Updated: Dec 12, 2021
"You will never make a crab walk straight."
Aristophanes (c. 421 BC)
During my ongoing search for ideas for using brown crab meat, it happened to be that some friends were having a socially-distanced dinner party (i.e. they were all in their own houses) and I was sent some photos of their creations. I had had in mind the possibility of combining puff pastry and brown crab meat but, by pure coincidence, one of the dishes I was sent a photo of was a plate of "Potted Crab with Crab Sticks" from James Mackenzie's book "On the Menu". The recipe for the crab sticks wasn't quite what I was aiming for, a little tricky to make, but the flavours were very good. A little while later I spotted a recipe for "Nigella seed cheese twists" in Waitrose's free "Weekend" publication (21 May 2020) and, a couple of iterations later, this recipe was finished.
I make no apology for including brandy again in a brown crab meat recipe - their flavours marry very well. Clearly optional, but I suggest using brandy two ways here. First, as an ingredient within the paste that brings the crab to the twist. And second, given I think these are a novel offering as an aperitivo, a brandy-based Champagne cocktail seems to me to be the ideal pairing for the start of a celebratory-style meal.
Although I've written this recipe for a 23x23cm sheet I think it could easily be made with the full-size 320g roll that comes as standard from Jus-Rol, resulting in about 16-18 twists as an estimate. I think that would make use of the full 150g tub of brown crab meat that we get on the market stall, with a corresponding scaling-up of the other ingredients. I may well alter the recipe in due course.
Normally, rolling prepared puff-pastry would lead to a disappointment in the sense that it would hinder the rise that we normally hope for from puff pastry. However, here this is actually desirable as we do want to deactivate the pastry a little so that the twists don't expand excessively. When rolling the pastry 'sandwich' at Step 3 do go about it gently, especially if the crab paste you have made is not especially dry, so as not to squeeze too much of the paste out from between the pastry sheets - a little loss is to be expected.
Otherwise this is a pretty easy dish to make for a pastry number, and the twists can be formed ahead of time and refrigerated, ready to be heated straight from the fridge come party-time. And leftover twists (as if there would be any) will happily keep in an airtight container for a day or two.
Ingredients (Makes 12 twists)
100-125g brown crab meat
¼ tsp ground mace (or nutmeg)
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
Cayenne pepper, a good pinch
A couple of good pinches of fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp brandy (optional)
1 tsp finely chopped dill leaves
1-2 tsp softened butter, plus a little extra for greasing
225g ready-rolled puff pastry, approximately a 23x23cm square
1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt
1-½ tbsp sesame seeds
Scrape the brown crab meat through a sieve into a bowl and combine with the grated lemon zest, ground mace (or nutmeg), cayenne pepper, salt and a good grinding of black pepper. Put in a small, non-stick frying pan over a medium-low heat and gently cook the mixture for a few minutes so that it darkens a little and dries out to about 2 tbsp of an almost-crumbly paste. If using the brandy then add it once the mixture has just started to dry and continue to cook. Transfer the paste to a small bowl, mix in the chopped dill leaves and put in the fridge for about 10 minutes to go cold. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 200°C and line a baking sheet with a piece of greased baking paper.
On a well-floured surface, unroll the square of puff pastry. To the crab paste mix in the 1-2 tsp of softened butter, using only enough to make the paste spreadable. Spread the crab paste over one half of the square of pastry, leaving a border at the edges (see the left-hand picture). Brush the beaten egg over the uncovered half of the pastry and around the border, then fold the uncovered half of pastry over the half on which you have spread the crab paste. Delicately press the edges to create a seal.
Gently roll the pastry 'sandwich' until it is about ½cm thick, at which point it will be approximately 13-14cm wide by about 25cm long. Cut the pastry along the short side into strips about 2cm wide - you should achieve 12 strips (like those in the right-hand picture). Hold each end of a strip and twist in opposite directions to create a coil and place on the lined baking sheet. When all the crab twists have been formed brush them with the beaten egg then sprinkle with the sesame seeds.
Put the baking sheet in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. After this time, remove from the oven and gently dab each crab stick with more beaten egg. Return to the oven for a further 10-15 minutes until they have turned golden. Allow to cool and serve either warm or at room temperature.
This comes from "Simon Hopkinson Cooks", a charming book of "menus" for all occasions. At the beginning of "A Sunday Roast" he suggests a champagne cocktail which, although I have never tried, is much along the lines of one I have always enjoyed. In any case, you don't have to test out a Simon Hopkinson recipe, you know it's a triumph before you start. Here's how it goes (1 bottle of champagne will make 5 glasses of cocktail): Put a white sugar cube in a "roomy stemmed glass" and add 3 drops of Angostura bitters. Put 5-6 ice cubes in the glass then pour over 20ml each of triple sec (or Cointreau) and cognac, plus 150ml champagne and a thin slice of orange. Stir and serve.
"On the Menu", James Mackenzie (2011): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Menu-James-Mackenzie/dp/0955893038
"Simon Hopkinson Cooks", Simon Hopkinson (2013), pp. 81: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Simon-Hopkinson-Cooks/dp/0091957249