British asparagus is only around for 8 weeks of the year, sometimes even less so it’s important we make the most of it. Crab and asparagus work so well together and are the perfect ingredients to help celebrate spring.
If you do not want to buy the whole crab and cook it yourself, you can always buy packets of crabmeat from your fishmonger. Just ask them in advance if you can have some crab shells to make the crab stock.
Before starting, place the crab in the freezer for half an hour. This is a more humane way to treat it, as it will relax into a hypothermic state.
1 live brown crab, about 1kg
4 asparagus spears
Small punnet of mustard cress
100ml virgin rapeseed oil
2 spring onions, sliced finely
Oil for frying
Lemon juice, salt and pepper for seasoning
Sea salt for cooking
For the white crab meat mix
150g-200g white crab meat
Juice of ½ a lemon
40g-50g plain mayonnaise
Salt and pepper for seasoning
For the crab stock
1 crab shell, legs and claws
50g brown crab meat
1 onion cut in quarters
1 carrot cut in to large pieces
1 stick of celery cut in to large pieces
1 head of garlic cut in half
2 tomatoes cut in quarters
Peel of ½ an orange
1.5 litres water
To cook the crab: Bring a large pan of water, big enough to submerge the crab, to the boil. Season the water liberally with sea salt to make it as salty as seawater. When the water comes to a rolling boil, lower the crab into it and cook for 15 minutes.
Carefully lift the crab out of the water, place on a board and leave until cool enough to handle. Remove all of the legs and claws by twisting them away from the body. With a heavy knife break the claw with one hard tap if possible and pick out the crabmeat. Do the same for the legs and using a skewer or thin spoon handle pick out all of the meat from the sockets and joints. When you have taken out all of the crabmeat, go through it carefully with your fingers a couple of times to recover any stray fragments of shell.
Cover and place the white crabmeat in the fridge until ready to use.
For the crab stock: Hold the crab body in two hands, use your thumbs to push the body up and out of the hard top shell. Remove the dead man’s finger, stomach sac and hard membranes from the body of the shell. Using a spoon, remove the brown crabmeat from the top shell and put it into a bowl.
In a large, hot pan, fry the crab shell and left over claws and legs in a small amount of oil. With the end of a rolling pin smash the shell into small pieces. Add the onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes, garlic and orange peel and fry for a further 5 minutes. Add 1.5 litres of cold water and the brown crab meat and allow the stock to come to the boil. When the stock starts to boil, turn the heat down, skim off any fat that appears on the top then allow the stock to simmer gently for 1 hour, skimming again every 20 minutes.
Pass the stock through a fine sieve and place back on the heat in a clean pan. Reduce the stock by half and then allow it to cool. The stock can be split into two portions and frozen for later use or kept in the fridge for up to 2 days.
For the white crab meat: Mix a plain mayonnaise with the white crab meat just enough to bind the meat together and add salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice to taste. This can be kept in the fridge for the day before using. Take it out of the fridge 30 minutes before serving to take off the chill and release the flavours.
For the asparagus: Prepare the asparagus spears by cutting off the woody part of the stalk. Prepare a bowl of ice-cold water large enough to hold the spears. Bring a pan of water to the boil and season with salt. Cook the asparagus tips for 1-2 minutes until just tender then drain and plunge straight into the bowl of ice-cold water. This will retain their colour. When cold, remove from the water and dry. Slice the asparagus in half, lengthways.
For the dressing: Heat one portion of the crab stock until simmering, then add the finely sliced spring onions and the asparagus. Warm the asparagus through then add the rapeseed oil and a squeeze of lemon juice to taste. The dressing should be served just warm.
Pour the dressing into the centre of two bowls and neatly place the white crab meat on top. Finish with some mustard cress.