This is a two-part dish, which I think will impress your friends twice as much. First you get the enjoyment of playing with the food with your hands like a child, then once clean, enjoy the delicate pasta, tossed in the leftover sauce, like a grown up. I have a passion for crab – one of the joys of eating it is using your hands and having to fight for your food. I find it very satisfying, but I do realise this doesn’t appeal to all. There is only one thing to do with the saucy bits left over once the crab is all done – add some fresh hand-cut pasta to soak it all up. I always allow 1½ blue swimmer crabs per person, but some would say that’s a little excessive. I disagree, but feel free to cook as many as you can eat.
- 200 g pasta (00) flour, plus extra for dusting
- 70 g semolina flour
- 10 g table salt
- 100 g whole eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- coarse semolina, for dusting to stop your pasta sheets getting sticky
- 100 g unsalted butter
- 4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 long red chilli, finely chopped
- 6 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
- 1 x 680 g jar tomato passata
- river salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 6 green (raw) blue swimmer crabs (see Note)
- olive oil, for cooking
- 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 long red chilli, sliced into thin Os
- freshly ground white pepper
- extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
- 2 tsp finely chopped chives
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
To make the pasta, sift the pasta flour, semolina flour and salt onto a bench, making a well in the centre. Whisk together the whole eggs and egg yolks, then pour into the well and slowly start incorporating the flour into the egg until the dough comes together. Once together, knead the dough for about another 5 minutes or until it starts looking smooth. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and set aside to rest for at least 30 minutes. Busy yourself with other things while you wait.
To roll the pasta sheets, you first need to make sure you have a nice amount of bench space and a good spot to attach your pasta machine. Lightly dust the bench with flour and divide the dough into two to make it easier to work with (make sure you re-wrap the waiting portion of dough). Use a rolling pin to flatten out the dough enough to allow it to fit between the widest settings of your pasta machine. Roll it through once, dust off the excess flour, give it a book fold (this is when you fold the pasta into thirds), another flattening with the rolling pin, a 90-degree turn and then feed it through again. Repeat this step a couple of times until your pasta dough has smooth edges and begins to look silky. Once you are satisfied, start rolling the dough through the machine, without book folding, reducing the settings by one each time you roll it through. Continue until you reach the second-last setting. Cut your pasta sheet in half and lay it on a tray sprinkled with some coarse semolina. Throw a little more semolina on top, lay down the next sheet and cover with a tea towel. Repeat with the other bit of dough, so you end up with four nice sheets of pasta.
Take a pasta sheet, give it a generous sprinkle of the coarse semolina, then fold it in half along the length of the sheet and then in half again. Using a knife, cut the pasta into 1 cm strips to make tagliatelle. Gently separate all the strands and leave it on a large tray, covered with a tea towel, while you repeat with the remaining pasta sheets. Once all the pasta is cut, place the whole tray (covered with the tea towel so it doesn’t dry out) in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
To make the tomato sauce, place the butter and garlic in a cold large saucepan, then place the pan over medium heat. Gently melt the butter, making sure you stir the garlic around quite often. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the garlic starts to sizzle and change colour. At this stage, add the chilli and anchovy and continue stirring until all the anchovy has melted.
Add the tomato passata and simmer gently for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Once cooked, use a stick or upright blender to buzz the sauce until smooth. Have a little taste and season with salt and pepper, making sure it tastes delicious. Set aside. The sauce can be done up to 1 week ahead.
It’s best to prepare the crabs over a sink to avoid too much mess. Set yourself up with a bowl in the sink to collect the debris and another bowl next to you for the cleaned crabs. Raise the triangular flappy bit on the underside of the crab, pull it across and over to take off the outer shell and set aside in the clean bowl. Tear the feathery gills off either side of the crab, remove any stray bits and discard. Repeat with the remaining crabs. Once complete, place a crab on a chopping board and, using a large knife, cut it down the middle from the top to bottom. Lightly bash both of the claws so the shell cracks slightly – a pestle or meat mallet works well for this, but please be gentle. Set aside and repeat with the rest.
To cook the crab, get a large wide-based saucepan (about 15–20 litres with a lid) and warm over medium heat. Heat a good splash of olive oil, then add the onion and chilli, season with white pepper and cook gently for 5 minutes. Increase the heat to high and add the crabs. Stir vigorously yet gently. You want the crab to become coated in the oil and onion, but be careful not to burn the onion. Continue cooking until the crab starts to turn an orange colour.
At this stage, add the tomato sauce, season with a few more good turns of white pepper before reducing the heat and covering the pan with the lid. The crab will take about 25 minutes to cook and will need to be stirred fairly often. They are ready once the crab has completely changed to a nice orange colour.
Using tongs, remove the crab out of the pot and place on a large serving platter. Ladle over enough sauce to coat, then drizzle over some olive oil to serve. Serve with finger bowls on the side.
Before you sit down to eat, make sure you have a large salted pot of water coming up to the boil for the next stage.
Spend a considerable amount of time leisurely making the most of your crab feast. Once you are all satisfied and surrounded by empty crab shells, add any remaining sauce to each person’s bowl, clean your fingers and go and cook your pasta.
Add the pasta to the pot of prepared pot of water, making sure it’s at a rapid boil. Once the pasta is just cooked, about 3 minutes, drain it and toss with some extra virgin olive oil and the chives. Divide the pasta among your friends’ bowls, add any tomato sauce left over in the pot, and let them toss it all together.
• If you have friends who don’t enjoy eating crab in the shell as much as I do, this recipe can easily be converted to a pasta dish with picked crab meat. It is much more delicate to eat, but nowhere near as fun. Just before you add the pasta to the tomato sauce, stir through about 300 g of fresh raw crab meat.
Photographs by Benito Martin. Styling by Jerrie-Joy Redman-Lloyd.