The crab, the symbol for my zodiac – Cancer or Karkinos in Greek. In Greek mythology Karkinos was a giant crab that assisted Hydra the nine-headed serpent in its battle with Iraklis (Heracles) at Lerna. The hero crushed it under his foot but as a reward it was placed amongst the stars as constellation Cancer by Hera.
Crab used to be abundant in Greece but like in many places in the world, overfishing has become an issue and quotas and (sometimes) moratorium on fishing are in place. That is to say that you can’t find crab in Greece today but it’s more expensive and the best time is to buy it in season. Crab in Greece begins to appear in markets in Spring and its available in some regions throughout the summer.
Last year when I visited Xanthi (Thrace) in the northwest corner of the country I was in awe of all the crab that was caught in the lagoon of Porto Lagos. Crab easily rivals lobster with its delicate, flaky meat. Its sweet, its salty and frankly a delight to eat on its own dressed lightly with few accompanying ingredients.
Today’s recipe incorporates crab with kritharotto, a Greek dish where stock/liquid is gradually introduced (like risotto) and stirred into a pasta (like orzo) that we call kritharaki. The flavouring here is straight-forward: onion and garlic as a flavour base, finely chopped parsley stems then some dry white wine and a flavourful seafood stock I have frozen from ago.
I do love the combo of seafood and mushrooms so I’ve added oyster mushrooms in the dish. Oyster mushrooms are delicate, need little time to cook and therefore I add them near the end of the dish. The herb of choice is tarragon or anise – both emitting an anise flavour and if you look at your local markets, lots of fennel bulbs are present with there large fronds spiked from the top.
There’s lemon zest to brighten the dish, lemon juice to taste, grilled corn kernels which also pair very well with crab and some tender vlita leaves for colour and balance in flavour. Some chilli flakes and swirl of Greek extra-virgin olive oil to finish the dish. No cheese please for this dish and its perfect for Lent.
Crab Kritharotto (Κριθαρότο με Καβουρια)
2 live large crabs (1 1/2 – 2 kg)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup of finely chopped parsley stems
1 1/2 cups of kritharaki (orzo)
1/2 cup dry white wine
approx. 5 cups of hot seafood or vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups of hand-torn oyster mushrooms
2 cups of chopped wild greens (vlita/amaranth)
1 cup of grilled corn kernels
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh fennel fronds or tarragon
zest of 1 lemon
lemon juice to taste
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup sliced scallion greens
extra-virgin olive oil for finishing
chilli flakes to taste
- Place a large pot of water on your stovetop and bring to a boil. Drop the live crabs into the water and once the water returns to a boil, cook for 10 minutes, drain and place the crabs in an ice bath. Remove all the crab meat and reserve. In the meantime you may grill and shave off the corn and reserve as well.
- Place a large skillet on your stovetop over medium heat and add the olive oil, parsley stems, onions and garlic and sweat for 5-6 minutes. Now add the kritharaki and stir for another 3-4 minutes to toast the kernels. Now add the wine, stir until most of the liquid has been absorbed and now you may begin adding the stock, one ladle at a time. Continue to stir until the stock has been absorbed then add one ladle at a time, repeat.
- With the four ladle of stock, add your torn oyster mushrooms and continue stirring then at the fifth ladle, add the wild greens and continue to stir. At this point your kritharotto should almost be cooked and the liquid nearly absorbed. Now add the reserved crab meat (save some for garnish), corn, lemon zest and stir in to heat through. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and add the chopped fresh tarragon, scallions, squeeze of lemon juice with your final stir.
- Divide and serve, top with crab meat, drizzle extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of chilli flakes. Serve with a GAIA wild ferment Assyrtiko.
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