While checking out the latest catch at my local fishmongers the other day (I know it’s sad, but I do this quite often), I noticed they had freshly cooked lobsters and crabs on show.
It reminded me of a recipe I cooked and photographed for a client a few years ago - Lobster Mac’n Cheese - which was comforting, decadent and delicious. Faced by these magnificent crustaceans, I couldn’t decide, if I was making the dish again, would I choose the Brown Crab over its brick-red relative?
Nothing against the lobster (apart from the price), but I prefer the crab’s sweet, soft, briny white meat to that of the chunky and firm lobster meat. Add to that the savoury but oh-so-tasty crab brown meat and for me it’s a combination that is hard to resist. Mr Brown Crab it is then.
There is one thing I can’t do - call me a wuss if you want - that is kill a live crab or lobster, whether it is by boiling or with a knife. Just can’t do it!
So I always hunt out good fishmongers who can provide me with tubs of fresh crab meat, brown and white, and crab claws. Most decent fishmongers do this and it is worth going a few extra miles past the supermarket to find one, and they will get some in if you ask.
So with my preference for crab, I decided to try the recipe again using a mixture of white and brown crab meat, and meat from a handful of crab claws.
It was a great success, with sweet crab meat mixed into a white bechemal sauce enriched with savoury brown meat, cheese, white wine, and mustard. Then finished off in the oven with a crispy panko and parmesan topping.
The brown crab meat added a lovely richness to the sauce and the white meat remained soft, briny and sweet. Delicious.
INGREDIENTS serves 4
about 300g cooked white crab meat, and about 2 tablespoons of brown meat
(I sometimes use white claw meat when I can get it, but then I don’t mind cracking the claws to find the meat, it’s a labour of love).
40g plain flour
400 ml full fat milk
1 tsp ready made English mustard
2 tbsp French’s American mustard
A splash of white wine, or more to loosen sauce
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 large bunch of spring onions, finely sliced
100g mature cheddar, grated
100g gruyere, grated
30g parmesan, grated
3 tbsp (approx) of panko breadcrumbs
½ tsp smoked paprika (optional)
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and add the flour.
Over a low'ish heat, cook for about 2-3 minutes to form a paste, then gradually add most of the milk whisking all the time to stop any lumps forming.
If it becomes too thick, add more milk or a good splash of white wine. I tend to add wine here as it really gives flavour to the sauce, but the choice is yours.
Once you have the consistency of a coating sauce, leave to cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often so it doesn’t catch.
Just a tip here, the sauce needs to be a little looser than you think, as the pasta will swell when in the oven and thicken the sauce. So if it looks ‘claggy’ before going in the oven, you need to loosen it a little.
Boil your macaroni until almost cooked (al dente) - about a minute or two less than the packet instructions - and drain.
While the pasta is cooking, add 2 teaspoons of French’s Yellow mustard and one teaspoon of English mustard to the bechemal sauce.
I think American (or yellow) mustard is essential to this dish. It isn’t as hot as English mustard, but gives a sharp yet mellow flavour that helps with the richness of the recipe.