When I take the grandchildren fishing on a pier or in the harbour, more than anything else, they like to drop a net over the side to catch crabs. For bait, any piece of a fish carcass will do but for some reason, a rasher of bacon works really well?
Generally, they catch green shore crabs, but in the summer months, the velvet swimmer crabs are more numerous.
Apart from any decent size brown crabs, sometimes whelks and the odd prawn, the crabs all go back sometimes after spending a while in the children’s bucket. There seem to be some bragging rights involved in showing off to the competition ie other children, who has caught the most, biggest and who is brave enough to pick one up.
My eldest son when he was about 8 years old, landed an eating size brown crab and despite being shown how to handle crabs many many times, decided to pick one up his way. Needless to say, the crab objected to being manhandled and decided to clamp onto his thumb resulting in much pain, screaming, and running around like a headless chicken. Wrong I know, but I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
He still has the scars from the encounter, both mental and physical. It’s quite impressive the amount of force those pincers can exert.
Only in recent years have I discovered that the velvet swimmer crabs make a really good soup or bisque after reading an article by chef Mark Hix. The velvet crabs have a much thinner shell than the brown ones and after roasting blend quite readily.
So, keep the children busy this summer, catch some crab, and give Mark’s recipe a go. You won’t be disappointed.
Velvet Swimmer Crab Bisque
- 500 g velvet swimmer crab
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 small onion peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 small leek trimmed and roughly chopped
- 3 garlic cloves peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- A few sprigs of thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 40 g butter
- 2 tbsp tomato purée
- 3 tbsp flour
- 1 glass of white wine
- 2 litres fish stock or a couple of good fish-stock cubes in 1.5 litres of hot water
- 100 ml double cream
- white pepper
- White crab meat to serve optional
- If the crabs are still alive, put them in a freezer for about 2 hours until they are rendered insensible, then sever their hind and front nerve centres (see this RSPCA guide for more details, http://bit.ly/1l0ZTAG).
- Now heat the vegetable oil in a large heavy-based saucepan and fry the crabs over a high heat for about 5 minutes, breaking them up with the end of a rolling pin as they are cooking, until they change colour. Add the onion, leek, garlic, fennel seeds, thyme and bay leaf, and continue cooking for another 5 minutes or so, until the vegetables begin to colour.
- Add the butter and stir well, then add the tomato purée and flour, stir well and cook for a minute or so over a low heat. Add the white wine, then slowly add the fish stock, stirring to avoid any lumps. Bring to the boil, season with salt and pepper, and simmer very gently for 1 hour.
- Blend the shells a few at a time with a little liquid in a liquidiser or strong food processor, adding more liquid as they are blending, until smooth, then strain through a fine-meshed sieve.
- Return to a clean pan, season if necessary, and bring to the boil. To serve, add the cream and some white crab meat if you wish. Adjust the seasoning again, if necessary, and stir well.