I once visited a crab-processing plant in Cornwall. It was a heady experience. The crustaceans were steamed in giant vats, then cracked open and the flesh deftly extracted by hand at remarkable speed. The whole place was infused with the incense of piscine endeavour, a mixture of ozone and crab bisque.
I thought of this at the fishmonger’s this morning. There was a box of dressed Cornish crabs on the stall, the shards of sweet white meat laid neatly on top of the rich paste of brown. If you don’t want to boil and pick a crab yourself (a fiddly business), a dressed crab not only makes a good lunch in its own right, but can happily be turned to the service of pasta, risotto or salad, provided no mayonnaise has been added.
This dish is a fairly classic Italianate seaside number, the crab combined with lemon, chilli and herbs. Pangrattato is breadcrumbs, fried until crisp with garlic and chilli, so that it adds both crunch and an extra layer of flavour.
Ingredients (serves 2)
175g egg linguine, fresh or dried 6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil 2 handfuls of panko (or other coarse, dry white breadcrumbs) 1 clove garlic, crushed ½ red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (or a pinch or two of dried chilli flakes) 175g fresh crab meat, half brown and half white (use a dressed crab or fresh pots, not the tinned kind – it tastes of the can)
Juice and grated zest of ½ large lemon Sea salt and black pepper A bulging handful of fresh basil leaves, roughly torn
Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet: add lots of salt to the water – you want about 1 tbsp to every 5 litres of water.
While it’s bubbling away, heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil in a small frying pan over a medium heat and stir through the breadcrumbs, garlic and most of the chilli until golden brown. Don’t let the garlic or crumbs burn. Add a pinch of salt and keep to one side.
Season the crab meat with salt and pepper. Drain the cooked pasta, then gently stir in all the brown crab meat and half the white, along with the lemon juice and zest, the remaining olive oil and half the basil leaves. Pile into wide pasta bowls, scatter with the remaining white crab meat, then sprinkle with some of the breadcrumbs, plus the remaining basil and chopped chilli. An extra squeeze of lemon at the table wouldn’t go amiss.
Lucas Hollweg is an award-winning food writer, cookbook author and cook. A former Sunday Times journalist and cookery columnist, he writes for a wide range of food publications. His most recent book isGood Things to Eat.