15th November 2010
Crab And Meringue
Saffrons Un-Saffron Saffron
My Mum came up for a visit a couple of weekends ago, and gifted me several small boxes of saffron that she brought back from her recent trip to Ladakh, (The rest of my family visited me too - but they didn't bring me any saffron) so I decided to use some of it up today making a quick dinner for myself and Flora, who's come around to do her Day Skipper homework.
Or get it done :)

Unfortunately it turned out that the stuff Mum had carefully carried back with her was only a pale imitation of saffron. Or rather, it wasn't pale, but a slightly redder imitation, with none of saffron's lovely delicate flavour. Or aroma.
Pretty good imitation though - if you look closely at the photo.
Funnily enough, the food was still delicious, so the rest of the ingredients must have been good (and the saffron not made of poison!).

I fancied having another bash at my squid ink pasta, and it seemed appropriate to mix the squiddy pasta with something seafood so I popped in to my usual Musselburgh fishmonger at lunchtime hoping to find some nice crabs to make the sauce from, only to learn that local crabs are getting a bit skeletal at this time of year, and don't have a lot of meat. However he had plenty of big fat cooked crab claws from singapore (or somewhere less depressingly cold) so I decided to go with those, and make what is basically a spaghetti carbonara, except with crab instead of ham.
My fishmonger turned out to be right about the claws - there was plenty of very tasty meat in them, though a certain amount if fiddling is involved in getting it all out:

Take your tasty crab craw and start by levering open the knuckle (or elbow?) joint. If you're lucky you will pull out a nice chunk of delicious crab meat from the upper joint, otherwise you'll have to smash it open.
Then break open the claw itself - you can usually do this easily enough by laying it on a sturdy chopping block and striking it firmly with the flat side of a heavy meat cleaver. If you hit it too hard, or use the edge of the cleaver you'll end up shattering the shell into tiny shards and embedding them through the delicate meat that you've just pulped. But if you get it right you'll put just enough cracks into the claw to be able to peel off the shell and separate the flesh with your fingers or a small fork.

I didn't much fancy munching into unexpected clumps of saffron in my sauce, so I decided to crush the strands a little in a pestle and mortar then warm them up with the cream to leech out more of their colour and flavour.
But possibly all that isn't necessary - you could try having less homogenous colouring and just throw the saffron into the cold cream.

I was hoping to make a slightly richer and more squiddy version of the black pasta this time by using only egg yolks instead of whole eggs, but the dough just wouldn't hold together properly and I was ultimately forced to add some egg white.
The result didn't end up any more squiddy and I'm starting to think you're just not going to get a very strong ink flavour through black pasta simply due to the dilution involved.
Still, the taste was pretty good, I think having extra egg yolks did add a certain richness, though it's obviously trickier to get that when you're only making small quantities.
My dough (probably) ended up with the following proportions:
What with all this egg yolkery I ended up with a surfeit of egg whites, so under extreeeeeeeme pressure to provide Flora a dessert I whipped up a giant jam meringue that could really have done with another 6 hours of cooking.
After its first half-hour of baking, and an episode of Archer, we had bowls of the meringue with some of the leftover cream. It was still a bit raw, and distinctly "eggy" in the middle at this stage, but it was starting to show promise, so I stuck it back in the (turned off) oven for the rest of the night.
Unfortunately I didn't get to to taste (or photograph) the end result since my cute Landlady came back and snaffled up the lot, but apparently it really hit the spot ;) YUM.

Maybe I'll give it another shot sometime...

Pasta Al Nero with Crab and Saffron Sauce
main fish pasta
It's probably obvious that my photography needs work - somehow the crab-smeared black pasta photos look rather unappetising. Maybe a bowl of clean pasta with a dollop of crab in the middle would have looked more attractive?

Serves 2

Crack open your crab claws and pluck out the meat into a bowl, then gently shred it with a fork.
Lightly crush the saffron strands in a pestle and mortar and add them to a small pot with the double cream and warm through gently, stirring occasionally, until the colour diffuses.

Allow to cool slightly before loosening up the egg yolks with a little of the cream and then blending into the pot. Add the crab meat.
Meanwhile cook the pasta (3-4 minutes) until cooked through, but al dente, drain, then return to the pot with the sauce and stir through.
The heat from the pasta should thicken the egg yolks making for a rich creamy sauce.
Really nice stuff (even without the saffron)!
Make sure you serve it hot though - it's probably a good idea to warm the serving dishes since you're not pre-heating the sauce.

Giant Jam Meringue
dessert veg
Don't think about eating this after its first half-hour of cooking - it will still be eggy and underdone.

Serves 4

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 7

Whip up the egg whites until they stiffen, then gradually beat in the sugar.
Line a shallow cake tin with parchment, smear a couple of tablespoons of jam into the centre, then heap over the meringue mixture.
Put in the oven for 10 minutes, or until the top is golden but not burnt, then turn down to the oven's lowest setting and leave for another 30 minutes.
Finally turn off the oven and leave the meringue to dry out overnight (say 6 hours)?
Serve with a dribble of cream.
I didn't actually get to try the very end product, but it looked like it was going to be good!

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