It is very exciting when a new ingredient comes across our path. Ingredients and what we are able to do with them are one of the reasons why cooking is so much fun. Just a few days ago we were turned onto a new twist on crab meat. Sure, many markets have plenty of seafood that we have not worked with or even thought about using. What is exciting about this particular ingredient is that we probably should have thought of it. It is often the things that are right in front of you that you overlook.
If any famous chef would have popularized this ingredient, I would have thought of David Burke. If you do not know of David Burke, you should. He is a culinary genius. Put the free spirit of Willy Wonka and the culinary bravado of Ferdinand Point in one man, add a hefty dash of Americana and you may come close to how he thinks about and works with food. Take a look at his first cookbook: Cooking With David Burke. Now take a closer look. His approach, his ideas, his whimsy, his utilization of ingredients are benchmarks for cooking today. Now take a look at when the book was published. Simply amazing. Enough gushing. His idea driven approach to cooking has certainly had an influence on me and many others.
Back to that ingredient. What is it? Alaskan King crab tails. Holy cow! Crab tails. We use oxtails and grouper cheeks. We have found swordfish and salmon chops (thanks David) and even utilized vegetable marrow (a nod to Michel Bras as it was pointed out to us). And yet crab tails have gone unsung.
Steve Stallard has just introduced us to these crab tails. I will state full out they are different. They are not like the dense leg and knuckle meat we associate with king crab. The flesh is softer, more tender, sweet and subtle. How can we spotlight this ingredient? It came to us frozen and uncooked. It is not often king crab arrives in a raw state. Many of our contemporaries have the resources to procure fresh king crab in season and revel in the delight in sharing it with their diners. This is the first time we have had the opportunity to work with raw, albeit frozen, king crab. We started by peeling the tails, a relatively easy task of butterflying the bottom of the tail and pulling the meat off the shell. The flesh in this form is extremely flaccid. Eerily so.
And then we started cooking. We started with melted butter in a skillet. We added the crab tail and it began to cook. The flesh firmed and the broad tail shrank into a more manageable medallion. We topped it with a few slices of jalapeno and diced preserved lemon. The meat had the texture and flavor of firm scrambled eggs. It was interesting. It showed definite possibilities. We were just beginning.
After digesting our first cooking attempt we looked at the tail again. This time we seasoned it with salt and stuffed it with butter. We cooked it for thirty minutes at 60 degrees Celsius and then served it with compressed broccoli stem, lime zest and olive oil. The texture was different, more silken though not what we know as the texture of crab. The lime zest needs some work, a bit bitter, though the broccoli stems worked out well. What was exciting is how much more tender the sous vide crab tail was when compared with the sauteed one. Also, the meat did not seize, and the tail held its shape incredibly well.
We are not done yet. Perhaps an initial crab brine is in order. Though, the sous vide crab was quite special in appearance and texture it may just need a flavor boost. Still other thoughts have us looking at activa and making crab tail roulades or veal cheek stuffed crab tails. Or simply butter poaching it in a well seasoned bath. We know there is something special in this ingredient, it will just take a bit of time to coax out the nuances.