With 150 miles of coastline, Cumbria unsurprisingly has a famous history when it comes to shellfish. Cockles, oysters and most famously shrimps have had an enormous influence on our food culture and fishing industries. However, when you look at and research crab fishing in Cumbria there is very little out there, in fact the most famous crab related event is the crab fair at Egremont that has nothing whatsoever to do with the crustation and is actually all about celebrating apples!
But if you take the time to look closely you can discover more about the region’s crab fishing traditions. In the Walney Channel there is a small tidal island called Dova Haw, known locally as crab island, where the residents of both Barrow and Walney once fished for them. On the other side of the Duddon Estuary you’ll find Crab Marsh Point and further up the coast still you have St Bees Head, where catching Cumbrian crabs is easier and quicker than trying to buy them.
After a recent boom in lobster and crab fishing on Cumbria’s West Coast, crab became readily available locally and it also coincidentally started to become trendy to eat as well. Especially when it was branded up as Muncaster Crab, which was originally caught from a catamaran out of Ravenglass harbour, skippered by Cumbrian fishing legend Frank Chamberlin. The crab Frank landed ended up featuring in some of the best restaurants right across the UK.
In 2010 the business moved to Millom, coincidently located fairly close to Crab Marsh point, which I mentioned earlier, but it sadly closed several years later. It was then taken on a little while later by John Stott from Cartmel Valley Game, who then set about re-establishing a supply of crabs, and all that entails - boiling, cleaning and picking and then selling them on around the county alongside his dressed lobsters.
As it goes it was John that tipped me off about the use of brown crab meat in the autumn. Traditionally I always use it during the summer in lighter dishes, but right at the end of the season the brown meat goes almost coral like in colour as the crab prepares for the breeding season enriching the meat and making it taste sweeter; used to finish risottos it’s absolutely delicious! Sadly for now though, Cartmel Valley, have stopped producing crabs and lobsters, but hopefully they’ll return in the future.
In the meantime if you did want to buy fresh crab meat, I recommend a trip to Ulverston to speak to Chris Sanders at the Lake District Lobster and Seafood Co or a little trip to see John & Sharon Heron at Fyne Fish in Cockermouth; it may not be available fresh all of the time but if anyone can get hold of it for you then it’s these guys.
I guess the hit and miss supply of both lobster and crab in Cumbria isn’t a new thing and it also probably explains why there’s very little written about them and why they don’t feature in old cookbooks.
For this month’s recipes I’m making a dish inspired by the crab quiches my Dad used to make at his deli in Ambleside. Though I make a rich custard for mine using the tastier and trickier to use brown meat from the head of the crab cooked to attain that perfect custard “wobble” and topped with the dressed white meat and freshly chopped chives.
Ingredients for the short crust pastry:
125g cold unsalted butter
250g plain flour
Pinch of salt
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl, dice the butter and add to the flour. Using your fingertips rub the butter into the flour until you have a breadcrumb consistency. Add enough water to bring the dough together and form a ball, this should be dry enough that it doesn’t stick to your hands but wet enough as to not fall apart. Place the ball in cling film wrap and the press to to form a disc. Place in the fridge for at least an hour.
Remove the dough from the fridge and roll out using little flour to cover the table top until the dough fits your quiche ring (I use a 10 inch lose bottomed tin) and is about 2mm thick. Carefully place in the quiche ring and gently press into the corners. Use a fork to prick the base and then line with a baking sheet and fill with baking beans place in a pre-warmed oven at 180°C and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the liner and baking beans and continue cooking for a further 10 minutes until the base is cooked through and golden. Turn the oven down to 160°C.
Ingredients for the crab custard
250ml double cream
5 whole eggs
100g brown crab meat
Pinch of salt
Place all the ingredients into a bowl and mix together. Pour into the pre bake tart mould and cook for 30 minutes or until the “wobble” is achieved.
Ingredients for the dressed crab salad:
250g white crab meat
1 Granny Smith apple
Pinch of salt
Pick through the crab meat insuring you remove any pieces of shell. Peel the apple and finely dice add to the crab meat, bind with the mayonnaise and season with the lemon and salt. Top the cold tart with the carb and finish with plenty of chopped chives.