This recipe is based on the Portuguese classic way of serving sapateira (crab), a defining presence in any seafood restaurant throughout the coast. As with any shellfish it must be bought alive. There is some intricate work involved and some of the tasks are admittedly not for the squeamish. The work is well worth it though as this presents the meatier parts of the crab in their natural state accompanied with a flavorful sauce made out of the smaller bits. If you live in a country with relatively cheap fresh crabs such as the UK or Ireland this can easily become a regular feature and you’ll soon get used to the cleaning routine! This way of serving crab is great as a starter to share and keeps for one day in the fridge.
1 live crab (live)
4 dried chillies
1 tsp smooth mustard
1 cup of vegetable oil.
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
home made mayonnaise
1 tbsp of finely chopped capers (rinsed if conserved in vinegar)
3 tbsp of finely chopped roasted red peppers (optional)
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (be generous with the salt – think sea water!) then add the live crab, cover and boil for 10-15 minutes (depending on the size of the crab).
2. Remove the crab from the water and cool. Once the crab is cool enough to handle remove all claws and legs from the main body with a gentle twist and pull motion. Place the claws and legs on a serving plate. Place the crab with the carapace side down on a chopping board and remove the centre part of the crab’s body by pulling it away from the carapace (use a knife if needed). You should now have the carapace and the core body with attached gills as two separate parts.
3. Drain any water left in the crab shell, remove any gills and scope out all of the inside, typically made up of white, orange and brown bits (depending on your crab’s age and gender). Add all of this to a bowl and gently mash together with the back of a wooden spoon. Wash the shell thoroughly and dry with a paper towel.
4. Go back to the centrepiece of the crab, remove gills and cut in 4 quarters with a chef’s knife or a cleaver for extra drama. You should then have a clean but incredibly intricate combination of shell and meat in four discrete sections. Scoope out the meat to the bowl with the insides of the shell. You can use a fondue fork, a bamboo stick or whatever works for you. The aim is to pull and shred as much meat as possible from the white shell. Cut into smaller pieces if necessary. Although this process might seem daunting at first, once you’ve done a handful of crabs you will intuitively know when to get the meat from! This is an intricate but also very rewarding process.
5. Make the mayonnaise by using a hand blender to mix the egg, mustard, vinegar and salt. Once these ingredients are mixed ( a few seconds), add the vegetable oil very slowly. Making mayonnaise takes confidence and an understanding of the emulsification process that occurs with the egg, vinegar and oil. Experience (and adding smooth mustard) seriously increases success rate! Getting familiar with the mayonnaise making process leads to understanding one of the most versatile sauces and makes you wonder why you’d ever buy this in a factory made jar! Once the mayonnaise reaches a good consistency (if you turn the mixing glass upside down the mayonnaise should not drop…) add it to the bowl with the crab meat, add the chopped capers and chopped roasted red peppers if using and gently fold all ingredients together.
6. Fill the clean shell with the mayonnaise and crabmeat mix, place on the serving plate with the claws and legs and cover with cling film in the fridge for at least one hour before serving.
7. Claws and legs can be gently cracked with a wooden hammer (on a chopping board, not on the serving plate…) just before serving (alternatively you can leave this to the diners assuming a risk assessment process is in place…). Serve with toasted white bread and a chilled vinho verde and you’ll immediately feel transported to a better place…!