Fresh crab takes me right back to being a kid in Cornwall, sitting outside in the warm summer weekend mornings. My step-dad would come back from the fish shop clutching a whole paper-wrapped pink crab, like a chest of buried treasure. Together we would sit on the patio steps and break our way in, carefully picking out the succulent treasure inside.
The legs and claws would be cracked and piled carefully on a plate, a pile of briny building blocks. They’d be served with a simple green salad. The brown body meat whipped up with just the slightest squeeze of lemon and some Dijon mustard. A creamy piquant treat to dollop onto bread.
Last week, as I wrote about Chengdu, I had one of those moments where I got inspired. I flew into a spicy Sichuan whirlwind sending splatters of chilli, pork and black vinegar all over the kitchen. I got all excited about blogging it, when a sudden thought stopped me dead. I went to check the archives.
There it was, Sichuan style fish flavoured pork, staring smugly out of the screen. And the chilli wind came right out of my sails. But I was still on the red-and-spicy warpath and a small pot of fresh crab meat got me beating my drums in a whole other direction. This dish isn’t just red and spicy, it’s also fresh, redolent of lingering warm evenings by the sea.
For years I was a crab purist, refusing to have it any other way but gleamingly fresh or, at a stretch, in a crab cake. So it wasn’t till much later as I headed into the big wide post-university world that I first tried it with pasta.
Holy crustaceans! It was a shell-shocking revelation. The sharp briny taste of the sea was both mellowed and heightened by a shimmering tomato sauce, the chilli somehow underpinning instead of overwhelming the subtle meat. I couldn’t get enough of it.
No more seafood-snobbery for me. I was a convert to any and all crabby creeds. Although cost kept me from making much at home till much later. By which time I had eaten it in spicy in Indian food, smashed soft-shelled into Thai salads, stir-fried, casseroled and curried.
Crab and tomato pasta
Serves two, but is totally scaleable, so just double the quantities for four etc
This is one of those simple pasta dishes that really benefits from not over complicating the sauce. There should be just enough to coat the pasta in a translucent layer of shimmering sauce, with exciting nuggets of crab and tomato clinging on.
100g fresh white crab meat
A small punnet (about 10-12) cherry tomatoes – halved
1 clove garlic – finely sliced
A quarter tsp dried chilli flakes
Juice and zest of half a lemon
Extra virgin olive oil
250g fresh pasta
Put some water on the boil for the pasta. Pour a good few glugs of olive oil in a shallow pan and put over a medium heat. When the oil is starting to shimmer put in the garlic and chilli and stir-fry for a minute or so.
Add the tomatoes and cook for 10-15 minutes, crushing them slightly and stirring a couple of times. You should end up with a thick sauce.
When the water in the saucepan is boiling add the pasta and cook according to the instructions on the packet (a rough guideline would be 2-4 mins for fresh, 12-14 for dried).
When you have a minute left for the pasta to cook, add the crab and lemon juice to the tomato sauce, grind in a little black pepper and stir it all in.
Drain the pasta and stir in the sauce and zest. Serve and enjoy