A trip to Billingsgate fish market

Adam_WhittleIt’s easy to buy just any crab from the fishmongers or a supermarket, but for the Summer Soiree menu, why not look in to where your shellfish has come from and make sure it’s a sustainable choice. Here, Adam Whittle, London’s Billingsgate Wholesale Market’s director and fishmonger by trade, fills us in on Devon crabs, the best choice in the later summer months

Liz: Where should we get our crabs from in the summer months?

AW: Devon crabs are at the end of their mating season and fully grown by June and are the best through to Autumn.

Liz: How sustainable is the catch and how is it done?

AW: These crabs are caught using baited pots and traps on the seabed. The system is selective in its nature and as long as there are not that many traps on the seabed, the smaller ones get returned to the sea alive for another catch, another day.

Liz: How can we tell if a crab is fresh or the right one to pick?

AW: When buying a live crab make sure it’s a heavy one in comparison to the others and that it has a weathered shell. You need to pick an older crab that has filled out underneath the shell within its rubbery undercoat. It needs to be nice and full. The end of the shell should lift up slightly. Most 
importantly, it should be alive and moving to some degree. If a crab is dead and uncooked, it is decomposing and no one wants to eat that.

Liz: What’s the best, humane way to kill a crab?

AW: The main method in the trade is electrocution, but this is obviously a commercial practice done with specialist

equipment, en masse. At home, the RSPCA recommends placing them in the freezer for an hour to induce a coma state and then placing them straight into boiling water in a pot to cook. I wouldn’t suggest the stabbing method that is traditionally known, unless the cook had a good deal of experience.

Liz: How do you prepare crab?

AW: You should make sure the animal is totally scrubbed and clean before cooking. It’s easy to cross contaminate otherwise as you will be opening the crab up after cooking. A medium crab (600g before cooked) should take 10 minutes to cook. Once cooked remove the outer shell and the deadman’s fingers, and gills at the top of the shell (around the eyes). These are the unpleasant, bitter tasting parts. The white meat will be separate to the brown meat and mostly in the claws, which you will need a long thin knife or a crab/lobster tool to get at. Some nut crackers would also be useful.

And another thing: Billingsgate Wholesale Market…

Located just outside Canary Whalf on the docks, Billingsgate Wholesale Market is where fishmongers and chefs gather in the early hours of the day to get the best of the catch in great volumes. From 8am the public are allowed to get in the way and buy the odd thing or two, and also make the most of the trade prices. The market also runs the Billingsgate Seafood Cookery School on site, which holds day cookery courses that include a tour of the market, cookery demonstrations and classes, as well as lunch. For more info click here.