Crabbing is one of those simple seaside activities that have a lasting allure. My son and I have a crabbing kit – a plastic spool with thick nylon wire and a weighted bait bag – and we use it in anger every time we’re by the sea.
Quaysides, piers and pontoons over brackish water are ideal. You drop your bait – usually scraggy bits of butchers’ bacon – until it reaches the bottom then wait until you can feel the tell-tale ‘plucking’ vibrations as crabs use their claws to eat their fill through the netting of the bait bag.
Intent on their supper, they grab on so securely that they can be lifted clean out of the water and into the crabbing bucket. The skill is in not rushing the bait retrieval – otherwise the crabs get worried and drop off before they can be secured. We’ve caught 30 in a good session.
I’d never thought about eating these small shore crabs before until I found myself reading John Wright’s Edible Seashore book on a beach in Anglesey. He has a recipe for crab bisque and recommends it highly.
We tried crabbing in Amlwch Port but had no success at all. Beaumaris Pier was too crowded. So we almost gave up on the idea. Until that is, we dropped a baited prawn trap into a deep rockpool near Rhosneigr, weighed it down securely and left it between tides. Our bait was a tin of dog food mixed with some sardines. Yum.
My excited son woke me early in the morning to go check our trap – both of us bounced down to the beach in anticipation. We clambered onto the still-wet rocks in the dazzling dawn sun and found our trap using markers that we’d lined up the night before.
I could see something scuttling inside. We hauled it out – it was full of shore crabs and blennies. We released the fish but put the six largest crabs in our bucket and took them back to the holiday house to make a meal of them.
Here’s what we did with them, roughly following John’s suggestions:
Shore crab bisque recipe
- Olive oil
- Onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- Mixed herbs (a pinch)
- Veg stock
- Shore crabs
- Double cream
- Lemon juice
- Put the crabs in the freezer for an hour, wash and scrub them and then drop into salted boiling water for 2 minutes. Roughly chop the now coral-coloured crabs.
These rockpool-caught shore crabs were larger than the ones we normally captured from piers.
- Soften the onion in the butter and oil, then add the garlic and crabs. Fry for 6-7 minutes.
- Add herbs and stock and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and black pepper. I cooked them on a stove outside as my wife objects to the smell of cooking seafood.
Cooking the crab bisque outside – using a tiny wood stove.
- Strain through a fine sieve and squeeze out as much juice as possible.
- Return to a gentle heat, add a tablespoon of cream and juice of a lemon and take off the heat immediately. Serve in bowls with crusty bread.
I was so eager to eat my bisque that I forgot to take a photo of it but I found this image by Nanna Olsen (Getty Images) which is almost identical to the finished dish. It was utterly delicious!