So much flavor comes from the bones of meat, fish and the shells of crustaceans. Resourceful chefs learned this long ago, and reserve what otherwise might be discarded to make flavorful stocks and sauces.
Many recipes suggest cooking meat and fish on the bone as another way to preserve some of that flavor. Though, most bones aren’t palatable, they are easily removed (and discarded) once a dish is cooked. With a roast chicken, for example, you can just carve the meat off the bone before serving.
With lobster, crabs and shrimp, I’ve seen chefs cook them first, remove the meat and then use the shells to make a stock. While this maximizes every ounce of flavor, it requires many steps – cooking the lobster separately, then making the stock, and then using the stock to flavor a sauce.
A few weeks ago, whilst visiting a friend on the eastern shore of Maryland, I saw an ingenious way of simplifying this process. He put live crabs in a skillet, toasted the shells and then added the remaining ingredients for his sauce. The crab meat had the benefit of being cooked in the shell and the sauce had the benefit of crab shells cooking in that. Brilliant!
When the crabs were cooked, he removed them from the sauce, shelled the meat and added it back. This technique would work well with any shellfish.
Pasta with Tomato-Crab Sauce
4 live blue crabs
1 tbs. canola oil
1 tbs. chopped garlic
1 small onion or shallot, peeled and chopped
¼ cup white wine
2 cups chopped or jarred tomatoes
1 tbs. butter
1 tbs. fresh basil
Salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste
¾ pound fettucine
- Scrub the crabs clean under cold water. Dry on a paper towel.
- Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add the oil and then the crabs, upside down. Let the crab shells toast in the oil for a few minutes.
- Add the onions and garlic to the crab pan and cook for 2 minutes until they begin to soften. Then add the white wine and tomatoes. If the pan seems dry, add 1/3 cup of water too.
- Cover the pan and let the crabs steam for about 10 minutes. Remove crabs from pan, making sure to scrape off and save the tomatoes.
- Let the crabs cool and remove the meat.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta for 1 minute less than the package instructions
- While pasta is cooking put the crab meat back in the tomato sauce. Add a pat of butter, basil. Season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice.
- When pasta is done, drain all the liquid except ¼ cup. Toss pasta with sauce.
Special thanks to Daniel for taking photos, and to Richard and Michael for an amazing meal and weekend!