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By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Aug 31 2016 10:00AM

During the summer months, spider crabs congregate in huge clusters off our coastline, reaching a peak in August. No one is totally sure what they are up to but it's likely to be something to do with mating and moulting. Importantly, however, they make for excellent eating and this is the time to catch them.


Even in these more enlightened foodie times, you'll find it can be difficult to get hold of a spider crab from fishmongers. As a country we catch about 10% of Europe’s spider crab haul but hardly eat any of it, which is pretty inexplicable given that we scoff a huge number of brown crabs. Unfortunately for us, the vast majority (more than 90%) of our spider crab catch gets exported to France. In the last few years, some of the more canny British fishmongers have caught on to the small but growing market here, so if you look hard enough you should be able to find some near you.


You can catch your own spider crab fairly easily and without a pot. At low tide, snorkelling off any sand or shingle beach will often be fruitful. You'll find them loitering around patches of rocks and seaweed but they're also out in the open more (and therefore easier to catch) than their brown cousins. Alternatively, if you don't fancy getting wet, any angler will tell you that spider crabs will latch on to most baits left on the sea bed for long enough. Casting any smelly bait, like mackerel, a few metres off the beach and leaving it for 15 minutes or so will often result in a crab holding on when you reel in (it feels like an enormous dead weight so many people assume they've caught a lump of seaweed. As long as there's still bait on the hook, the crab will usually hang on while you retrieve with a slow, steady pull).


There are two types of spider crab you should avoid eating - any who have recently moulted and females carrying eggs. Both are easy to spot - you'll see the eggs on the underside of egg-carrying or "berried" females and recently-moulted specimens will have pristine shells. Look for older specimens covered in barnacles and seaweed (which they apply as a camouflage). It's generally better to eat the males because they have bigger claws with more meat.


Once you've caught your crab, preferably kill it in the recommended humane manner which involves piercing it twice – once between the eyes and once in the centre of the underside, at the tip of the abdominal flap – to kill both its nerve centres. Alternatively, if you're a bit squeamish, many people simply freeze the crab for a couple of hours to put it into a coma before plunging into a large pot of boiling water which still ensures a very quick death. In most areas the minimum landing size for a spider crab is 13cm. Frankly, your catch should be much larger if you want any kind of meal from it.


Cooking spider crabs is easy too - simply boil for 20 minutes per kilo. Most good sized crabs will be around the 1kg mark. Let it cool completely then get to work. It's worth the effort required to pick all of the leg and body sections because spider crab meat is very, very tasty. It's sweeter than the brown crab and you can substitute it in any recipe.


Have a go at these fantastic recipes:


Spider Crab Linguine (the Guardian) (pictured)

Baked Spider Crab (BBC Good Food)

BBQ Spider Crab (Food Mag)




By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Feb 18 2015 03:22PM

Although still pretty cold outside, the sky is blue and, when it comes out, there is some warmth in the sun, so we're just starting to think about getting back into the garden.


Now, the WS team are known for a few things, but being neat gardeners isn't one of them. (This was brought home a few years ago when we were threatened with eviction from the WS allotment because the local council thought it had been left derelict. It's probably fair to say we hadn't exactly been prioritising the aesthetics of the place.)


If occasional visits from the allotment police are the downside of being a messy gardener, the upside is that, as well as all those plants you did intend to grow, you'll occasionally get a crop that you didn't. One in particular is coming into season right now, and if you can bear to leave a small patch of them growing in your garden, they'll provide you with your first green (and free) meal of the year. We are, of course, talking about stinging nettles. The first young shoots are just starting to grow (in mid-February) and you should have a decent harvestable crop by March/April.


Nettles have an earthy flavour with a taste similar to spinach and they lend themselves to any number of dishes, the only real exception being salad; you'll always need to cook or blanch the leaves before using them.


Gather a good bag full of the first tender leaves of the year* and try them in one of our favourite recipes:


Nettle soup - the classic way to enjoy nettles.


Nettle pesto - as pesto aficionados, we can never resist this.


Nettle lasagne - a deliciously green alternative to the traditional.



*Do we need to tell you to wear gloves? Probably - there's always one... Wear gloves.

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