Midwinter blues = time for a splurge. In our neighbourhood, that often means heading down to Bill’s Lobster in Toronto’s East Chinatown. Today, though, instead of lobsters, I went in search of live Dungeness crabs. A whole whack of cash later, I arrived home with these two lively 2-pound guys (all Dungeness crabs that end up on the dinner plate must, by law, be males) which I named Castor and Pollux.
Castor went first into a 12-quart stockpot mostly full of boiling, salted water. (5 tbsp of salt per gallon of water. If you don’t liberally salt the water, it ends up drawing salt out of the crabs.) Doesn’t Pollux look horrified?
After 7 minutes per pound at a healthy simmer, Castor had developed a rosy glow…
…and decided to go for a cooling swim in a 50% ice-water bath for about 15 minutes.
Note that boy crabs have a rather phallic-looking “apron” on their bottom shell; she-crabs, it follows, have a rounded apron.
Pollux was destined for the next day’s crab cakes (we were a little too… “festive” to photograph that recipe – from Ad Hoc at Home – but trust me, it was really, really good). For Castor, we turned to a new addition to our library, given to us by a dear friend after we tried to steal her copy: Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli. This is a wonderful book, full of wisdom and emotion (memorably, Bertolli transcribes a letter he wrote to his newborn son as the elder Bertolli started to craft a batch of balsamic vinegar that would accompany his son through his adult life).
We settled on Bertolli’s recipe for Crab Tagliolini – thin egg noodle pasta with Dungeness crab in a garlicky, chili-spiked olive oil.
Here’s the mise en place for egg pasta: 10 oz all-purpose flour, and 2 large eggs. Plus a half-ounce of water, not pictured.
Bertolli’s pasta recipe differs in one small but important way from the usual: rather than instructing the cook to begin with a mound of flour dumped onto the kitchen counter, he gives us permission to put it in a damned bowl. This pragmatic bit of advice will be welcome to any novice pasta-maker who has been faced with a mess of beaten egg flowing lava-like down the side of a volcano of flour on the countertop.
You can find pasta making tutorials in a kajillion places. I can’t pretend we’re experts: I’ve made pasta maybe 10 times in my life. But it really is very easy. Put the flour in a bowl. Make a shallow well in the flour. Crack the eggs into the well. Take a fork, and gently beat the eggs. Slowly, in a circular motion, scrape a bit of the flour from the top of the well into the eggs. Continue until it’s all more or less incorporated. Then sprinkle your 1/2 oz. of water over the top. Stir it gently until it begins to clump up.
At that point, switch from a fork to your hands. Draw the shaggy mass together, squeeze it, push down on it, turn it over, draw it together again, and again. Then, turn it out onto a very lightly floured, non-porous surface. And knead it: push the heels of your hands down and forward onto the dough at about a 45′ angle. Do this a few times, until you reach the far edge of your work surface. Then ball up the dough, bring it back towards you, and do it again. Do this for anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes, until the dough feels springy and somewhat silky on the outside – i.e., not shaggy, crumby or brittle. It will still feel very taut and heavy, but not brick-like: there’ll be a definite elasticity.
Once you’ve done that, wrap it up in plastic and let it sit in the fridge for an hour to hydrate and relax. This’d be a good time to pick your crab. We found this video from chef Becky Selengut incredibly helpful:
Alright. Time to turn that lump of dough into pasta. For this – unless you have a rolling pin, an acre of counterspace, a lot of time, and the strength of ten men or one Italian nonna – you’ll need a pasta maker of some sort. This is ours.
Start by rolling your pasta blob into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Unless you’ve made pasta before, you’ll want to divide it into 2 batches, wrapping the second batch in plastic while you work on the first.
Next, run it through the widest setting on your pasta machine.
Fold it over onto itself and run it through the thickest setting once again. From then on, it’s just a matter of running it once through successively thinner settings. For this recipe, we wanted a chunky, toothsome pasta, so we stopped at the second-last setting.
Last step! Cutting the pasta. Attach the cutter (it comes with the pasta machine) atop the roller unit. Feed the sheet of pasta through the cutter, and voila:
Tagliatelle is born. If you have time, curl it up onto some parchment and let it dry for an hour or up to a day.
Time to put the dish together. Are you tired yet? Oh, believe me: this is worth the effort. You’re almost there.
Boil some salty water for the pasta. Warm 1/4 cup of olive oil gently over medium heat, and sprinkle in 1/4 tsp of red pepper flakes. Add 1 or 2 cloves of minced garlic. Don’t let it brown – you just want to perfume the oil. While the pasta is boiling (5 minutes or so) finely chop some parsley.
Add the crab and most of the parsley to the garlic-chile oil…
Finally (!) drain the pasta, toss it in the pan with the hot oil for a few seconds, and serve, sprinkling the remaining parsley on top.
And that, folks, is about as good as it gets. Springy, toothsome pasta… rich, briny-fresh crab… a hint of chili, the garlicky bass note, and the green, herbaceous parsley elevating it all. Mmm.