Gnocchi with Crab, Brandy and Tarragon Sauce
Well, this is a dish I've done some work on but it's one of those where the initial idea turned out to be good enough that there wasn't a lot of work to be done!
As regular readers, or followers on Instagram, will know well by know, one seafood product whose utility I am particularly engaged in elevating is the brown meat of crab. And for me it seemed that a cream sauce was the perfect vehicle for a rich, savoury and indulgent garnish. Typically, with my ideas, I find I am not (at least entirely) alone and I found foundation in a recipe for a "Sherry, Cream and Crab Sauce" on the website of The Cornish Fishmonger. A great start indeed! The thing is I have a thing for brandy being the booze of choice to partner brown crab meat - my father introduced me to this idea so long ago he says he doesn't remember. But I do. It seriously works and I urge you to try it. So, after a bit of tweaking and twisting and the inclusion of some of my favourite seasonings, was a sauce born.
At first I thought this would be a sauce for pasta but a post by an Instagram account I follow actively, Sophie @thecornerplot, drew my attention to the idea of serving it with gnocchi, not something I would normally entertain. And of course that then meant I was straight in touch with my Italian culinary guru, the bellissima Manu, for guidance.
Now, let's be clear, my attempts at making fresh gnocchi prove that I cannot (yet) make gnocchi - the results are horrible! Simple solution... pop down the road to my local Italian deli, Luigi's, who always have a supply of freshly-made gnocchi, and good stuff it is too!
Today, I was delighted to receive a selection of samples of products from a very popular supplier of crab meat (and other seafood), Seafood & Eat It. In and amongst were a couple of tubs of their brown crab meat so it seemed to me to be the perfect time to get on and post this recipe. It's actually one of my favourite creations so far this year, if not for longer.
Let's be clear, this is a very luxurious (read, rich!) dish and accordingly I feel the least I can do is to suggest that a salad of rocket dressed with balsamic vinegar and best virgin olive oil should be the accompaniment of choice.
Rubbing the brown crab meat through a sieve not only gets rid of any possible residual shell but also presses the meat into a silky creamy texture which is perfect for a crab sauce. The meat could be blitzed in a blender to much the same effect but I would still be inclined to pass it through a sieve afterwards to solve the shell issue. So, and not least from a washing-up point of view, may as well just push it through the sieve in the first place.
Be very careful when flaming the brandy - it really does flame!!! It isn't actually totally essential as, by the time it has reduced, the alcohol will have evaporated but while it is boiling there will still be a chance of it igniting if over a naked flame. You have been warned!
The reason for using half a large tomato rather than a whole small one is that what we are looking for here is little 'jewels' of tartness to complement the richness of the substance of the sauce. To that end it's actually worth using a tomato which has not yet reached peak ripeness as the texture and acidity will be just right for the cause.
Gnocchi with Crab, Brandy and Tarragon Sauce
Ingredients (Serves 2)
150g brown crab meat
250g fresh potato gnocchi
1 tsp tomato puree
3 rasps of nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Pinch of saffron strands, finely crumbled
100ml double cream
½ tsp very finely grated lemon zest (or quantity to taste)
1 tsp finely chopped tarragon, plus ½ tsp extra for garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ large tomato, deseeded and cut into ¼" dice
Scrape the brown crab meat through a sieve into a bowl to turn it into a 'cream' and remove any trace of bone. Set aside.
Warm the butter in a sauté pan and pour in the brandy. Bring the brandy near to boiling and ignite (be careful, see recipe intro). Once the flames subside stir in the tomato purée, the nutmeg, cayenne pepper and saffron strands and allow the liquid to reduce by half. Pour in the double cream, bring just to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer until the liquid has reduced, again, by half. Remove from the heat, stir in the crab meat, the lemon zest and 1 tsp of chopped tarragon, then season to taste.
Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil and add the gnocchi. Cook at a tremble for about 2 mins until the gnocchi float to the surface. Meanwhile gently warm the crab sauce. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the gnocchi to the sauce along with a spoonful or two of the cooking liquor to achieve the preferred consistency. Check and adjust the seasoning then spoon into two pasta bowls and garnish with the remaining chopped tarragon and tomato dice. Serve straight away.