“Childhood summers bring to mind toes dipped in warm rock pools fishing for shrimp and minnows, a rock with periwinkles was heart quickening and knuckles hurt from prizing limpets from their steadfast suction. But what always brought fever pitch squeals of excitement was snagging a crab before they sidled away under cover,” recalls Cliodhna Prendergast, food writer and photographer, who recommends her local Connemara crab fisherman Johnny King. “He prepares crab meat and claws like no one I know. He has a fish truck on the square in Clifden on Fridays and has a queue from early morning. It is the juiciest meat, cooked to perfection. It’s so delicious that it would be sinful to interfere with its flavour in any great way so simple preparation is best.” Prendergast recommends serving with a good homemade lemon mayonnaise (recipe below) with the meat or claws cooked in garlic butter with a squeeze of lemon and some chopped parsley is all that is needed. “Although crabmeat has a sweet salty flavour, a pinch of salt on the pan must not be missed. Gannet fishmongers in Galway also do great crab meat and deliver nationwide which is a huge bonus.”
Meanwhile Trish Deseine, GLOSS food writer, always makes a beeline to Hickey’s bakery in Clonmel. She says, “Hickey’s make a marvellous, soft white bread with a chewy, caramel-y crust and a hearty-sounding name. It is simply perfect with peppery roquette and nasturtium flowers, sweet Irish crab meat and creamy lemon-seaweed mayo for a seaside picnic or quick summer lunch.” Deseine is also a fan of crab toes in wild garlic and lemon butter. “This finger-licking delight is best served simply in wild garlic and lemon butter, with plenty of bread to soak up whatever is left on the plate.”
There are a multitude of ways to enjoy fresh crab though I’ll skip Heston Blumenthal’s famous crab ice-cream. I love tagliatelle with crab (al granchio) which takes me back to languid evenings by the sea in Italy, easily replicated using fresh crab meat cooked in some oil and garlic with a smidgeon of cream and garnished with flat leaf parsley; a chilled white (Antinori please) wine a must have to wash it down.
As to where to find the best crab, Ireland is spoiled with a wealth of family-run restaurants renowned for their ocean to fork stories and crab claws. One such is Morrissey’s of Doonbeg which has been awarded a Bib Gourmand from the Michelin Guide Ireland. From the time the crabs are caught in the sea until they reach the diner’s plate, the crab claws never travel more than five kilometres. Simplicity is what makes Morrissey’s claws so special, served with their famous garlic butter and accompanied by (three different kinds of) homemade bread.
Another family restaurant to which people travel far and wide, is East Café Bar, Howth. (East is the sibling restaurant to the famous King Sitric). Local fisherman Peter Lynch catches the crab and brings it straight from the boat in the harbour to the café door on Howth’s east pier. The crabs are then prepped in-house, cracked, shelled and ready to be cooked. Since Covid-19, they have launched a takeaway menu service, including their crab claws.
Overlooking the harbour in the beautiful village of Roundstone Co Galway, is O’Dowd’s Seafood Bar (the oldest pub in Connemara). Their much-loved Roundstone crab comes locally from the Aran Islands and can be ordered from both the restaurant and bar menu. The claws are sauteéd in garlic butter and come with lemon wedges.
It’s all in the name of Niall Sabongi’s crab and oyster restaurant situated in Temple Bar. Sourced from the owner’s wholesale seafood company, Sustainable Seafood Ireland, freshness is guaranteed at Klaw. The restaurant is known for its crab shack dining experience – whole crab, crab claws, crab on toast and a crab BLT, are some of the interesting options you may find on the menu.
Finally, known by many as Bandon’s best for delicious crab claws, is Poachers. Hauled locally along the coast of West Cork by Yeoman O’Neill in Kinsale, the claws are then brought back to the restaurant to be cooked and cracked by the Poacher’s team.
As restaurants begin to open and crab season reaches its peak, let’s support these local businesses and enjoy the sensual experience of eating crab fully this summer.
Photograph by Virginie Garnier
Trish’s Crab Toes in Wild Garlic and Lemon Butter
5 minutes preparation
10 minutes cooking
2 dozen crab toes
150g salted butter
Grated zest of ½ lemon
2 leaves wild garlic
White pepper to taste
A good slice of sourdough bread, made into breadcrumbs
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Whizz the butter, lemon zest, wild garlic and pepper in a mini blender.
Place the claws in a gratin dish and dot the butter over them.
Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and bake for about 10 minutes, until the crumbs are golden and the butter bubbling.
Leave to cool slightly to save your fingers then serve with lots of good fluffy bread, fingerbowls and napkins.
Photograph by Cliodhna Pendergast
Cliodhna’s Lemon Mayonnaise
2 egg yolks
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
½ lemon juiced
salt and pepper
150mls sunflower oil
Place two egg yolks in a bowl and add the mustard, vinegar, a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper and mix well.
With a damp cloth under the bowl to prevent it from spinning, pour the oil at a steady trickle while whisking vigorously.
If the oil is poured too fast or is not whisked enough the emulsion will start to split.
If this happens, to save the mayonnaise, add some of the lemon juice and keep whisking, it will come back beautifully.
When all the oil is added add the lemon juice slowly, to taste.
Check for seasoning, it may need a dash more vinegar, mustard or another pinch of salt. Top Tip: If it is very warm place the oil in the fridge in advance to cool which will help prevent splitting.
Photograph by Deirdre Rooney
Trish’s Crusty Grinder Crab Sandwiches
15 minutes preparation
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon double cream
1 teaspoon dried seaweed
zest of half a lemon
200g crab meat
8 slices of Hickey’s Crusty Grinder
2 handfuls baby roquette
Mix the seaweed, lemon zest and cream into the mayonnaise.
Add the crab meat, season lightly and mix again.
Spread the crab on two slices of bread, set some leaves and a flower or two on top and close with a second, lightly buttered slice. Cut in two.
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