Potted crab makes me think of Enid Blyton and the Famous Five, going on picnics with lashings of ginger beer and tinned sardines, or perhaps Malory Towers and their carefully planned illicit midnight feasts, and the tuck boxes full of home-made sponge cakes that they would share with their schoolmates. (Does anyone other than me remember the unfortunately named Alma Pudden in St Clare's, who used to steal the other girls' stashes of sweet treats?) I suppose it goes without saying that I've never eaten potted crab before. In fact, I haven't eaten a lot of crab full stop, because once upon a time I was too picky and since then I haven't actually seen much crab around to buy. I like crab, though, and Jamie has several crab recipes, which have long been calling for me to try them. There is of course the exciting option of buying a live crab, killing and cooking it myself; I would need to go to the coast to find one, probably, and I didn't, yesterday - I just bought a cooked one. I was impressed by how cheap it was, until I realized that it wasn't going to yield a lot of meat. As a crab novice, I found Jamie's apparently extensive instructions needed some back-up which Simon found via a Rick Stein book (of course); by coincidence I watched Rachel Allen take the meat from a cooked crab this morning on television and discovered that we did do it right. I must admit, though, that her crab was a bigger and healthier looking specimen than mine. Anyway once we had picked the meat from the crab, separating white and brown, checking that no scary shards of shell had sneaked into the two (annoyingly small) piles of crabmeat, I potted the crab. I had never potted anything in my life and I have to admit that this is one recipe I wouldn't have tried were it not for the project, because it isn't really my sort of recipe. I am more likely to eat crab with chilli and rocket and pasta, or in Thai-style fishcakes, than potted in a little ramekin to eat with hot toast. Which is exactly why this project has honestly revolutionized how we eat: not because we were unadventurous before - I love trying new dishes -but because my adventurous cooking never really took me out of my own taste comfort zone; I might have learnt to make pastry, to bake bread, have experimented with endless curries, but I'd never have bothered potting a crab because it just wouldn't have occurred to me. Back to the method: I smashed up fennel seeds, chilli and lemon zest in the pestle and mortar and scrunched them into softened butter and the brown crabmeat, grating over nutmeg and stirring in the white crabmeat. I seasoned it, shared it between two ramekins and spooned melted butter over, topping with chopped parsley, and refrigerating.
I had already decided that potted crab was a good thing when I tasted the mixture before it went into the ramekin; when I took the ramekins out of the fridge they did look like potted crab, but somehow potted crab doesn't look appetising, particularly.
I spread the mixture on toast and couldn't believe how delicious it was - it was absolutely lovely. I will never turn up my nose at potted anything again (apart from those little jars of potted meat you see in the supermarket - and wonder who on earth buys them). Jamie suggests potting prawns instead and I am definitely going to give that a go next; this was a flavour sensation to me, and I am now a reformed potted crab sceptic (turned evangelist).
Yesterday I also made stuffed vine leaves, because I had bought a packet in brine ages ago and forgotten about them until I read the Prawn Cocktail Years and remembered them. They are a world away from the ones you buy in jars: I stuffed them with rice, tomato, minced lamb, cinnamon, toasted pine nuts, garlic and cooked them very slowly in lemon juice and water for two hours. I served them with a homemade tomato sauce.
They don't look anything special but they are really good, way better than the ones you buy - and pretty different too. Mmm.