CRABS, COCKTAILS AND CARAVANS

blue swimmer crab

Dear Amelia,
Here in Western Australia it’s the season for blue swimmer crabs, which are called blue swimmer crabs because they’re blue and they swim.
When I was a kid these crabs were called blue mannas and I used to go with my Dad (your Great Granddad Keith) down to the estuary in Bunbury to catch them with wire scoop nets attached to long wooden poles.
The best time to catch them was at sunset because that’s when they were scuttling around on the floor of the estuary looking for things to eat.
You’d wade through the shallow water in a pair of old sandshoes, getting eaten alive by mosquitos and hoping the crabs wouldn’t mistake your ankles for whatever it was they liked for dinner.
They’re vicious little buggers and I still have a scar on my ankle to prove it.
I needed five stitches – I suspect you could hear my screams in the Middle East.
Not that it put me off.
I’m certainly no hero but I was always willing to risk limb, if not life, in order to get a feed of crabs.
I absolutely love them.
Later on, when I married your Grandpa, I used to go out crabbing on the ocean with my father-in-law, your Great Grandpa Roy, and his mates.
We’d stop the boat and throw drop nets over the side – far more civilised.
Later still, my Mum and Dad bought a caravan and a tinny and kept them at a caravan park at Yunderup, so crab-wise I was (for want of a better expression) like a pig in shit.

This is a tinny that looks nothing like the one your Great Grandad had. His was much more beaten up.

This is a tinny that looks nothing like the one your Great Grandad had. His was much more beaten up.

You’d get back to the caravan park with your catch and almost every van would have a campfire blazing out the front with a drum full of boiling seawater on top to cook the crabs in.
All the blokes would be standing around the fires having a yack and sipping Swan Lager from a can, even though it was 10 o’clock in the morning.
They were all called Vern or Len or Ted and they smoked Turf and Craven A and had bow legs.
Their wives had exotic names like Valmae and Merle and smoked Alpine while they sat around reading the Women’s Weekly and James A. Michener novels.
Speaking of crabs, when your Grandpa and I were at uni we knew a bloke who caught the sort you don’t find in an estuary.
This bloke got rid of them by sitting in an empty bath and spraying his private parts with Pea-Beu.
I’ve often wondered if he used the Pine Fresh or the Surface Spray.
I now buy my blue swimmer crabs from the Boatshed Markets down on the Albany foreshore.
Here are two I bought last weekend.
They go red when you cook them, as I expect I would too if I was dropped into boiling water.

cooked crabs

These crabs were really big ones, so I cooked them for five minutes after the water had come back to the boil and then left them to cool in a colander.
They were perfect and, as always, well worth the effort of cleaning and peeling them.
Our favourite way of eating them is as crab cocktails (like prawn cocktails but without the prawns) and crab fettuccine, so I’ll give you the recipes for both.

One year ago on this blog: Bum Biscuits

CRAB COCKTAIL

shredded iceberg lettuce
fresh crab meat
For the cocktail sauce (makes about 1 cup):
1 cup whole egg mayonnaise (I like Paul Newman’s brand)
3 tbsp tomato sauce
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
a few drops of Tabasco sauce (or to taste)
1 tsp lemon juice
freshly ground salt and pepper to taste

Put the shredded lettuce in the bottom of individual serving bowls or glasses.
Pile the fresh crab meat on top.
Mix all the sauce ingredients together and stir well.
Drizzle the sauce over the crab meat.
This cocktail sauce will keep for up to a month in the fridge – just cover it with plastic wrap.
The recipe is easily halved, third-ed (sorry) or quartered, depending on how many crab cocktails you’re making.
The sauce is also delicious in a fish-cake burger – even better if you stir in a finely chopped spring onion before you dollop it on the bun.

I didn't take a picture of the crab cocktails because we were starving. Here's a home-made prawn cocktail instead.

I didn’t take a picture of the crab cocktails because we were starving. Here’s a home-made prawn cocktail instead.

The next recipe is a classic, taught to me back in the day by my friend and former colleague, cookery writer Margaret Johnson. I’ve been cooking this for years and, as you do, have changed it around a bit. I would still crawl over hot coals to eat it.

 

FETTUCCINE WITH CRAB, GARLIC AND PARSLEY

For each person you will need:
100-150g fettuccine
scant tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 fat clove garlic or 2 small ones, very finely chopped
chopped fresh chilli to taste
the meat from 2 small crabs or 1 big one
1 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
freshly ground salt and pepper

Cook the fettuccine in lots of boiling salted water until al dente.
Just before it’s ready, heat the olive oil in a big frying pan over a low-ish flame and cook the garlic and chilli for about 30 seconds (just until the smell of the cooking garlic hits your nostrils – no longer).
Tip the drained fettuccine into the frying pan, add the crab meat, chopped parsley and salt and pepper to taste and toss everything together with a pair of tongs.
Tip into a serving bowl and serve immediately.
Marg doesn’t bother cooking anything but the fettuccine.
She then tips it into a bowl and mixes all the other ingredients through.


CHALK, DUSTBUSTING AND PRAWN FETTUCCINE

Sorry about the photo quality – Annie Leibovitz I ain’t

Dear Amelia,
I’ve been really busy with work lately, so it was lovely to see you last week and take some time out, even if my visit was only a fleeting one.
It never ceases to amaze me how many cuddles you can fit into 12 hours if you really put your mind to it.
Also, have you noticed this yin and yang thing we’ve got going?
Eg: I love drawing on your blackboard and you love rubbing it out. It’s a perfect balance.
The bit you actually like best is cleaning the blackboard duster by bashing it against the palm of your hand.
The dusting gene skipped a generation on my side of the family so it’s good to see it’s re-established itself in you – you’ll be able to save Nanna from suffocating under a pile of her own filth.
Here are a couple of other dusting options we could investigate further down the track if you’re interested.
I found them on this website when your Grandpa was watching Band of Brothers for the 400th time and I was forced to either kill myself or surf the Internet aimlessly.
The first option depends on your Mum and Dad providing you with a little brother or sister but in the meantime we can always borrow your cousin Ava.


I made some prawn pasta for dinner last night, which your Grandpa loved but I thought needed a bit more oomph.
It came about because I had some nice fat prawns in the freezer and then when I went down to Reeves to get some veggies they had really nice-looking baby spinach and punnets of cherry tomatoes on special for $1.99.
They also had this Australian-made pasta.
If you read the guff on the packet you’ll see that Australia is one of the few countries in the world – possibly the only one – that can grow ready-packaged fettuccine in its fields.
Who would’ve thought?


I must say it was very relaxing and celebrity-cheffy wandering around Reeves, squeezing produce and putting fresh, seasonal vegetables into my basket.
If I was a bloke and wasn’t as old as Methuselah, I think I could easily have been mistaken for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

PRAWN FETTUCCINE WITH SPINACH AND CHERRY TOMATOES

Serves 2

150g fettuccine or spaghetti
1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 big pinches crushed, dried chillies
1 punnet cherry tomatoes
1 glass white wine
1 big pinch dried basil
salt and pepper
12 raw king prawns, shelled
3 handfuls of baby spinach
lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Put a big pan of water on the stove to boil and cook the fettuccine according to packet directions.
All up this should take 15-20 minutes.
While that’s happening, heat the oil in a big non-stick frying pan over medium heat and cook the garlic and chilli for 30 seconds.
Tip in the tomatoes, white wine and dried basil and stir until simmering, squashing the tomatoes down with the back of a wooden spoon.
Season to taste with salt and pepper and let it simmer gently for 5 minutes or so.
Add the prawns and when they start to turn pink, chuck in the spinach.
Cook, stirring, for a few more minutes until the spinach wilts and the prawns are cooked.
Drain the cooked fettuccine and tip it into the frying pan, tossing it around to coat with the sauce.
Serve with a bowl of Parmesan cheese to sprinkle over the top (OK, here’s a confession that should send me straight to culinary Hell – I actually prefer the taste of Grana Padano and that’s what I always use).
Next time I make this I think I’ll wilt the spinach in a separate pan and drain off any liquid before adding it to the sauce.
Or maybe I’ll forget about the spinach and use some fresh basil instead.

Edit: I made this again and added two finely chopped anchovies with the tomatoes. I also left out the spinach and when the prawns were cooked (but before I added the cooked fettuccine), I stirred in half a bunch of chopped fresh basil. It was really delicious – much better than the spinach version.


PRAWNS THE SECOND WAY

Dear Amelia,
More prawns! It’s the promised second recipe and it’s called Prawn and Prosciutto Ravioli.
I suppose it’s really a special-occasion dish because even though it’s not difficult, it does involve a bit of faffing around.
It’s also a Nanna creation, in that I combined about four different recipe ideas.
The garlic butter recipe is pinched from a top New Zealand chef called Adam Newell, who has won a Michelin star for his restaurant, Zibibbo.
Like all celebrity chefs worth their salt, Adam has an “absolute passion for food”.
At least that’s what it says on the fly-leaf of his cookbook, A Consuming Passion, which was given to me by your Great Uncle Gerard and his partner, Mignon, and is an excellent read.
In case you’re thinking of being a celebrity chef when you grow up, I should warn you that you will have to have “an absolute passion for food” every minute of every single day.
When you’re a celebrity chef, you’re never allowed to say things like, “I’m really tired and I couldn’t give a shit about the confit.”
Or, “Fuck seasonality. I want to eat strawberries in winter.”
You’re only allowed to say things like that when you’re like me and all you want to do is cook something nice, then eat it, then fall asleep in front of the telly.
A word on pasta machines.
I bought one 10 years ago and have never used it.
So, every time a chef on TV uses one to make pasta, your Grandpa says, “There’s a good idea, Michele. Why don’t you buy one of those?”
He thinks this is funny, but after 10 years it’s wearing a bit thin.
So I’ve decided that when I do use the pasta machine for the first time, I’m going to put your Grandpa’s fingers through the rollers.
In the meantime, I make ravioli with those wonton wrappers you buy in Chinese supermarkets (or, if you live in Albany, at Mariella’s Deli).
For this recipe I use the round gyoza skins so you get a nice half-moon shape, but if you can’t get hold of any, just use the square wonton wrappers and fold them into a triangle.
The ravioli are dead easy to make and just about everything is done in a food processor.
You can also make the garlic butter a day or even a week ahead.

PRAWN AND PROSCIUTTO RAVIOLI

Makes about 32 (enough for 4-6 people)

For the garlic butter (don’t panic, you won’t use all of this)
100g butter, softened
100ml extra virgin olive oil
handful flat-leaf parsley
2 cloves garlic
salt and pepper to taste
For the ravioli
Packet of gyoza skins or wonton wrappers
500g raw king prawns, peeled
50g prosciutto (about 4 slices), chopped
1 spring onion
salt and pepper
Other stuff
20 or so grape tomatoes (Nanna grows her own)
Another handful of parsley, chopped finely

To make the garlic butter, put all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until the parsley is chopped.
You won’t use all the garlic butter, so put what’s left in a tightly sealed container in the fridge.
It will keep for a couple of weeks and is great for garlic bread or on top of spuds or barbecued steak or fish.
To make the ravioli, wipe out the food processor bowl and drop in the prawn flesh and chopped prosciutto.
Pulse it until it’s all chopped up.
Finely chop the spring onions and mix them into the prawn mixture along with a little salt and pepper.
Fill a big pot with salted water and bring it to the boil while you’re assembling the ravioli.
To do this, first put some water in a small bowl.
Next, lay a gyoza skin on your chopping board and put a heaped teaspoonful of prawn mixture in the middle (see pic at end of recipe).
Dip your finger in the bowl of water, wet around the entire edge of the skin and then fold it over and press the edges together tightly to seal, pressing out any air as you go.
Repeat until all the prawn mixture is used up.
Cook the ravioli in the pot of boiling water for about 3 minutes.
While they’re cooking, fry the tomatoes in a big frypan in a little of the garlic butter.
When the ravioli are cooked, fish them out with a slotted spoon and put them in the frypan with the tomatoes, along with as much of the garlic butter as you think your arteries will stand (basically you need just enough to coat the ravioli).
Heat everything up for a couple of minutes then serve in big bowls sprinkled with the extra chopped parsley.
This is really nice eaten with broccolini.


DONNA HAY, SUPERSTAR

Dear Amelia,
I recently saw a restaurant menu that listed a dish called Prawns Two Ways.
In our house that would mean putting them in your mouth with your right hand AND your left, which we usually do anyway because we love prawns your Grandpa and I.
But it made me think that I should give you two of my favourite prawn recipes.
They’re my favourites because they both involve enough butter to harden every single artery in your body by bedtime, which is why they taste so good.
The first is a recipe for Garlic and Tarragon Prawns that I came across in a Donna Hay magazine I was reading at the hairdressers.
I didn’t feel comfortable tearing it out because I knew I’d probably get caught, so I had to hunt around town for my own copy.
It was in the 10th Anniversary edition, which unfortunately was sold out, but on the up side I now know exactly how many newsagents there are in our little corner of the Great Southern.
I eventually found the mag for free, would you believe, as part of a Donna Hay app for the iPad.
It was obviously in my stars that this recipe and I should be together so I cooked it for all of us for Christmas lunch while you were sitting in your high chair pushing bits of banana in your ear.
The prawns were so totally amazing that despite the fact I think Donna Hay looks disturbingly like Neil Perry (could they be the same person, do you think?), I wrote this grovelling little song for her.
You have to sing it to the tune of Hosanna, one of the hit songs from that old musical, Jesus Christ Superstar.
If you want to check out the original on YouTube, you’ll find it here.

Donna Hay Superstar
Ho Donna
Hey Donna
Donna Donna ho
Donna Hay
Donna ho
Don-naaaa
Hey DH, DH
Can I use crème fraiche?
Donna ho
Donna Hay
Superstar
I was telling a friend in Perth that I was cooking the prawns again on the weekend and she said, “You’re turning the OVEN on? TOMORROW? Are you INSANE?”
Seeing as the summer temperatures here in the deep south are always somewhere between marvellous and exceptional, I’d forgotten it’s so hot in Perth at the moment you could fry an egg on Eric Ripper’s head.
So I reckon if you’re suffering through a heatwave you could always cook the prawns in the garlic butter in a frypan instead of baking them (OK, you’d still have to turn on the oven to roast the garlic but it’s a small price to pay for such deliciousness).
By the way, I grow my own tarragon because that’s what Nannas do.
Feel free to substitute the dried variety, I’m sure it would be fine.

GARLIC AND TARRAGON PRAWNS

Serves 4

1 head garlic, unpeeled
1 tbsp olive oil
60g butter, softened
4 or 5 sprigs of French tarragon, chopped
1 tsp Spencer’s crushed chilli/dried chilli flakes
salt and pepper to taste
24 raw king prawns, peeled, with tails intact
lemon wedges to serve

Preheat the oven to 180C.
If you’ve forgotten to take the butter out of the fridge, microwave it for 10-15 seconds to make it soft.
Place the garlic on a baking tray, drizzle with the oil and roast it in the oven for 20-30 minutes, until soft when squeezed.
While the garlic is roasting, butterfly the prawns by cutting down their backs (but not all the way through) and removing those stringy bits that are their intestinal tracts.
Spread the prawns out flat and put them in a single layer in a big shallow roasting pan (see pic at end of recipe).
When the garlic is cooked, increase the oven temperature to 220C.
Slice the top from the garlic bulb and squeeze the roasted garlic from each clove into a bowl.
Add the butter, tarragon, chilli, salt and pepper and mash everything together with a fork.
Top each butterflied prawn with some of the garlic butter and roast for about 8 minutes until cooked through.
Serve with lemon wedges.