Coming out of one’s shell…


Me: “I’d like six half crabs to pick up early on Saturday morning, please”
Fish counter person: ” Would you like them alive or cooked, Sir”

My look of surprise touched with horror made it clear that I was against the plan of cutting living crabs in half, so the fish counter person ticked the “cooked” box, on the order form, for the faint hearted rosbif who was over sensitive about cruelty to crabs, which lack of esprit clearly made this Frenchmen wonder if the loss at Waterloo was really a lost luggage report at the station rather than a military defeat by folk who have qualms about sundering a crab. Such was my slightly surreal moment of ordering the crabs for an al fresco lunch. The small part of me that remains on the other side of La Manche has memories of dressed crab….if truth be told, it’s really the very large part of Jenny that remains on the other side of the English Channel that remembers dressed crab. For my part, I prefer to be  served a complete crab, as dismantling the cooked crustacean with the set of ersatz surgical utensils provided, looking as though they would provide Gilles de Rais with an afternoon’s pleasure and his victim with seemingly endless misery, is an essential part of the delights of a prolonged feast of fruits de mer. However, dressed crab had been specified and, as undressing is closer to the Gallic psyche than dressing, such a crab is hard to come by here, even for ready money. The term “dressing” initially suggests covering, whereas the “dressing” that relates to a crab relies solely on discovering. To get to the meat of a crab entails removing a suit of carefully constructed armour that was not conceived to be removed with any sort of ease, or at all. One would imagine that bisecting a crab would provide easy access to the sweet white flesh that is the dressed crab lover’s partiality….if only this were true. The white meat is hidden in a labyrinth of tiny sealed chambers the walls of which must be individually breached before the minute quantity of flesh, that resides in each such chamber, can be carefully winkled out with a fine, two pronged instrument specifically designed for such work. There is a savage beauty in this performance if it is done, but once, to the crab on one’s own plate whilst accompanied by the pleasant ebb and flow of conversation together with those same tidal qualities appertaining to the  wine in one’s glass. Six crabs is a long time in politics and and an even longer time in the kitchen but, as with foreplay, it might be fucking annoying but the end result, if not earth moving, is jolly nice.

About Food,Photography & France

Photographer and film maker living in France. After a long career in London, my wife and I have settled in the Vendee, where we run residential digital photography courses with a strong gastronomic flavour.
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55 Responses to Coming out of one’s shell…

  1. I find you prose much more appetizing than the idea of wrestling with a crab, alive or dead. I remember a crab dinner once – I fet like I was a surgeon with all those tools, and went home with a cricked neck from trying to manoeuvre tiny bits of meat out of bony labyrinths (as you so beautifully describe). i’m happy to buy a tin of crab meat myself.

  2. Wonderfully witty, as usual 😉

  3. At least you didn’t have to take a chicken neck and some string to catch your own, Roger. I’ve done it. Twice. Both times, when I was done, I never wanted to eat crab again.

    • My God, if I’d have known that insane system of catching a crab I’d have included it in the post…such a fantastic vision of you gamely tying a chicken neck to a length of string with the pan of water bubbling in the background and hungry guests banging the table with the hilts of their knives or pointy surgical instruments….love it:)

  4. Angeline M says:

    Crab cakes for lunch any day over the cracking and picking thing. I’m off to Google to see about this chicken neck thing. OMG.

  5. Oh I love, love, love crab and it’s an ongoing sadness that the local supermarket don’t sell it and the nearest fishmonger who might do, is miles away! Your picture is stunning though and now I’m considering making that trek…

  6. sabine says:

    Very funny to read indeed – thanks for this virtual appetizer to my supper which is in the oven right now. Have a lovely evening!

  7. Haha, I’m from Baltimore, which means I essentially grew up with crabs in all forms: cakes, alive, steamed; but, I can still imagine your lack of desire to wrestle around with a sea spider.

  8. Brilliant writing and some of the comments are hilarious too – and I found myself wondering how you could have half a live crab to start with … doh!

  9. I found myself doing crab math (is 6 half crabs, 3 whole crabs?) as I read this. Love a barely dressed crab..

  10. suej says:

    Fun read, as ever! And the comments just added to the experience 🙂

  11. The loss at Waterloo a lost luggage report! You are too fucking funny, my good man!

  12. Eha says:

    Can’t hope to better you and MM 🙂 !! But fondly remember catching Queensland mud crab in rivers up north with boring metal traps with enclosed remnants of T-bone dinners and then opening same trap over stockpots of boiling water . . . . methinks the results were dispatched too quickly and joyously to write sonnets about them . . . . 😀 !!

  13. Oh yes, crab cakes for me. But only from Maryland. Eating them in the shell is just too much work. 🙂

  14. EllaDee says:

    Being a descendent of the “faint hearted rosbif” even in good company, with wine, I have issues dismantling seafood from it native packaging. As experience proved, a little wine helps dull my distaste for the task, a lot of wine decreases my coordination… as happened about 20 years ago in a swanky Italian seafood restaurant in the company of a person who just had to order the special whole seafood in tomato sauce for the table… and ended up with my crab on their crotch. Nasty but hilarious, especially with wine. But never again.

  15. Conor Bofin says:

    Love it. The half crab question had me from the start.

  16. I haven’t had a proper crab in ages, and I’m quite partial to them. It’s a pitfall of living too far inland. At the end of this week, I’m going on holiday in the South! I’ll be in a cabin on an honest-to-God bayou. I’m tempted to have some alligator again.

  17. Eloquent as ever! Great fucking post, Roger.

  18. Karen says:

    Well, I have to say that I like my crab dressed or should I say undressed. I think I’m like Jenny, I don’t like to look at all the yucky stuff (that is saying it nicely) inside. 😀

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