Devon Crab

Devon Brown Crab (Cancer Pagurus) is stupendously good and arguably the best in the world!  The people of Salcombe in South Devon celebrate this fact each year in May at the Salcombe Crab Festival and it’s all in aid of charity. This year it’s on the Sunday the 6th and we’re going so I’ll update this blog on Sunday and give you a taste. Can’t wait!

There’s nothing more enjoyable than sitting by the Devon coast leisurely eating a whole Devon crab with a glass of crisp white wine and all the time in the world – it’s the essence of slow food. These days, the crab sandwich has become hugely popular but I favour the crab savoury. Savouries were little treats served as a final course at dinner to ‘cleanse the palate’ before the bottle of port and the sojourn to the card tables, so popular in the 19th century. I like to surprise my family with savouries before dinner and they go mad for them. Crab toasts are one of the best – a simple dish but a perfect one that allows the crab to shine.

Crab Savouries

Take some good white bread, sliced very thin. Cut off the crusts and cut each slice diagonally to create triangles. Toast until golden brown and crisp  (the best way to do this evenly is on a grill tray in the oven). Butter generously while hot so the butter soaks into the toasted bread. Spread thinly with brown crab meat, then pile generously with white crab meat. Season with salt, pepper and a grate of fresh nutmeg. Serve immediately while the toast is still warm.

Crab fishing has always been a specialty of Devon. In the past families would make their own ‘inkwell’ pots in the winter from willow grown locally along the coast. The pots were baited with fresh fish secured with a wooden skewer and lasted about a year. The men would go out to sea and the women would help sell the catch. The pots are no longer hand-made from willow but the industry is still run by small family businesses who fish sustainably, so go get some crab!

Crab Linguine – add a few fennel seeds and chilli for a bit of kick.

Kitchenalia Cartoons can also be seen in Devon Life Magazine –  the Devon county magazine (UK) offering hundreds of pages of articles and superb photography every month.

 

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Spring Watercress

So Lady Fanny Truncheon was correct, it has been proved that watercress can actually improve the skin, diminish spots and freckles and even reduce your wrinkles. But you have to eat 80g of raw watercress a day, which might become quite a challenge even if you love it as much as I do.

My favourite way to eat watercress is in Lao Salad, you can retrieve the recipe from my other blog ‘Ant Egg Soup’ – Lao recipe meanderings”, here using this link – Luang Prabang Watercress Salad.   

We tried it as a face pack and since it has more vitamin C than oranges, more iron than spinach, more B vitamins than blackcurrants and more calcium than milk, it can do no harm.  My daughter and I made up an ‘eighteenth century face pack’ made from chopped watercress mixed with two egg whites, a squeeze of lemon juice and a bit of corn flour to thicken it up. It was slightly tricky to apply (don’t wear white!) but our skin felt silky and plumped up afterwards.

Watercress also makes delicious soup and in order to get the best out of this nutritious plant, chop the watercress and add it at the last moment when the soup has cooled a little.

Watercress Soup  – serves 4

Fresh watercress 120g
butter 55g
the white parts of 2 leeks chopped 200g
4 potatoes, peeled and chopped 350g
Marigold bouillon veg stock 1000ml
4 heaped tablespoons crème fraîche 4
salt and freshly milled black pepper

 

Begin by melting the butter in a large thick-based saucepan, then add the prepared leeks, and potato and stir them until they’re coated with the melted butter.

Next sprinkle in some salt then cover with a lid and let the vegetables sweat over a very gentle heat for about 20 minutes, giving the mixture a good stir about halfway through.

Now add the stock, bring everything up to a simmer, cover, and cook on a low heat for about 10-15 minutes or until the vegetables are quite tender.

Meanwhile chop up the watercress.

When ready, remove the pan from the heat and when it’s cooled a little liquidise the soup.

Return the soup to the saucepan, swirl in three tablespoons of crème fraîche, add the chopped watercress and season to taste with salt and black pepper

Serve in soup bowls and garnish each one with a little extra crème fraîche and some watercress leaves.

Alternatively, garnish with horseradish and crispy chopped bacon.


 

Kitchenalia Cartoons can also be seen in Devon Life Magazine –  the Devon county magazine (UK) offering hundreds of pages of articles and superb photography every month.

Devon Octopus

While the Spanish gobble up most of the European catch of octopuses (not octopi, look it up) our native curled octopus is much maligned as an unsightly monster from the deep and often left as seagull food when caught up with the rest of the catch. I’ve been unable to find old British recipe references for octopus put they surely must have been eaten as they sometimes get into crab and lobster pots and Westcountry people rarely waste a good meal. They start to come in shore around the coasts of Devon at this time of year and make an excellent eating at a very reasonable price. The native is distinguished from its larger Mediterranean kin and by having a single row of suckers on each arm instead of a double row and no one really knows why. When resting, they curl up their arms tightly hence the name, but maybe they should be called the Houdini octopuses because they can squeeze through tiny gaps as narrow as their beak.

There are many ways to cook an octopus but boiling them for an hour or so in a pot of salted water with some garlic, onion and herbs is the simplest and most versatile if you have never done it before. The cooked octopus can then be cut up and flavoured with a squeeze of lemon, paprika, good olive oil and flaky Malden sea salt and served as tapas, or with plain boiled potatoes, Galician style. At this point you can also flash grill them on a charcoal fire or add them to other dishes like risotto or pasta. I often cook Octopus and then leave it overnight in a flavourful marinade to eat the next day.

Due to their diminutive size I usually allow one for each person eating (about 500g per octopus). They are very easy to prepare and there are many videos on YouTube showing you how, but your fishmonger will do it for you in seconds. You will be left with a hollow head cap and a ring of arms.

BEFORE COOKING

Tenderising – easiest way – put then in the freezer and take them out 24hrs later.

Second easiest way – blanch in boiling water for 10 seconds then take them out four times

Having done this you will need:

2 Curled Octopus

I peeled onion

A whole head of garlic cut in half, not peeled

1 ½ teaspoons of salt

Herbs such as – a bay leaf, peppercorns, a bit of fennel, parsley stalks, a bit of thyme

For the marinade

Several glugs of Good olive all

Malden sea salt

Paprika

Juice of half a lemon or a teaspoon or so of wine vinegar.

Fill a large heavy pot with water, add the salt and bring to the boil.

Add the peeled onion, garlic and herbs.

Add the octopuses, bring back to the boil then lower the heat to simmer and cook until tender. I check after ½ hour then again at one hour, then every 15 minutes. These two took 1 hr 15mins. To test for tenderness use a sharp knife it should go through easily. I sometimes remove the head caps before the arms as they tend to cook more quickly.

I get my octopuses from Gibsons Plaice in Exeter, suppliers of high quality, fresh local fish sourced daily from Brixham Fish Market. Call 01392 495 344.They are very friendly and professional and you can phone up in advance and ask them to find you particular species when they go to market.There is always lots of lovely fresh fish on display at Gibsons’s Plaice 

Kitchenalia Cartoons can also be seen in Devon Life Magazine –  the Devon county magazine (UK) offering hundreds of pages of articles and superb photography every month.Text refs:

 

Wassail for Twelfth Night

Ale or Cider that is the question? Down in Devon, these days, we tend to make our mulled wassail using cider but in the past, ale was just as common, particularly with Lambswool.

The word comes from Old English, ‘wes’ or ‘wass’ being a greeting and ‘hal’ or later ‘hail’  meaning be healthful. Traditionally, there are two forms of wassailing, one, a house visiting custom and the other which took place in the orchard (or from orchard to orchard) wishing for a bounteous crop for the coming year. However, the tradition has variations around the country. The most important element of all was the ‘wassailing bowl’ which was filled with warming punch of mulled ale or cider to be shared as a communal group. In the Westcountry, the house visiting wassail took place on Twelfth Night and could include musicians as well as singers. It’s easy to see how the wassail tradition would have been a highlight of the calendar in rural communities – women visiting every house, wishing good luck and cheer to all, drinking, and gathering more and more participants along the way -the evening quickly developing into a long night of raucous, neighbourly fun.

Lambswool is sweet – a warming draft and plainly a drink to be drunk outside or after coming in from the cold. I’ve made Lambswool with cider, two types of ale, and one with crab apples in the interest of research! The cider version made with ‘Poundhoouse Crisp’ 4.5% from Sam’s cider from Winkleigh in Devon, is easy drinking, like hot apple juice with an alcohol bite and I give the recipe below. The apple mash floats on the tops and you get a mouthful as you sip, so you feel like you’re being fed and watered at the same time.

The ale version follows the same recipe and needs the higher amount of sugar. This drink is bitter/sweet and, I feel, not really suited to most people’s modern taste as the bitterness lingers after drinking.  I tried two fabulous Devon ales – a personal favourite, the rich & full-bodied ‘Jail Ale’ 4.8% from the Dartmoor Brewery and the paler citrusy, hoppy “Ideal Pale Ale’ from Tavy Ales 4.8%.  The Dartmoor Jail Lambswool  was resonant of toffee apples and Tavy ale was sharper which raised the apple flavour. Both ales made a sweet drink with a clearly bitter undertone which the tasters found unappealing, but I rather like.

Lambswool made with cider

Ingredients:

1 ½ litres of ‘proper’ dry cider like Sam’s cider from Winkleigh in Devon/or ale

4 cooking apples – baked and skinned ( or 2 two large)

a knob of butter

½ teaspoon of ginger

½ teaspoon of cinnamon

½ nutmeg grated

100-200g caster sugar to taste

Wash and core your apples then rub them lightly with a little butter. Place them snugly on a lightly greased oven dish. Put them in a hot oven 200C for about 20 minutes or until golden and bursting out of the skin.

Remove them from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Scoop out the flesh and discard the skins. Mash the flesh up with a potato masher. Meanwhile, add the spices to the cider/beer and place in a big saucepan. Beware, alcohol burns off at 78c within 20 seconds, so it is easy to de-booze your punch with speed. If you don’t have a liquid thermometer you can judge this by sight – take it off the heat at the first wisp of steam or dip your finger in the liquid, you should be able to hold it in without burning. Do not let it simmer. Add the warm apple mash which will float on the top like lamb’s wool. Serve immediately.

Crab Apple Wassail

The wassail bowl can also be made filled with baked crab apples if you have managed to save any from the Autumn, which I have.  This drink is referred to in Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ by Puck.

And sometime lurk I in a gossip’s bowl,

In very likeness of a roasted crab,

And when she drinks, against her lips I bob.

We tried this too, but the apples are quite sour (probably less so to the people of the past, who ate less sugar) and rather woody, so you have to spit bits out! We found Lambswool with its tasty apple froth, was the superior drink of the two.

For a small but perfectly formed selection of West country ales and ciders go the Grape and Grain in Crediton, Devon. You’ll find them at the back of the shop if you can get past the delicious wines on the way.

Kitchenalia Cartoons can also be seen in Devon Life Magazine –  the Devon county magazine (UK) offering hundreds of pages of articles and superb photogr’aphy every month. Everyone who loves Devon will find something to interest them on a whole host of local subjects.

Elderflower Fizz and Cordial

In Summer I like to make elderflower fizz the simple, quick way with nothing but the wild yeasts of the air. The result can be volatile so the best way to bottle Elderflower Fizz is to use old plastic soda or lemonade bottles as you have to let the gasses out occasionally. I’ve done it with swing top bottles but you have to keep your eye on them. The resultant fizz has an alchohol content of 3-5%. If you want to make a finer version you will have to add champagne yeast, use a demi-john with a bubble trap and fiddle about with the bottles quite a bit after decanting. I’m too impatient.

I also make cordial but that is best drunk in the Winter. The fragrance is so redolent of warm summer evenings is seems more special when drunk in the chilly darkness of a winter’s eve.. I make it with lots of sugar so the resultant syrup makes larger quantities, as you need more water to dilute it, I find most recipes too thin. You will need citric acid to bring out the flavour or the sugar overpowers the scent. Drink it now but put some of the syrup in jars in the freezer for the colder months and add it to cocktails.

To make Elderflower cordial

30-40 elderflower heads

3 litres water spring water

2kg caster sugar

1 packet of citric acid (available from chemists)

2 unwaxed oranges, juice and zest

3 unwaxed lemons, juice and zest

Method

  1. DO NOT RINSE the elderflowers or you lose half the fragrance, shake gently to remove any dirt or little creatures.
  2. Boil half the water in a large pan, pour in the sugar and stir to dissolve it . Leave to cool. Add the rest of the water
  3. When ready add the orange and lemon juice and zest and then the flowers. I usually bag them in muslin weighted with marbles as suggested in my cartoon above.
  4. Leave in a cool place COVERED for 24-36 hours, stirring occasionally.
  5. Strain through some muslin and add the citric acid to taste, probably a teaspoon a litre but test it out.
  6. Bottle it or freeze it.

Other things to do with elderflowers:

Make the flowers into fritters

Use the cordial for drizzle cake

Mix the cordial through rhubarb and cream

Make fragrant jelly and entrap the flowers within it

Elderflower ice cubes

Store the flowers in your sugar jar