By sumit paul;
“Eating crabs is a sublime art and very few are good at it,” late Anthony Bourdain aptly observed. Though a crustacean like prawns and lobsters, crab wasn’t very popular among the Indian foodies until a couple of decades ago. The reasons being its rather bizarre shape, which’s not very good to look at and the difficulty in breaking its shell open to scoop its flesh which’s not much in quantity. But thanks to social media, exposure to internet and Indians visiting foreign countries in recent years, crab has become a delicacy to the experimental Indians. Crab meat is naturally flavourful and the connoisseurs of sea-food are of the opinion that it tastes better than the shell fish, viz, prawns and shrimps. The best crabs are found in the Mediterranean region (Greece, to be precise). It’s called Cancer (remember the zodiac sign!) or Karkinos in Greece. Crab Kritharotto of Greece is one delicacy, a sea-food lover must try at least once in his/her lifetime. Portuguese introduced crabs to Indian palate nearly 500 years ago. But according to the food-historian Malini Sardesai of Goa, Konkanis and denizens of Chittagong and Sylhet of Bangladesh had been relishing crabs for more than 2000 years! Alexander’s army introduced crabs to the people of Konkan and coastal Karnataka way back in 320 BCE! There’s one brick-red crab, found in the southern waters, that tastes divine, provided it’s cooked by a specialist chefs.
Crabs have a shorter shelf-life than that of shellfish. That’s why, a crab should be consumed within eight hours from catching it. Those suffering from chronic bronchitis and asthama, should avoid eating crabs because the meat increases phlegm. Europeans eat crabs as starters to main course and one seldom finds it on the main course, until the dish is as wholesome as the Greek style crab cakes (kavourokeftedes). I once interviewed the main chef, a Goan gentleman, at Poona’s Nisarg Restaurant at Nul Stop, famous for its sea-food. He told me that people in Poona were not very discerning about crab meat and they preferred the plain crab curry or fried crabs. But people in Goa love crabs in all its avatars. Crabs should be cooked with wine, preferably white wine and washed down with red wine.
One enjoys it to the hilt when relished with Moet or Cognac. Wine is needed because crab-meat is basically dry. Extra virgin olive oil while dressing, makes crabs succulent and very tasty. While having a fully shelled crab in a restaurant, one must ask for a crab-cutter, without it, if you try to break its shell open, it may slip out of your plate and create a culinary faux pas, much to your discomfiture. Finally, crabs should be eaten during winters because almost seventy five percent crab species put on weight and you get more meat. Moreover, winter crabs are tastier. The best places to try crabs in India is all coastal cities: Bombay, Madras, Goa, Kochi and Poona.
Bengalis love to prepare it just like the way they cook prawns but they de-shell it in the beginning and cook only its flesh. Some Bengalis of East Bengal take out the meat from the big jaws of a jumbo crab, but it’s a painstaking task. Jaws of a crab also contain meat and it tastes completely different! It’s quaintly pungent. In short, crabs are for those who’ve enough time at their disposal and are never in a hurry in life. Famous Goan cartoonist Mario Miranda put it so nicely, nay, jokingly, “Crabs are for all the indolent, lotus-eaters in the world.” So, enjoy it if you’ve time hanging heavy on your hands.