Friday, 16 July 2010
A Crab Masterclass at Source – Bristol
Source, the Bristol Food Hall and Cafe is one year old. As part of the celebrations, this week they held a free crab masterclass. Seeing as I am currently a man of leisure, and also an unashamed lover of anything gratis, I happily attended in order to learn what I could. (How to select, murder and dismember a crustacean being skills I am sadly lacking in).
Now, brimming with newly learnt crabby knowledge, I shall pass what I discovered onto you.
After donning aprons, Joe from Source introduced us to the victim, a whopping behemoth of a crab hailing from Brixham. Its claws were bloody huge, with a grip easily able to encircle a human limb, if anyone were stupid enough to get close enough. In the first of many crab horror facts that afternoon, we were informed a crab this size would have no trouble breaking an arm. Luckily for us – it was already dead and cooked…. its vice like claws inanimate, phew!
Upon discovering it was relatively safe, I had to control an urge to pose for a photograph ‘big game hunter style’ with my foot on its flat monster crab head, but resisted.
On with the lesson…
First we learnt how to select a decent live crab, basically – the more grizzled and barnacled looking the beast, the better it is for eating. The reason for this is that a crab constantly grows new shell and then discards the old one. When it has just discarded its old shell, it has hardly any meat, and what it does have doesn’t taste as good.
Although saying that, apparently buying fresh crab is always a bit of a lottery, and until you crack it open, it’s hard to tell how much meat it contains. But a good guideline is they should feel heavy for its size.
Next you need to chill it for a few hours, this dulls it and slows it down so there’s less chance of it breaking your arm or getting into your spirit cupboard and drinking all your booze.
When it’s groggy and slow – it’s time to dispatch it humanely. This is achieved by flipping it on its back, pulling back it’s groinal flap (errr…. I may have made this term up…but it is a groin and a flap, so seems right to me). Bizarrely, unlike the rest of us, the crab doesn’t appreciate this manoeuvre…. it probably suspects what’s coming next. It will try and stab you with its legs, which I might add are surprisingly sharp. So quickly stab it with a skewer downward, and then up towards the head into its brain – and then that’s that. 1x deceased crustacean.
At this point Joe regaled us with more horror stories of people being too slow, or the custacean too fast... and the crabs sharp legs leaving bruises on hands so deep they took six months to fade, and an ex-colleagues experience of the impaled grab reaching around with its claw and pulling the skewer out of itself.
So next you cook your dead crab in salted boiling water, a crab this size should take around 15mins.
Next, onto the fun part, dismembering the corpse.
Flip the crab onto its back and rip its legs off, achieved by folding them inwards till they snap off. These are full of white meat. We used a crab cracker (like a large nutcracker) and a crab pick (a slim skewer like implement) to break open each joint and push the meat out.
Break off the claws; we’ll come back to them in a minute.
Remove and discard the mouth area.
Remove the “Groinal Flap” (Or whatever the hell its called).
Rolling the shell forward slightly, push upwards with your thumbs to remove the underbody from the shell in one piece.
Discard the stringy looking intestines, any membrane and the ‘dead mans fingers’, which are the grey gills attached to the body. Interestingly despite the rather foreboding name, these aren’t actually deadly poisonous, just indigestible and unpleasant.
Cut the underbody in half with a sharp knife, it has a honeycomb construction; use the crab pick or a skewer to extract all the white meat. Discard what’s left.
You should now have the shell, which is full of brown crabmeat, which is perhaps not the most appetising looking stuff, but certainly the most flavourful.
Finally, holding the crab cracker like a judges gavel, whack the crab claws hard to break them open. These are full of beautiful white meat.
The final dressed crab has the brown and white meat presented in the shell.
Obviously, at the end, we got to sample some of the crab with some fantastic brown bread and a glass of perfectly matched white wine, ‘Picpoul de Pinet’.
So a free, very informative lesson, with some crab and a nice glass of wine thrown in. Superb.
Thanks to Joe and everyone involved.
Source are running more free masterclass events in the coming weeks, which might quite possibly include a butchery lesson – so keep your eyes peeled for their announcements on Twitter @sourcefoodcafe
1-3 Exchange Avenue
St Nicholas Market