#140 Crab Tart

I’ve mentioned before that a much ignored chapter in English Food is the Fish chapter (I must tell you what the chapters actually are, so you know where the seemingly random recipes fit). The fish that are in season during May and are in the book are salmon and crab. A quick phone call to Butters to help me decide which fish/crustacean to try first was required – I’ve never cooked with crab other than tinned, and salmon isn’t my favourite. We went for the crab. There’s a few crab recipes but this one seemed relatively straight-forward.

It seems the oceans were a much more plentiful place in the 1970s compared to now (though we knew that already!). The original recipe asks for a boiled crab weighing 2 pounds or one kilogram. Fat chance of that says the fishmonger, however I asked for the biggest one and it wasn’t too far off. It only cost a fiver! I was well happy there – a tiny tin of it cost about 3 quid. Bargin. In fact I noticed the fishmonger was stocked with loads of nice things at the minute…

Butters gets a crab infestation. Again

To make a crab tart, start off by making (or buying) some shortcrust pastry and lining an 8 to 9 inch flan or tart tin with it. Bake the pastry blind in a hot oven – 220°C – for 10-15 minutes. Do this by lining it with greaseproof paper or foil and pouring in some baking beans. For the final couple of minutes remove the beans so that the base can crisp and dry out a little.

Now you have to pay the boiled crab some considerable attention. It’s quite an arduous task but quite satisfyingly so. I won’t go through how to remove the meat here, but I’ll instead send you to this link to Deliaonline, which I followed and it did the job. In fact go to that website if there’s any techniques you want to reference. Once you’ve extracted as much meat as your patience will allow mix the white and brown meats together and season well with sea salt, black or white pepper and Cayenne pepper. Stir in one whole egg and two egg yolks (keep the whites) and 8 fluid ounces of whipping cream. Now add a tablespoon each of Cheddar and Parmesan cheese and stir in. Whisk the two egg whites until firm of peak and fold it into the crab mixture. Pour the whole thing into the case and bake at 220°C for 5 minutes and then turn the heat down to 190°C and bake for a further 25-40 minutes. The tart is ready when it has set and lost its eggy wobbliness.

Not the most photogenic of tarts, I know, but tasted lovely.

Griggers says to serve straight away with brown bread and butter, but to be extra-seasonal, I made a quick salad from rocket, sliced radishes, olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper. It went very well.

#140 Crab Tart 7/10. I really enjoyed cooking with and then eating crab. The brown meat dissolved into the cream and eggs making it deliciously sweet and moist and the white meat gave the whole thing good texture. The genius of the dish was the whisked egg whites, which lifted to so well. A definite success that really made me feel Spring is finally here! Great stuff.

#132 Oyster loaves

One of the least-explored chapters in English Food is the Fish chapter. The main reason for this is that I have the least experience of the foods therein. Being English (I won’t say British as Wales, N. Ireland and Scotland may be different) means, generally, the only fish you get to eat is white fish – cod and haddock. Though I love the fish I’ve tried, one thing we have never eaten as a family growing up in Yorkshire is shellfish. The only exception is prawns because my Mum likes them. Because I’ve never really tried the bivalves – cockles etc., I find them tricky to get my head around them – they look like something from a biological specimen jar and do not resemble anything else that might turn up on the dinner table. I felt an inauguration coming on, and “why not” I thought, start at the top, with the king – oysters.

I popped on down to the Arndale Market in Manchester, got some rock oysters for 70p each and an oyster knife for a fiver from the cooks stall. Hopefully I’ll get to use it more than once…

I thought I’d better not go straight in at the deep end with a raw squirming oyster, but instead get there by degrees. First step – oyster cooked and smothered in some kind of sauce with lots of other flavours. Second step – oyster cooked but by itself. Final step – raw oyster. Griggers was there to help, natch, with this recipe straight out of the 1970s:

This recipe is per person, so multiply up depending on how many you’re cooking for:

Begin by heating your oven to 220°C whilst waiting for it to heat up, open 4 oysters with an oyster knife. This can be tricky if using large rock oysters with big gnarly shells, but with a bit of patience it’s quite easy to get the knack for opening them. Give them a rinse and a scrub under the cold tap first and make sure you hold the flat side of the oyster uppermost and with your grasping hand wrapped in a tea towel. Use the knife to prize the hinged back part of the oyster open. Do this over a bowl so you can keep any liquor that escapes – very important for later. I found that placing a sieve lined with some kitchen paper filtered away any sand or cracked bits of shell.

Now hollow out 2 bread rolls by first slicing the top off and then scooping out the centre, making sure you don’t make any holes in the side. Brush the lid and roll inside and out with melted butter – about ½ an ounce – and bake for 10 minutes until crisp and golden.

Meanwhile, melt another ½ ounce of butter in a pan and cook the oysters for around a minute and a half until they are opaque and firm. Remove them and cut them up into two or three pieces. Pour the oyster liquor into the pan along with 2 tablespoons each of double and soured cream, and season with salt, pepper and 3 or 4 drops of Tabasco sauce. Reduce it down to a thick sauce, stirring all the time, and warm the oysters through in the sauce. Check for seasoning. Lastly, divide the mixture between the hollowed bread rolls and serve immediately.

“Feed me, Seymore”

#132 Oyster Loaves – 7.5/10. I really enjoyed this. I’ve heard people say that oysters taste of ‘the sea’, or ‘ozone’ or iodine’; I’ve never been sure what they meant by that, but now I do! The oysters were sweet, rich and very soft and the piquant, yet creamy sauce really worked well. The idea of putting them in a hollowed bread roll might seem a bit naff now, but you could serve on a circle of bread fried gently in butter to make look more with the times. One would make a really good first course. I am very impressed with my first oyster adventure and would definitely encourage anyone who is squeamish about them to give this recipe a try – it simple and not expensive.

FYI: In days of yore, oysters were considered food for the poor and were largely ignored by the posh. They were used as a substitute for mushrooms (hence steak, kidney and oyster pie) in many dishes as they were very rare due to the fact no-one had worked out how to cultivate them. It wasn’t until they became scarce due to loss of habitat and pollution that they were thought to be a delicacy.

#91 Spicy Prawns

What makes these English, I do not know; other than a sort of nod to Maharajah days maybe. Anyways, I bought a huge bag of tiger prawns from W H Lung, the Oriental Cash and Carry near where I work for when I made Phat Thai for me and Butters at the weekend. I had loads left over, so I looked through the book and saw Spicy Prawns. I had all the ingredients in and it takes very little time to make. If you have spices at home, it’s a good one to do.

BTW: if you don’t, buy some spices in – they’re cheap as long as you don’t buy Schwartz spices; they are ridiculously overpriced. Go to an Asian supermarket. If you live in Manchester, Unicorn sells good value, organic spices. Also, buy your spices whole and grind them as you need them – the flavour is much better. Use a pestle and mortar, or as I do, a coffee grinder.

For two:
Peel (if you need to) and devein 8 ounces of raw tiger prawns. To devein, cut down the back of the prawn and remove the black vein running along its length. (FYI: it isn’t a vein, but the digestive tract and the black is the mud and God-knows-what else they’ve scoffed). Make a spice mix of ½ teaspoon of paprika, ½ a teaspoon of ground cumin, a ¼ teaspoon of ground ginger and a pinch of cayenne pepper, plus some salt. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a pan and fry two chopped cloves of garlic. When they start to turn golden add the spice mix and fry for a minute. This is very important when cooking any spice – you need to fry them in oil at the start, otherwise they taste bland and raw. Add the prawns and fry for another two minutes, stirring them around so they get evenly cooked. Lastly, throw in a good few tablespoons of coriander leaves and cook for one more minute. Serve immediately.

Grigson says to serve with crusty bread or with saffron rice garnished with toasted pine kernels and fried onion slices. I went for the latter as you can see. To make saffron rice, you need to sprinkle in ¼ teaspoon of saffron strands to the rice when it is cooking. Use Basmati rice, fry it in oil for a minute before adding boiling water and some salt. The ratio by volume of rice:water is 1:2. Add the water, stir once, cover, and leave it on the lowest possible flame until all the water has been absorbed. Let it stand for a few minutes and fluff up with a fork. Perfect rice, every time!

FYI: I usually don’t eat prawns, but have fallen off the wagon recently. If you eat alot of them, try and cut down. Those that are fished are trawled up with huge trawlers that kill everything in their path. For every tonne of prawns fished, ten tonnes of sea life dies. If you buy farmed, it is not much better; most farms are built on mangrove swamps – a habitat we are already losing at a rate of knots. When I’m done cooking the Grigson recipes with prawns, I’m going only have prawns at special treats.

#91 Spicy Prawns – 7/10. Very tasty and quick to do. Brilliant if you can’t be bothered cooking but want something proper. The prawns were ready in the time it took to cook the rice. The oily spices were just right – very intense, but didn’t mask the subtle flavour of the prawns. The saffron rice helped this thing along with it’s slightly musky-sweet flavour. Of course, this is even easier if you just have it with bread. Great stuff!