Thursday, August 9, 2012

Crabes - Crabs. Crabs Among the Crustaceans on Your French Menu. Crustaceans II.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Last updated 2017
Le Crabe, Le Crabe Tourteau: The Edible Brown Crab.
Photograph by courtesy of Hans Hillewsert CC-By-SA-3.0.
Crabs are the tasty, eight-legged crustaceans at the heart of many French seafood restaurant menus. Ordering crabs in France is a joy, with a choice from the simplest of dishes to truly special creations. I have never seen the variety of crab recipes that France offers available anywhere else.
You can order crabs in season, without too many worries as crabs are far less expensive than lobster. Both crabs and lobsters have exquisite tastes, but those tastes and their individual textures are very different. In competitions for the tastiest crustaceans on the planet, it is crabs and lobsters who are always the winners; the only dispute will be who came first and who came second.  The European two-clawed European lobster, a slightly sweeter and close cousin of the American two-clawed lobster is called the homard bleu in French and it is very expensive. That is a good reason to enjoy one of the crabs on the menu. The rock lobster, the Langouste, the owner of the lobster tail, will also be in contention, but fresh crab is something special.
How to eat boiled crabs.
If you are new to eating fresh crab begin by ordering the simplest dish on the menu.  That will be cold fresh crab served with Fresh Mayonnaise or Aioli ; the crab will have been simply prepared by boiling and then allowing it too cool. That natural recipe allows you to enjoy pulling apart the tasty crab meat from the claws, the legs, and the shell. A bowl of Fresh Mayonnaise will be on the side.  Worry, not the hard work of opening a crab’s carapace, the top part of its shell, is always done by the restaurant. The carapace, the top, is just returned when the crab is served as it looks attractive, it has no other use.  All seafood restaurants provide the special tools that allow you to pull the meat from the legs and claws.

Eating crab.
Unfortunately, few restaurants, these days, supply finger bowls, and for this otherwise enjoyable task, you do need one. Those finger wipes that many restaurants hand out do not do the trick unless you use five or six.   When the dish you have chosen is just crab meat, Chair de Crabe, then all the hard work will have been done by the restaurant.
In this post, I will keep to the most popular crabs and crab dishes. A future post or posts will include more suggestions on menu options.
French seafood restaurants usually offer, in season, the two most popular local crabs.  Neither will be on North American menus, and there are very few UK restaurants that offer a whole fresh crab, let alone a choice.  Other local edible crabs are available in France; however, most are small and will end up in the fish or crab soup. In any case, when you visit a French seafood restaurant the crabs, including imported crabs, that you may order will be named on the menu, or possibly on a blackboard on the wall; additionally, your server is also there to help you decide.  In the larger towns, in the crab season, many restaurants offer trays of cooked crabs by their entrance. These are for locals who want to buy crabs when the markets are closed and prefer to enjoy them at home. Diners in the restaurant may also come out and choose their own crab.
The shared name for crabs in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan –cranc), (Dutch – krabben), (German - kraben), ( Italian -granchi),(Spanish – cangrejos).
The edible brown crab, the Crabe Tourteau, is so popular in France, it is not always called by its correct name: Crabe Tourteau; instead, it is often just called Le Crabe, The Crab.   Just calling it “Le Crabe”  is as if, for the French, there was no other crab in the world.   When only one crab is on the menu, then that will usually be “Le Crabe”, the Crabe Tourteau. Despite this crab’s popularity and low price, it is an excellent crab with an orange to brown carapace, the shell, and inside and its legs and claws there is lots of beautiful white crab meat.  The fact that the Crabe Tourteau is an inexpensive crab is another reason for making it the most popular crab in France.  All crabs have heavy shells, armored legs, and heavy claws and the Crabe Tourteau is no different.  The crab meat inside is only about 35% of the total weight.  Many restaurants offer this crab by weight. A half-kilo crab will provide maybe 150 grams of crab meat and that is a good weight for a single diner. If the crabs are large you may be offered half a crab. Enjoy.

Chowder with crab tourteau meat.
Photograph courtesy of Renée Suen

Le Crabe is often offered cold, with fresh mayonnaise, along with a plate of French fries on the side and this is a tasty way to enjoy this crab. When I have been out of France for a while and return with my mouth-watering and my stomach demanding a crab fix, I will order this. In France, to order this crab mayonnaise just say Tourteau Mayonnaise, si'il vous plait, and a cold boiled common crab served with fresh mayonnaise should be on its way. (Pronounced: Torto Mayonnaise Sil voo play).   In small restaurants, Le Crabe with fresh mayonnaise nearly always comes accompanied by French fries on the side.  If you are in a restaurant where fries do not come automatically, then order them as a side dish, the French fries make this dish.  Fresh crab with mayonnaise but without French Fries is like a Moules Frites without French Fries, sacrilege!  After I have polished off the crab, I will need to wash my hands as this is a dish where you use your hands. In an upscale restaurant they may offer a finger bowl, elsewhere they offer those hand wipes, which I hate. If I am offered hand wipes, then I will get up and go and wash my hands in the bathroom. Only then will I be ready for my dessert, coffee, and a digestif.  

In France, this will be made with the meat of the Crab Tourteau.
Photograph courtesy of Pocket full of chelle.
The Crabe Touteau on French Menus:

Chair de Crabe Tourteau, Crevettes Grises et Mayonnaise Aromatisée – Crab meat, prepare by the restaurant, served alongside cold, boiled, tasty, sand shrimps withal accompanied by an aromatic fresh mayonnaise.

Gâteau de Crabe Tourteau, Sauce Cocktail au Raifort, Pousses de Radis Noir- A cake of crab tourteau served with a Raifort Sauce and black radish sprouts.  Raifort sauce is a horseradish sauce based on a sauce that originated in the Alsace but is now is on menus all over France.  To insure that the sauce is not too spicy only about 20% of the volume is actually horseradish. The sauce has a cream or crème fraiche base with bread crumbs and finely ground horseradish. Different chefs will slightly change the taste by adding mustard, or vinegar and sometimes sugar.

Crab cake
Le Crabe Mayonnaise – As described above, this is a menu listing for the crab tourteau served with fresh mayonnaise. Ask if the French fries are included or have to be ordered separately.
Portion de Frites – A plate of French fries.

Tourteau Mayonnaise – Exactly the same as above.
Velouté d'asperges, crabe et jambon blanc.- A smooth velvety asparagus soup served with crab and boiled ham.

The Crabe Tourteau, the edible brown crab in the language of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan – bou de mer), (Dutch - noordzeekrab),(German - taschenkrebs), (Italian - granciporro or paguro), (Spanish - buey de mar, buey, paguro or sabago).

Crab bisque made with the Crabe Tourteau,
Photograph by Courtesy of Michael Huang,


Crabe Araignée or Araignée de Mer
The European spider crab.
The European spider crab is the second most popular crab in France and considered by the crab cognoscenti to be even better tasting than the crabe tourteau. Its second place in the ratings is due only to its price, not its taste.

Crabe Araignée - The European Spider Crab
Photograph by courtesy of the FA0.
The European Spider Crab is a relatively smaller member of the much larger spider crab family and includes as a cousin the Alaskan king crab. The Alaskan king crab is also available, as an import, in France. Despite the comparison with larger crabs the European spider crab is not exactly tiny, it must be at least 120cm, 47 inches, when stretched out or it must be thrown back. This European minimum size is now being made even larger to prevent overfishing.

Crab broth,
served in the crab’s carapace, its shell.
When I am dining with friends at a seafood restaurant, we will often enjoy splitting two crab dishes. One of us will choose the crabe araignée and the other the crabe tourteau. If you point at the two dishes on the menu and say “Moitié-moitié”, Half and half, the waiter will serve the two dishes already divided for two diners; each diner has one-half of the other's dish.  if we are three or more, then we will add a prepared crab dish.  One of the best spider crab dishes is Araignée de Mer Décortiquée, shelled spider crab with its meat simply roasted in butter.   The shelled crab dishes offered for the crabe araignée are also endless so choose well. 
The European Spider crab on French Menus:
Araignée de Mer ou Tourteau Selon Arrivage - The spider crab or the crabe tourteau depending when and what is delivered.  Crabs will be delivered fresh daily and by the afternoon one of these two crabs may be off the menu,

Araignée, Bulots, Bigorneaux, 12 Crevettes Roses. The spider crab served with whelks, winkles and 12 pink shrimps. This is a large serving and is enough for two diners.  Bulots and whelks served cold with fresh mayonnaise and French fries on the side is nearly as popular as crab and fresh mayonnaise.  In the menu listing here you may satisfy all your desires and the spider crab and 12 pink shrimps are included.

The European Spider Crab on sale in the market.
Assiette de Fruits de Mer; 1/2 Araignée, 2 Crevettes Roses, 1 langoustine, 3 Huitres no 4. A plate with assorted seafood: half a spider crab, 2 pink shrimps, 1 langoustine, 3 oysters size 4.   A langoustine is the Dublin Bay Prawn is a tasty crustacean though it is neither a shrimp nor a prawn.  With only one included in the serving and just a little meat in the tail this is a teaser; the house wants you to order more. If you like the langoustine, with all the meat in the tail, the restaurant will  be offering them in half dozens. The three oysters no 4 are small oysters, the smallest served in any restaurant; however, they may be tasty. Nevertheless  a seafood special including size 4 oysters and a single Dublin Bay Prawn indicates that the whole plate will  be inexpensive,
Crabe Araignée Mayonnaise, Assiette de Frites. A whole spider crab served with fresh mayonnaise and a plate of chips,
Pressé de Chair de Crabe Araignée aux Fines Herbes, Mayonnaise et Ciboulette.  A pre-prepared dish with the meat from the spider crab flavored with the fine herbs herb group and chives. The fine herbs include chives so for this dish extra chives will have been added for their flavor.
The European Spider Crab.

The European Spider Crab in the languages of France’s neighbors:

(Catalan -  cabra de mar), (Dutch - grote spinkrab),(German - grosse seespinne  or teufelskrabbe), (Italian -granseola), (Spanish - centolla, moelo, pateiro).

Crab cakes made with the meat of the Araignée de Mer
Here it is served with a Sauce Gribiche.
Sauce Gribiche has a mayonnaise and mustard accent; it is made with hard-boiled egg yolks and cornichons.
Photograph by courtesy of Yann.
Crabe Mou - Soft-shelled crabs.
Soft-shelled crabs will be on French seafood restaurants menus, during the season.  in France, that runs more or less from May through September. At other times frozen imports of soft-shelled crabs may be on the menu.  Soft shelled crabs are crabs caught when they shed their shells and have not yet grown a new hard one. At this time the crabs hide amongst the rocks, in great numbers, for their assumed safety. The crabbers who go after the soft shelled crabs have just four days before the shell begins to harden. When ordering soft-shelled crabs, I have found the best recipes to be the simplest and the tastiest.

Soft shelled crab deep fried in breadcrumbs.

Crabe Mou Croustillant, Radis Noir et Betterave Chioggia. Crisply fried soft shell crab served with the black radish shoots and the rather amazing beetroot of Chioggia near Venice, This amazing beetroot is not all red inside rather it has concentric rings of red and white. (For more about the wonderful vegetables of Chioggia and the area click here.)

Friture de Crabe Mou, Citron Vert, Shichimi – A fry up of small soft-shelled crabs flavored with lime and scichimi. 

A soft shelled crab
Photograph courtesy of ulterior epicure
Shichimi is a Japanese herb group that includes seven flavors: red chili, black sesame, white sesame, Yuzu peel, sansho pepper, dried ginger and dried seaweed.  This spice group is not as hot as it sounds and is often part of a mayonnaise or aioli, or used in Japanese cuisine to flavor hot noodles (udon) and soba. The yuzu whose peel is used is a member of the citrus family.  The Chinese, Japanese and Korean use the peel on its own in their cuisines; it provides a very aromatic zest. The peel alone is used to flavor many fish dishes. Yuzu peel is also used to make an alcoholic drink. The dried seaweed will usually be Nori but it may be another. N.B. Shichimi is usually not used in sushi, but occasionally may be used to accentuate a spicy mayonnaise sauce. The Schichimi pepper  is made from crushed Japanese pepper berries known as Kona-zanshō. Kona-zanshō is used in other Japanese dishes.

A dish of four small soft-shelled crabs for one.

Petit Crabe Mou Sauté à l'Aïl et au Poivre.- Small soft-shelled crabs lightly fried in garlic and pepper.

Grilled soft-shelled blue crabs.
Photograph courtesy of Adam Keats.
Soft shell crabs are a real delicacy; you eat the whole crab and there is no hard work involved.   If the menu offers: Crabes Mous Grillés, grilled soft shelled crabs, go for it.  This is a treat; absolutely one of the best ways to appreciate soft shell crabs.
Le Crabe Bleu - The blue crab.
The blue crab, also called the Chesapeake crab, is the most widely distributed crab in the Americas; the blue crab is not a regular on French menus as it is considered an intruder, which it is.  The blue crab was accidentally released on France’s Atlantic coast in the 1950’s and for years local crab fishermen and women just ignored them; having been left alone for so long they are now around in much greater numbers and have also found homes in the Mediterranean Sea. 

The blue crab
Photograph by courtesy of Steve Wilde.


The Blue crab on menus on France:

Bisque de Homard Garnie à l'Effiloché de Crabe Bleu et Cerfeuil – A lobster bisque garnished with slices of the blue crab

Crabe Bleu à la Sauce Aigre-Douce: - Blue crab served with a sweet and sour sauce.
Linguine de Crabe Bleu à l'Ail, Tomate Cerise et Basilic – Linguine served with the meat of the blue crab flavored with garlic, cherry tomatoes and basil. (Linguine is that flattish Italian pasta that looks like somewhat like flattened spaghetti or narrow fettucine).
When blue crabs find their way into crab pots, intended for more expensive crabs they will not be thrown back as they were until a few years ago.  Now they may be a daily special in a seafood restaurant or more likely they will be flavoring the crab soup. If you have grown up eating blue crabs and want to order blue crabs in France you may need to make quite a number of phone calls as they are still are not very popular. When Blue crabs were accidently emptied into French waters, they did not appeal to the French idea of how a crab should look and taste. Worse of all they were an intruder and compete for food and living quarters with the Tourteau and the Araignée. Despite not starring on many French menus it is the blue crabs that provide most of the soft shell crabs sold in France.
The day's catch of blue crabs.

The Blue Crab in the languages of France’s neighbors:

(Catalan - cranc blau), (Dutch - blauwe zwemkrab), (German – blaukrabbe), (Italian - granchio nuotatore), (Spanish - cangrejo azul),
I have written a post on the Crabe de Neige, the Snow Crab, and I will have to consider others that include the imported crabs that are often on French menus, for example, the Alaskan King Crab. Another crab post should include some of the best crab dishes that I have eaten or possibly watched someone else eating, and or was lucky enough to have a taste. I should also write a post on the other small local crabs that French chefs use for their flavor. These small crabs are usually too small to be offered on their own, but occasionally some larger ones are caught and then they do make some special dishes on the menu.  In the meantime back to my notes.

Crabe Royal d'Alaska

A six and one-half kilo Alaskan King
Photograph courtesy of A. Lau.


  Crabe des Neiges
 The Snow Crab
Photograph by courtesy of the FA0.
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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu.
Copyright 2010, 2011, 2012. 2016.
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