Rediscovering the virtues of potted crab

JP McMahon: For some reason potted shellfish still has currency in our own era

Potted crab goes perfectly with soda bread. Photograph: iStock

Potted crab goes perfectly with soda bread. Photograph: iStock

 

Is the art of potting dead and gone? I know many of us make jam, chutneys and other preserves, but what about potted meat and fish? In James Joyce’s Ulysses one of the central characters recalls an advertisement for potted meat: “What is home without Plumtree’s potted meats? Incomplete.”

I don’t think any of us would be this way inclined now. Perhaps the advent of the supermarket and freezer ended our need for potted meat. In the past sailors would bring potted meat on long voyages. “The traveller dines on potted meats,” observed the author of Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson.  

Yet, one potted product I do love (and it doesn’t have to be made only for reasons of preservation) is potted crab. For some reason potted shellfish still has currency in our own era. In the past, when the potting was done for preservation, the crab would be heavily spiced with mace and nutmeg and covered with a thick layer of butter. Potted crab pairs really well with soda bread.

How to make potted crab

Take 500g of crabmeat and pick through it for any shell. Season with cold-pressed rapeseed oil and some sea salt. Add a handful of chopped parsley or chives. Lastly, add the zest of a lemon and its juice. Taste the crab at this point and adjust the seasoning if desired.

Melt 150g of butter until the milky solids separate and then pass it through some muslin cloth (I use a J-Cloth). Spoon the crab into four to six small glass jars or little cups. Pack the crab in so the butter doesn’t leak down into the crab. Pour the melted butter over the crab and allow it to set in the fridge.

As long as the crab is sealed, it will keep for up to a week. However, if you break open the butter, you need to use it on the day. I like to take it out of the fridge an hour before using, so that the butter softens and you can spread it on your toast or bread. 

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