Ed Smith shares his tips on food to feed friends, family and self with minimal effort, using little but the best of Borough’s carefully grown and procured produce. This time: dressed crab and white beans
What I’ve been trying to do with this series is show that we don’t need to reserve market shopping for the fancy elements of Big Effort Centrepiece Dishes and Special Occasions. Those big ticket specialist ingredients are there when we need them, of course. But Borough Market offers many more things for the everyday—in particular, many things that are so flavoursome or expertly crafted that you really don’t need to do much with them to make a dish.
Here is a place where you can basically pick yourself nearly ready meals that tick those buzzwords: ‘quick’ and ‘simple’. Indeed, to my mind, what’s on offer is a better quality, less packaging-heavy version of some of the box delivery services that are around these days. It’s very easy to shop for things that you can simply throw together and say, “I cooked this!”
One of my favourite ‘ready’ items at the Market is a dressed crab; the fiddly cooking, picking and separation of brown meat, white meat and claw has already been done for us. Indeed, I often walk past Shellseekers Fish and Game and Furness Fish Markets and feel as though I could and should use it as the starting point for my meal planning. On this occasion, I did exactly that.
What goes well with crab and doesn’t need much or any cooking? There are the obvious things, say, a tomato salad or some soft white bread to make seaside-style sandwiches. Looking out for something a bit different, I wandered over to Brindisa and pondered a big platter of crab and roast peppers, maybe some soft boiled eggs, celery and celery leaves. While there, though, I kept staring at the jars of pre-cooked beans and pulses—superlative chickpeas, lentils and butterbeans which, alongside the aforementioned dressed crab and perhaps Le Marché du Quartier confit duck legs, are arguably the best ready meal elements you can find at the Market (or anywhere).
So, I switched plans to a crab and bean platter, ultimately deciding that the best option would be to match the crab with a jar of small, near pearlescent white beans, perhaps adding finely chopped parsley and thinly sliced yellow courgettes from Chegworth Valley for colour and texture. I’d incorporate the brown crab meat with the cooking liquor from the beans, then gently fold it through the beans and courgettes before decanting onto a platter, to be decorated with the white meat and a few tablespoons of a chilli-flecked vinaigrette.
Sound good? It really was—and a large crab with those beans, plus a few gem lettuces and delicious bread from new bakery-come-restaurant ‘Flor’, comfortably fed four.
Finely dice 1 mild red chilli. Measure 2 tbsp white wine vinegar, 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil and 1 tsp sugar into a small saucepan. Bring to the boil then remove from the heat and add the chilli. Leave to cool.
Remove the white crab meat and claw from a (large) dressed crab and set to one side. Spoon the brown meat into a large mixing bowl. Gently prize half to two-thirds of the beans from a 660g jar of Brindisa’s ‘alubias blancas’ into a separate bowl. Fill the jar about a third full of recently boiled water (thereby capturing the starchy cooking liquor) and then pour that out through a sieve and over the brown crab meat, transferring the remaining beans into the bowl with the others in.
Whisk the brown meat so that it’s mixed into the water, then add all the beans, plus 1-2 small yellow courgettes, very thinly sliced, 2-3 tbsp finely chopped parsley and a generous pinch of good salt and freshly ground pepper. Carefully fold everything together. Taste and re-season if necessary, then decant onto a platter. Distribute the white crab meat and spoon the chilli vinaigrette over the top. Eat with crisp lettuce and thick wedges of fresh bread.