-destroying oblivion, shelled claw meat costs a king’s ransom, tinned crab is but a shadow of the fresh article, and the prospect of wrestling with an intact armour-plated crustacean can seem daunting.
Shelling crab is actually pretty easy, and you’ll be rewarded with sweet, white claw flesh that knocks the spots off lobster, and brown meat that delivers the very essence of crustacean flavour. An easy way to deal with cooked whole crab is to break off the claws, put them in a strong plastic bag, and whack it with a rolling pin. This stops shrapnel from shooting all over the kitchen and you should then be able to pick the white meat from the shell. You can also eat the brown meat in the carapace, but make sure to remove the inedible, greyish gills first. Alternatively, use the carapace and legs to make a full-bodied shellfish stock.
Why is crab good for me?
The stomach-filling protein in crab sates your appetite and is used to build and repair body tissue. Crab is a great source of two beneficial long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, which have anti-inflammatory properties. Research suggests they help lower blood pressure, protect against heart disease, improve cognitive function, and reduce conditions such as psoriasis and ulcerative colitis. Minerals in crab, such as copper, zinc and selenium, support the immune system.
Where to buy and what to pay
For freshness, buy from a fishmonger or quayside stall. Expect to pay £5 per kilo for whole crab, £11 a kilo for whole claws, or £3-4 each for dressed crabs.
• Joanna Blythman is the author of What To Eat (Fourth Estate, £9.99). To order a copy for £7.99 with free UK p&p, go to guardianbookshop.co.uk
Spiced baked crab
This would be lovely baked in the crab shell, depending on whether you are using a whole crab and how big the shell is. If you are going to use the shell, wash it thoroughly inside and out and oil the outside a little.
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
Juice and zest of 1 lime
150g creme fraiche
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 fennel bulb, finely chopped
600g crab meat
100g fresh breadcrumbs
1 small bunch of coriander, finely chopped
15g butter, melted
1 Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Mix the garlic, ginger, chilli, and lime juice with a generous pinch of salt to create a loose paste. Add the creme fraiche and stir well.
2 Throw in the onion, fennel, crab, half the breadcrumbs and all but a tablespoon of the chopped coriander and mix thoroughly. Season to taste.
3 In a separate bowl, toss together the lime zest, melted butter, remaining coriander and breadcrumbs.
4 Pile the crab mixture into the shells, or a shallow ovenproof dish, top with the breadcrumbs and bake for 15-20 minutes until bubbling and brown.
5 Serve with toast and a green salad.