Last week saw my 23rd birthday, and one of the gifts I received from my truly wonderful girlfriend was a copy of the River Cottage Handbook No. 5 - Edible Seashore. With my primal eating and lifestyle she thought that the idea of foraging, something I occasionally do for berries when the season is right, would fit right in. Well I must say that of all the gifts I received this year, in fact in a long time, I have not found myself quite as excited about anything as this. I immediately brought myself to a point in my current reading endeavour, Thomas Paine's Rights of Man (Something which I plan to blog briefly on hopefully the coming weekend), that would allow me to put it down and make a start with the foraging knowledge contained in the handbook.
I will be honest, my excitement overtook me a little and no sooner had I read the introduction had myself and Emma planned our first trip to Keyhaven on the south coast to forage the pebble beach for edible plants and to catch bucketfuls of prawns with our children's prawn net. Sadly this is not quite what happened.
My children's prawn net proved to not quite be sturdy enough for dredging the bottom and catching prawns quickly before they escaped. I caught about a handful, most of which weren't worth eating. In addition to this and in my overwhelming enthusiasm it wasn't until we arrived at the beach that I realised I hadn't really took the time to consider what plants we were likely to find in this particular location and how common they were. My new multi-tool looked as though it was unlikely to get a test run for cutting fresh sea kale.
In spite of this however we made good use of the day we had, bough ourselves a crab line and some bait and proceeded to catch dinner. Crab fishing, the old British kids seaside pastime. Funny thing is, as the author of the handbook remarks, all the crabs caught by kids are usually thrown back. Well we decided to keep ours and make use of them. The shore crabs caught on a line are generally too small to be worth cooking purely for their meat. The effort of getting into them yields little reward. However, shore crab bisque on the other hand... now a bucketful of shore crabs could be turned into an awesome, nutritious, fresh and tasty dinner.Ok so not quite a bucketful. The kids next to us seemed to have far more luck. Despite this I was content with my haul and set off home to try out my recipe for shore crab bisque included in the handbook. When home I rinsed the crabs and put them in a bag in the freezer for an hour before boiling them.
Afterwards I roughly chopped them to release most of the meat. Melting a large knob of butter in a large pan I softened a large onion along with garlic and bay leaves, added tomatoes and then the crabs, a glass of white wine and paprika and allspice. After about 5 mins I added a small measure of brandy and ignited it, then, once it had calmed down added about half a litre of the water I boiled the crabs in, covered it and let it cook for about 25 mins. After this I let it cool and then put it through the blender before straining it through a fine sieve.
Here's what the final result was
In a word it was incredible. Who would have thought that something as humble as the shore crab could be turned into such a flavoursome culinary delight. Next time I'll be getting a bigger bucket of crabs as well as ensuring I am prepared to locate some of the seaside's edible vegetation to accompany it.