WELL SEASONED

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Here you can find a collection of our thoughts, reports and ramblings together with some fun things we find along the way. We try to update the blog at least once a week and more often during busy periods so make sure you check back regularly..

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, Jul 17 2015 10:00AM


Serious Topic Alert. There is a slightly dark tone to this blog piece but a necessary one.


Last weekend we killed and ate our dinner. We stabbed it twice and then barbecued it. Ask yourself honestly whether you were at all uncomfortable reading that? If you were, can you put your finger on why? Is it because you find the idea of eating an animal unpleasant or merely the idea of being invovled in its death?


The meal in question was a large spider crab that we caught diving off the Dorset coast. We killed him in the recommended way (the crab is pierced, once between the eyes and once on the underside, to kill both its nerve centres) and then barbecued him on the beach. It sounds brutal, and it is, but is also about as quick and "humane" as killing an animal can be. He had lived a long, entirely free range life and when the end came he died quickly. Yet some people will be uncomfortable with the idea of being present when their dinner dies.


As society evolves, most of us are increasingly detached from the source of our food and we're increasingly unaware of what goes into its production. Surely we owe it to ourselves, not to kill all of our own food or even to witness its death, but at least to understand where it comes from and what it goes through in order to arrive on our dinner plate. Whether we're talking about a fish, game bird, cow or a crustacean, every time we eat meat or fish an animal dies to feed us and buying the produce from a shop invariably shields us from the worst of the process that is involved in taking its life. It is an unpleasant and sometimes barbarous process. Yet, without understanding where our food comes from and what it goes through in order to reach our plates, how can we decide if it's something we want to be part of?


As with so many things, the answer is to to educate ourselves. Rather than seeing meat and fish as sterile, packaged commodities on the supermarket shelf, we should make it our mission to understand as much as possible about how it got there. How was it born, how did it die and how was it treated every step of the way? The more we know, the more we can make informed choices and the more we, as consumers, can make the food chain an ethical one that we are happy to be at the top of.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Apr 15 2015 08:00AM

We're not sure if it's possible for spider crabs to feeling sheepish, but if it is, they might be doing so this month. This alien looking crustacean invades our shores every year in early summer when they can be found congregating in huge numbers on rocky reefs to moult and mate. They're appearance is so regular that their Latin name is Maia Squinado meaning, very roughly, spiny thing that arrives in May.


Well, this year they've arrived at the party embarrassingly early. Possibly they forgot to turn their spidery clocks back last month but more likely is the fact that the mild winter means our coastal waters are much warmer than they usually are in April. Either way, they are already being caught in good numbers on the south coast and those numbers will increase over the next couple of weeks, probably peaking in mid-May.


As a country we catch about 10% of Europe’s spider crab 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, where they can’t get enough of it. 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. (If not, the chances are they'll be happy to order one in for you.) Spider crab meat tastes very similar to the brown crab, if a little sweeter. They are slightly harder to prepare given that most of the meat is in their long legs rather than just the claws. But it's well worth the effort.


As we baked in the nearly-summer sun this weekend we wanted to eat something light and summery that would do justice to our first al fresco meal of the year. The south coast spider crab and some sweet early season tomatoes (from the mild climes of the Isle of Wight) seemed to fit the bill perfectly - the sun has arrived early and so have our star ingredients. This recipe is about quick cooking and making the most of that small handful of fantastic ingredients, so you want the best quality - especially the tomatoes, and ensure your crab meat is as fresh as possible.


Spider Crab Linguine

To serve 2 as a main (4 as a starter):

White and brown meat from one whole spider crab (edible/brown crab works just as well.)

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 whole red chilli (de-seeded if you don’t want the heat), very finely sliced

A dozen baby tomatoes, halved

A handful of fresh basil leaves, torn

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

250g fresh linguine pasta


Cook your pasta according to instructions. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pan and fry the garlic and chillies on a medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Try not to let the garlic brown - it will turn bitter. Add the tomato halves and cook for another couple of minutes until they have just started to soften. Add all of the crab meat, stir and warm through. Drain your pasta and add to the pan with the sauce. Turn gently to ensure the pasta gets a good coating. Scatter with the basil leaves and a grinding of black pepper. Serve immediately with a glass of crisp white wine and the sound of waves lapping at a pebble beach*.


* wine and accompanying soundtrack optional.


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