My elderly father made me jealous all the time last summer while holidaying on the island of Limnos. In the tiny village where he was raised there’s a quiet beach that has a lot of treasures in store for those who know where to look. Often, my father and I would talk in the evenings on the phone and he’d tell me he’d caught a crab or two that afternoon (and once, even a small stingray!) using nothing but his hands or a small stick during his walks on the beach with his dog. Many a time he’d made me envious, just to think he’d bring one or two crabs home from a walk, just enough for one man to boil and enjoy with his ouzo. I mean, how awesome is that? He said that for many years the crabs had disappeared from the beach but this year they had returned in large numbers. So I jumped at the opportunity to ask him to give me a batch from the frozen ones he’d brought to Athens so I could give them a try. Though I had crab during ouzo time as a child with my parents, I only had the odd leg that’d been boiled in water. I’d never tried the whole thing and certainly not in a tomato sauce with pasta. I was eager to try this meal, as I’d heard the taste was amazing. This was my chance!
When Dad handed me a few crabs for my freezer, I was so taken by their beautiful gray & blue colors, and surprised too, as I knew this wasn’t how they looked when cooked. The mystery was solved once I put them in boiling water. They magically turned red instantly before my very eyes. I was worried about how I was going to extract the meat from them, so in case you’re wondering too, don’t let that sway you. I go in detail at the end of my recipe about where the meat is and how you can get it. And I do admit… It WAS kind of creepy to cook such large crustaceans – they looked somewhat like giant cockroaches, LOL, but the taste…. OH, THE TASTE!!…. it made it all worthwhile. So if you’re feeling creeped out too, know it’s worth it for what you’ll be tasting if you try this recipe! Ready? Here we go!
INGREDIENTS (for 2 people)
2 medium sized beef tomatoes (skinned and grated)
1/3 of a pack of tomato puree (doesn’t have to be specific, just enough to make the sauce more deep red)
1 onion and 1-2 garlic cloves chopped
8 tablespoons of virgin olive oil (or what you normally use for pasta dishes)
1/3 teaspoon of cayenne pepper that’s slightly spicy (or chilly, if you prefer it hot!)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric (optional)
Wash the crabs well using a clean brush or toothbrush (I have a dedicated toothbrush for the kitchen, very useful!) Brush their legs well, especially.
Fill a big pot halfway with water (you’ll use this water to boil the pasta after, and some of it will also go in the sauce). When the water boils, throw the crabs in. DO NOT ADD SALT!
After 5 minutes, turn over the crabs and boil for another 5 minutes, then take them out and put aside (TOTAL 10 MINUTES TO BOIL THEM).
Pour the contents through a sieve into a bowl underneath to get the liquid. Then pass the liquid through an ultra-fine mesh strainer to remove the sand and other debris. Make sure to stop pouring before you get to the bottom where the sand will have settled. I don’t have an ultra-fine strainer so I use a typical small strainer and line it with cotton wool.
Put the water into a pan and leave aside to cook the pasta in it later.
Now, in another pan, fry the onion and the garlic in the oil in medium heat for about 2 minutes, until the onion turns a little transparent. Don’t fry too long or the garlic will burn. Add the grated tomato and the passata and cook uncovered for a while until the liquid diminishes.
Add a little of the water for the pasta and stir. Add turmeric, if using. Cayenne (or chilly) and black pepper. DO NOT ADD SALT YET.
Add the crabs and a little more water. Not too much liquid. Better to add later, if need be, so keep checking it. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Turn over the crabs halfway.
In the last 10 minutes or so, add salt to the sauce, and cook the pasta in the other pan, using the leftover water (and salt.)
If you have too much liquid in the sauce, uncover and cook in higher heat towards the end, as needed.
When done, take out the crabs and, using the special pasta utensil, spoon the pasta into the sauce. This way, some of the starchy water will be added too for more taste. Add chopped parsley and mix well.
If you don’t have the special pasta utensil, save a cup or two of starchy water before straining.
Add starchy water as needed to ensure the meal is loose and not sticky.
Serve immediately with the crabs on the dishes and enjoy with a green salad.
NOTES: If you buy frozen: I defrosted the crabs overnight in the fridge, but, from what an aunt told me since, she puts her frozen crabs straight into the boiling water. So it’s up to you!
After cooking, the crab is soft enough for you to remove the pincers and the legs and break them using your fingernails to get to the meat inside. Some bits are easier than others to get to the meat. As for the body, if you turn it upside down, there is a crack where you can sink your nails to open up the body. Inside, you will instantly get a biology class lesson (LOL!) as you will notice the lungs in the middle (they are brown and look like leaves). Ignore those, and only pick the meat on either side where the legs and pincers connect to. Actually, some of that meat may be extracted along with the legs and pincers when you pull them out, so you can leave the body for last to get to any leftover meat.
To be frank? I didn’t really care about picking the meat from the crab. And, if using crab of the same size, do not expect to enjoy crab meat in adequate quantity. BUT! For me, the pasta is all the money! This is where the deliciousness is! Enjoy, and let me know in the comments what you think, if you try this 🙂
Hungry for more? Browse through all my recipes here: https://effrosinimoss.wordpress.com/category/greek-recipes-2/