Some may wonder why spoil fresh, sweetly flavoured crab meat with hot and spicy Caribbean flavours. “Why not?” I say. The first time I savoured the delights of stuffed crab backs was on the French island of Martinique during my days as a tour guide doing day tours out of Barbados. Served as a starter, these were fairly small crabs (land crabs to be exact), but they were delicious.
Of course Martinique and no doubt Guadeloupe are not the only islands that favour stuffed crab backs. They go crazy for them in Dominica and I’ve seen luggage off-loaded (did not realise it included mine!) in favour of a consignment of crab backs! I hear that Trinidad does some mean crab backs too, as does Grenada, and on a recent trip to St Vincent I was able to savour some mighty fine examples. I am sure that throughout the region, there are very few places where they don’t do justice to the common land crab (or mud crab) in the kitchen.
A few years ago I headed out to The Cove Restaurant on the East Coast of Barbados. I had heard about LaurelAnn Morley’s popular eatery and having also received a signed copy of her cookbook Caribbean Recipes ‘Old & New’ (more on her book in Barbados Food & Cooking) I was interested to try it out. Imagine my delight to see crab backs on the menu that day. I was told they are the most popular items on the menu and quite right too, for they were extremely good.
Naturally, as with all of my recipes, the following should be used as a guideline only noting that the ingredients are never the same as those sourced in the Caribbean. I use fresh whole common or brown crabs, using scallop shells to stuff in lieu of the smaller land crab backs. Be warned though, picking out a whole crab is a labour of love, so leave plenty of time.
Using lobster for this dish is much easier but I would use frozen lobster, which is found in most supermarkets. Of course there is nothing to stop you using fresh lobster if you wish, just use less of the spice but more wine and parsley, and maybe a touch of cheese – see below.
- 1 large whole fresh crab (approx 2lbs) - when cleaned & picked out gives around 12oz white and brown meat
- Approx. 4oz white breadcrumbs (can also use water biscuits/cream crackers)
- Small bunch of spring onions – using only half of the trimmed green tops and all of the white section
- 1 or 2 scotch bonnet or birds eye hot peppers – deseeded (according to taste) and finely chopped
- Handful of freshly chopped parsley
- Couple of sprigs of fresh thyme – finely chop leaves
- Worcester sauce – few dashes
- Angostura bitters – few dashes
- Hot sauce or Cayanne pepper to taste – optional
- 1 -2 whole cloves garlic finely minced
- Juice of half fresh lime
- Black pepper and salt to taste
- Water or dry white wine as required
- Approx 2oz butter - as required
- Makes approx 12 portions using small scallop shells
1. Remove all white and brown meat from crab into a large bowl and mix well, breaking up any large chunks from claws.
2. Add the breadcrumbs and stir through evenly, and chopped parsley.
3. Melt large knob of butter into a large skillet and sauté the spring onions, garlic, thyme and minced peppers. Once softened, add another knob of butter and add the crab mixture, stir through gently to heat through (not to fry) and add Worcester sauce, bitters to taste, lime juice and once mixture is incorporated, add white wine (or water) to form a soft, moist stuffing-like filling. Season to taste.
4. Fill the scallop shells, ramekins or similar. If using the same or next day, top with a small knob of butter and pop in a medium oven to brown – about 10 minutes.
5. Serve hot with a wedge of lime and salad – one for a starter and two for a main. Otherwise freeze after filling the shells, allowing them to cool first and when ready to use simply pop in a hot oven from frozen –takes around 20-30 minutes to reheat and brown. You can top with breadcrumbs before putting in the oven for a crunchier top or even try a little gruyere cheese or similar – if using lobster, you can also mix some cheese into the mixture before adding the wine or water.
More Caribbean Recipes can be found on our Rum 'n Recipes Page.
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