Shellfish - Annie Stirk's recipes

PUBLISHED: 19:31 18 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:18 20 February 2013

Annie Stirk

Annie Stirk

Annie Stirk, our food and wine consultant, lays down the law - or should that be claw? - on preparing crabs PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANDY BULMER

Crab is enjoying a bit of a renaissance with sales up by 54 per cent in the last year alone. Celebrity chefs have done their bit by championing crab as a must-have ingredient, but this is no fad - crab is here to stay. The Yorkshire Coast, from Whitby, through Scarborough and on to Filey, is home to the delicious brown crab, so you can combine a day by the sea with picking up a crab for tea. I couldn't resist setting up my very own coastal kitchen on Whitby harbour for this month's master class.

With boats bobbing about, seagulls screaming overhead and crab pots piled high, it was quite a view. Crab, along with its more exotic and expensive cousin the lobster, is at its best now, so it's the perfect time to try these canny crustaceans. I like to keep it simple and let the delicate flavour of the crab take centre stage. It's hard to beat a simple dressed crab, but I hope you enjoy the crab and avocado cocktail and crab pate too.

First things first though. Dressing a crab is fiddly but it's not difficult. In fact, it can actually be great fun. You just have to arm yourself with a rolling pin, a skewer, a slender handled teaspoon and get cracking. Crabs for dressing are sold whole and already cooked, and are a beautiful, distinctive rusty-red colour. It's best to choose one that feels heavy for its size as this means there will be plenty of meat in the shell and claws.

Males have larger claws, giving more white meat than females. You can distinguish between the two by looking at the tail flap - the male tail flap is narrow and pointed whereas the female has a broad tail flap. Always check to make sure there are no claws missing.

And if you are bringing your catch home after a day at the coast, try to collect it as late as possible to make sure it stays fresh. Crab is highly perishable so you'll need a cool bag and plenty of ice to transport it. It is important to always buy crabs and any other shellfish from a reputable fishmonger who will check that the crab is not full of water before you part with your cash. If they don't offer to do this, just ask.


1. Place the crab upside down on a board and break off the claws and legs.

2. Lift it up and break off the tail flap.

3. Push the blade of a large knife between the body and the shell. Twist the blade and the central crab body will release itself.

4. Place your thumbs on either side of the body section. Press firmly upwards until it comes away from the shell.

5. Pull away the greyish white feathered gills - called 'dead man's fingers' - and discard. They are not poisonous, but they are inedible, unpleasant and bitter.

6. Scoop out the brown meat from the body section using the handle of a teaspoon. Keep all the brown meat you collect separate from the white meat.

7. Cut the body in half using a large knife and remove any white meat from all the little nooks and crannies with a skewer.

8. Put the crab shell back onto the board with its eyes and mouth facing you. Press the little piece of shell just behind the eyes until it snaps. Lift out and discard the mouth piece and stomach sac.

9. Scoop out all the remaining brown meat from the crab shell using a teaspoon.

10. Crack the claws and legs with a rolling pin and pick out all the delicious flakes of white meat. Take care not to get any splinters of shell in the meat. Thanks to Pond Cottage, Stillington, for providing the props for Annie's harbourside kitchen. For further information, click on



A mixture of white and brown crab meat from one or two cooked crabs

150ml mayonnaise

50g brown breadcrumbs

1 tsp Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

2 hard boiled eggs (yolks and white separated)

2 tbsp freshly chopped parsley


Mix the white crab meat with the mayonnaise and season.

Mix the brown meat with the breadcrumbs and mustard.

Separate the cooked egg white from the yolk. Finely chop the white and the yolk, keeping them separate.

Spread the brown crab meat on to the base of the cleaned crab shell. Then spread the flaked white meat on top.

Sprinkle on a line of chopped egg white, followed by a line of chopped egg yolk.

Finish off with a line of chopped parsley and serve with crusty bread and wedges of lemon or lime.


(serves 6)


450g fresh white and brown crab meat

200ml crme fraiche

2 tbsp mayonnaise

2 salad onions, finely chopped

1 tsp paprika

15g fresh chives, chopped

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1 tbsp lemon juice

Dash of Tabasco sauce


In a large bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, salad onions, paprika, chopped chives, lemon zest, juice and Tabasco.

Season and gently fold in the crab meat.

Gently fold the crme fraiche into the crab mixture. Divide the mixture between six ramekins. Cover and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Take the pate out of the fridge 20 minutes before serving. Serve with slices of Melba toast or hunks of granary bread and wedges of lemon.

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