A bustling marché is one of my favorite places to be on a sunday morning. Aside from getting a sense of what´s local and in season, the best part of a good market trip is that you can discover something new every time, especially on weekends, when there´s just more of anything: More stands, more produce, the selection even broader and more refined – particularly so when it comes to seafood. Of all the tempting market stands, it´s always the poisonneries that attract me most. All kinds of fish to your heart´s desire would alone be good enough, but more than anything I adore les crustacés. All those coral colored creatures that look like underwater warriors with their spiked armors and sharp pincers – I find them endlessly fascinating. Every species is a bit different from the next both in anatomy, and in taste – if that isn´t the best excuse to try them all.
Last weekend, I laid my eyes on spider crabs, although, as I´m told, this is not yet the best time of the year to eat them. Which means they´ll get even better over the next few months. But never having tried them before, how could I say no to these beautiful araignées, even if there was a scant kilo of salmon already sitting in my basket (and may I add it wasn´t alone in there). On market days, or practically any day when it comes to food, curiosity beats moderation in this family, and that´s the way I like it.
The classic (French) way to serve such crustacean delights (after having cooked them in a large pot of boiling water for 15-20 min) is with nothing much, just a small pot of mayonnaise, or another favorite dip, and nice a glass of white wine. Then it´s all about pulling up your sleeves, and the hunt for the precious crab meat can begin. The araignées turned out incredibly succulent and tasty, more delicate than “regular” crabs, so the quest was to even find the last bits of it, hidden underneath the shell right next to the bitter tasting gills. I´m already looking forward to having them again.
Eating spider crab is admittedly a bit of an ordeal, or more precisely it´s a messy affair, definitely requiring some enjoyment of the `challenge´ it brings to the table (and even if you don´t have special equipment, take out your nutcracker!). While I love that kind of hands-on food, I realize that sticky fingers and tons of cracked shells all around isn´t everybody´s idea of a decent meal. In that case, buy a good tin of crab meat, mix it with the Gribiche dip (see below) to end up with a delicious crab salad. Or simply try the second recipe. It´s a crêpe cake, of which I saw many, mostly sweet versions around the web (spider again here!) lately, reminding me of my mothers savory version with sauce Bolognaise that always turned out a real hit. Here is a take on a crêpe cake with spinach and crab, held together by a luscious parmesan Béchamel sauce with a hint of tarragon and lemon. Manageable with a fork and a knife!
This half egg salad – half sauce is an allrounder. My mother serves a similar version with cold roast beef or prime boiled beef/veal – it´s so delicious and goes with anything, even chicken! The inspiration comes from sauce Gribiche, a classic bistrot sauce with capers as a flavor defining ingredient, but here I left them out because I find them to be overpowering with the crab meat. Also, it´s a great way to use up hard boiled eggs, should some, by any chance, still linger on in your refrigerator, post-Easter so to speak.
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp honey
1 tsp walnut vinegar
20 g cornichons, finely chopped (5-6)
packed tbsp fresh chopped parsley
salt, black pepper
Hard boil the eggs for 7-8 minutes. Older eggs are easier to peel, so if your eggs are very fresh, add 1 extra tbsp vinegar to the cooking water. Drain with cold water, set aside until cold enough to handle. Peel, cut in half, reserve yolks in a small bowl. Chop the whites and reserve.
Using a the back of a fork, mash the yolks with the vinegar until smooth. Add mayonnaise, mustard and honey and stir until well combined .
Add cornichons and egg whites, adjust seasoning. Add parsley.
Spider crab crêpe cake:
90 g flour
175 ml milk
20 g melted butter
10 g sugar
good pinch of salt
pinch of nutmeg
Béchamel sauce & filling:
25 g flour
320 ml milk
zest from 1/2 lemon
50 g grated parmesan (25-35 g for the sauce, the rest for the topping)
300 g frozen spinach (resulting in roughly 150 g when thawed and drained)
150 g crab meat, canned or fresh
2 garlic cloved, finely chopped
1 spring onion, chopped
squeeze of lemon juice
salt and pepper
1-2 tbsp chopped tarragon (or parsley) + some to sprinkle on top
For the crêpes batter: In a medium bowl, whisk all ingredients except butter together. Melt butter in a medium non stick pan (the one you´ll later use for cooking the crêpes), and add it to the batter, whisking until all lumps are gone. Set aside for 30 min to 1 hour.
Thaw spinach, place it in a sieve, drain well and squeeze until all water is out.
Make the Béchamel sauce by melting 25 butter in a saucepan. When melted, add flour and whisk vigorously with a hand whisk to avoid lumps. Pour the milk, whisking, and over low to medium heat, stir until the sauce thickens, about 3 minutes. Season with nutmeg, a dash of pepper, lemon zest, and add half to 2/3 of the finely grated parmesan, stirring until incorporated.
In a large frying pan, fry spring onion in 2-3 tbsp olive oil until translucent, add garlic, and fry for 1 more minute, until fragrant, but not brown. Add spinach, cook for a further 2 minutes. Add crab meat and tarragon, stir until combined. Mix with the Béchamel sauce – reserving 3 tbsp for the top layer – and set aside.
Make 8-10 thin crêpes from the batter, brushing the pan with a little butter between each pancake. Keep warm on a plate in a warmed oven.
Increase oven temp. to 180°C/350 °F.
Line a baking tray with a sheet of parchment – alternatively, you can bake the cake in a small springform (20 cm /7.5 inch approx. in diameter).
Place a crêpe on the parchment paper and spread some of the filling. Cover with a crêpe. Repeat the procedure. Spread the remaining 3 tbsp Béchamel on the last crêpe , sprinkle with parmesan and some tarragon.
Bake for about 20 minutes, until browned on top and crisp around the edges. Serve immediately.