Saturday, April 23, 2011

Buttered Crab ala the Two Fat Ladies

"Grab that crab Clarissa
Eat that meat Jennifer
Why doesn't that pheasant look pleasant
Fasten your seatbelts for a gastronomic ride"

And so goes the opening tune of the fabulous Two Fat Ladies.  I'm a fan, a BIG fan of these two saucy and hilarious gals.  If you've seen their show, you probably are as well.  If you haven't you really must seek it out as they sometimes still air episodes on BBC America and Food Network.  Of course the complete series is available on DVD at Amazon.

The Two Fat Ladies are cooks, not chefs — they reject pretentious haute cuisine and are aggressively unfashionable, delighting in such ingredients as clotted cream, lard and fatty meats. Vegetarians and the faint of heart, beware!  In this show from the late 1990's, Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright toured Britain in their vintage Triumph Thunderbird motorcycle, preparing a wide-range of traditional British home cooked meals using the freshest ingredients.   Most meals are laden with cream, butter, and meats (Jennifer notes of one tartine: "Delicious, despite its vegetarian overtones.") As they whip up Loin of Pork Stuffed with Mushrooms and a pot of Clam Chowder, the Two Fat Ladies sing the praises of bacon (Clarissa notes that bacon is a great hangover cure.)  Some of the meals look sumptuous--salmon soaked in wine and topped with orange rings, Brazilian bean fritters, and vichyssoise, while others look like a heart-attack waiting to happen (lining a tureen with bacon before stuffing it with meat mixture and placing it in the oven to bake or the lard cooked 'bubble and squeak'.)  But it's terrific fun following the women as they go sightseeing at a motorcycle rally, visiting a Welsh choir, on a quest for the perfect drink at the Brazilian embassy, gathering fresh eggs at a local farm, collecting mussels in their motorcycle helmets, etc.)  As they cook what they've collected in a wide-range of kitchens in famous locales, they chitchat about tips for picking up men, break into song and generally entertain each other while cooking.  While it is a cooking show, it has the feel of a comedy and many of my friends that enjoy it rarely cook, and when they do they would be loathe to prepare one of this traditional British dinners.

While I can't say I've made all that many of the recipes by the Two Fat Ladies (I do have their cookbooks), I have made this Buttered Crab recipe several times and find everyone enjoys it.

You can use a good quality premium canned crab if need be. The canning process cooks the crab. If you are using fresh crab (Dungeness is preferred), pre-cook it as you normally would. Let it cool, and pick out all of the meat until you have approximately one pound of cooked flesh. Clean out the top portion of the crab head shell and use as a serving dish for the recipe.  This recipe may seem to include a considerable amount of butter, but crab can absorb quite a bit of butter and still not taste overly rich or oily.  You can pre-make the dish and hold in the refrigerator before adding the final bread crumbs and browning the tops. If you do this, re-heat the portions in the oven and ensure the mixture is warmed through before browning the tops using the broiler.

The number of portions you get from the recipe will depend entirely on your serving sizes. If you fill the heads of the crab and you have moderately sized crabs, you will likely get four large dinner-size portions. A large but shallow ramekin will produce the same results. Alternatively use a small ramekin for an appetizer or fish course portion.

The recipe follows which I have modified somewhat for the American kitchen.  If you'd like to see the video clip of the ladies preparing this dish, I have included it.  Jennifer makes it and it starts about 1/3 of the way into the clip.

12 tablespoons  butter -- melted
2 large  shallots -- chopped
4 cloves  garlic -- chopped
1/2  medium  lemon -- juiced
2 medium  ears of corn -- shucked (optional, Jennifer does not use corn)
3 dashes Tabasco sauce -- or other hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon  grated nutmeg -- fresh preferred
3/4 cup  white wine or vermouth
1/2 cup  bread crumbs
1/2 cup  parsley -- chopped
1 pound  crab meat -- after cooking and picking
pinch  salt and pepper -- to taste
1 bunch  cilantro -- chopped
On medium-high heat, sauté the chopped shallots in half of the butter for approximately 3 minutes until tender, then add the garlic and continue the sauté for another minute. Add the juice from half a lemon and the corn which has been shucked from the cobb. Stir regularly until the corn is somewhat tender, approximately 4 minutes. Add hot sauce to taste, nutmeg and the white wine. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the wine has begun to reduce and then add the bread crumbs. Dry prepared bread crumbs from the store will absorb more liquid and may require you to add additional wine. Fresh crumbs, which are preferred, will take slightly longer to toast. Reduce heat to medium and add the parsley and the crab, stirring together with the bread crumb mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste and the remaining butter.  Gently turn the crab and parsley into the mixture and then remove from the heat. Do not overcook the already cooked crab.

In shallow oven-proof ramekins or in the cleaned heads of Dungeness crab shells, spoon in the mixture. If using the ramekins, spray first with food release or olive oil. Sprinkle the top of each portion with more bread crumbs and place under a broiler or in a very hot oven to brown slightly, just prior to serving. Remove from broiler and sprinkle each serving with chopped cilantro, and serve.

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