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Summer: Let's get crabby

It’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 ‚Ä®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.



SDP's Summer Soiree: Devon Sharpham brie and blueberries on chicory with a tarragon pesto and Cornish crab and aubergine terrine




Winter: From the sommelier's mouth

Seasonal Dinner Parties is a staunch champion of what we are trying to achieve with Lovely Bubbly, so I was delighted to act as sommelier for the menu, says Mike.


At Lovely Bubbly, my wife Fiona and I believe that the great British public is far more discerning than many wine suppliers would like to believe. We think that there is a demand for single estate, first pressing Champagnes in exactly the same way as still wines. So, almost five years ago, Fiona and I started Lovely Bubbly with the aim of bringing boutique, handcrafted Champagnes to the market.

Global demand for Champagne has continued to grow, with the emergence of new markets in both India and China – markets that have both overtaken the UK in terms of annual consumption. It has left the Grand Marques – literally the big names – in a quandary of how to satisfy this increase in demand. Bearing in mind that there are tight limits on what can go into Champagne: the grapes must come from within the Champagne region and the recent return to pre-World War II boundaries has helped, but not resolved the situation.


A cottage industry has developed in the region with locals turning their gardens to the vine. The grapes that they produce attract a price of €11 a kilo, and the big names compete to buy them. Consequently, they can’t rely on the same quantities from the same sources year on year, so they have to blend to achieve consistency of taste, which comes at the expense of personality.

Five years on, we are now importing Champagne from seven small to medium-sized producers. Six are family run and the seventh is a small collective. We have more than 20 Champagnes in our range, including zero dosage, special cuvees and vintage, as well as some fantastic non-vintages and Rosés.


Here are my selections to compliment SDP’s Winter Canapé Evening menu…


In the Champagne region, Champagne is often drank with food – it can compliment and enhance the flavours in ways that still wines can’t. My first selection is La Chapelle Brut Instinct to be sipped with the first three canapés – Amuse Bouche of Oysters in their shell with black truffle vinaigrette; Jerusalem Artichoke soup with a touch of cinnamon; and Mussel and tarragon pots.

This choice has an unusually high Pinot Meunier content. It is a Premier Cru, with a hint of pear followed by a well-rounded honey, almond and apricot middle and a nip of licorice in the finish. This will be perfect with the Amuse Bouche, the Jerusalem artichoke, the mussels, and even the figs later.


My second and third choices both come from Lancelot-Pienne, which is a small family run vineyard in the south of the region. Its Grand Cru grapes are expertly elaborated by Giles Lancelot to produce outstanding Champagnes. Cuvée Selection is complex with caramel and apple notes that will work well with the Tuna Tartar, Chicken Breast stuffed with Wild Mushrooms and Roasted Garlic and Duck and Quince on Purple Mash.


Finally, Cuvée Petale de Rose: it’s crisp with alpine strawberries, cream and vanilla notes, which will perfectly compliment the Meringue with Sweet Mango and Chocolate Truffles Pots.

For more info see www.lovelybubbly.co.uk



Winter Canápe Evening's Tuna Tartar and Chicken and Wild Mushroom Parcels




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