Feeling a little crabby?

December 6, 2010

In which practice actually does make perfect

Flicking through the recipe books in search of something special for a friend’s birthday dinner the other week, I happened upon Damien Pignolet’s crab soufflé. But I soon grew daunted by the gazillion steps, and then breathed a big sigh of relief when I remembered one of our guests can’t eat gluten, as the soufflé had flour in it. Then another idea struck: crab mousse! Retro enough to be surprising – or possibly raise a laugh – but I figured it would also involve just enough velvety lusciousness and feel-the-love effort to make a birthday girl feel special.

Next step, hello internets. My friends, there are so many bad recipes online, have you noticed? Obviously there are squillions of brilliant ones too (*bats eyelashes*), but lordy me. Google ‘crab mousse’ and you will find yourself immersed in more lists of cream cheese, powdered onion soup, gelatine, emulsifiers and other icky goop than you can poke a whisk  at.

Happy was I, then, to find this baked crab mousse recipe from  Tamasin Day-Lewis. But never having baked such a thing as mousse before I decided, most uncharacteristically, to give it a practice whirl a few days before the birthday do. Usually I don’t bother practising, being blessed with forgiving friends who are usually happy to be experimented upon and whose manners are impeccable even when served less-than-fabulous meals (Ms A, I’m thinking particularly of you and the grass-clippings chicken a short while ago – you were a model of composure).

Anyhoo – in this instance practice was a good idea. The first time I made the recipe I kept the oven at its standard fan setting, but it was too hot. I also used the recipe’s method of covering each mousse with greaseproof paper but that was a total dud idea for us, as the paper simply curled up, and given the hot oven the thing began to brown round the edges, which is not what you want on a delicate, pale, crabby moussy thing like this. Also, served after five minutes as recommended was way too hot. And finally, presentation-wise it tended to look a little wan and needed a bit of bling. However, the texture was not bad and the flavour was good. So good. So very good.

On the second attempt – birthday dinner day – everything went swimmingly. I used foil to completely cover the ramekins instead of the paper; I turned the fan function off on the oven; I cooked the mousse a little longer and let them cool for longer in the pots. And as a garnish I added a blob of creme fraiche with torn dill and a teeny dollop of caviar. And I am here to tell you it was good. The birthday girl loved it and so did we.

Baked crab mousse with dill & caviar

Adapted from Tamasin’s Great British Classics

Serves 6


  • meat picked from body & claws of 4 cooked blue swimmer crabs, or about 250g crab meat
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 400ml thickened cream
  • 4 tsp dry sherry
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • biggish pinch cayenne pepper (be careful – taste at half a pinch first)
  • 2 tbsp finely grated Parmesan
  • 6 dollops of creme fraiche
  • a few fronds of dill
  • caviar or salmon pearls
  • salt & pepper


1. Preheat the oven to 170C. If you have an adjustable fan setting, turn it off or to lowest setting.

2. Lightly grease 6 small ramekins.

2. Puree crab meat, eggs, cream, pepper, mustard and sherry until smooth.

3. Stir in the Parmesan and season to taste.

4. Spoon the mixture into the prepared ramekins and cover each with a round of aluminium foil.

5. Sit the ramekins in a roasting pan and pour enough near-boiling water into it to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

6. Bake for 25 minutes and check. If they are still very wobbly in the centre, keep cooking for another five or ten minutes. The centre should be just lightly set.

7. Remove pan from oven and leave on the stove top, leaving ramekins covered in the water bath until ready to serve. I left them sitting for a little over an hour, and the temperature was perfect – just slightly warm is the perfect temperature.

8. Remove foil lids, wipe away any condensation from the rims and top each one with a dollop of creme fraiche, a tiny spoonful of salmon pearls or caviar and a teensy frond of dill.

9. Serve with champagne & teaspoons.

In this case, practice made (almost) perfect, and I’m glad I did the test run. I doubt I’ll take up testing recipes first on a regular basis – who can be bothered? – but would love to know if you do. Are you a routine practiser or do you use your friends as guinea pigs? Any fabulous disaster stories? Do tell.


  1. drooling just thinking about it

  2. I usually work through the recipe mentally first and look out for stuff that doesn’t seem right. One of the few times I decided to ignore my instincts was a Karen Martini recipe in The Age. As I was putting the Le Creuset dutch oven in the 230C fan-forced oven I was thinking, hmmm this does NOT seem right. Of course the knob on the lid exploded into a gazillion pieces about 20 mins later. When I advised the Age that they may want to take more care with their recipes they decided to take the position that I was either an idiot or had inferior equipment or possibly both. It seems Karen Martini is always right. Looking on the Le Creuset website I saw that 220C is the absolute max temp for their equipment.On a brighter note, LOVE Tamasin Day-Lewis recipes. Just did her tapenade stuffed eggs last week. A treat.

    • Hmm, very interesting Louise. Sounds like they’re dodging a little, doesn’t it. 230 degrees is pretty hot, isn’t it; perhaps there was a weeny typo or something involved that they didn’t want to admit to.

      I have never heard of TDL before now, but on your recommendation I shall look up more of them. Tapenade stuffed eggs, you say! How exotic, and how yum-sounding.

      On the practice front, I agree that a good look through the recipe first is essential. One of the nice things about having cooked for a long time is how your confidence grows in predicting whether things will taste right for you – I often tone down sugar in recipes if they sound too sweet, for example. I think the mark of an experienced cook is perhaps this very thing, the confidence to change and alter the recipe even before you begin.

      And Reemski, tell me if you make this, and whether you get good results.

      Also, does anybody know about buying crab meat, rather than whole crabs? I don’t think I’ve ever seen it for sale but when I’ve mentioned this mousse a few people have suggested just buying the meat. All I can visualise is ghastly ‘seafood extender’, that weird virulent-looking red and white stuff …

  3. I cooked a disastrous piece of lamb in a salt dough/crust thing for our mutual friend the Lunging Latino. It was a Jared Ingersoll recipe and it was foul. I brought this splendid looking golden-crusted thing to the table, hacked into it with a sturdy knife to find this sad, grey, shrivelled piece of meat sitting in a murky puddle of its own juices. The salt had imparted some flavour but really drew moisture from lamb which effectively steamed, rather than roasted in its dough. Eeuuw. LL, displaying the impeccable manners for which we all love him, said it was great and politely chomped through it.

    Re crab meat, you can get good stuff in vac bags from the fish market at about $25 a kilo (when I last looked years ago). It’s nothing like the dreaded seafood extender.

    • Oh don’t you hate it when that happens? Specially when you’ve spent BUCKS on meat. Boo Mr Ingersoll. Although his orange cake recipe is very good. Makes me seriously baulk at his ham cooked in HAY idea, which has always looked hellish.

      Good ol Lunger, can always be relied upon for impeccable behaviour. Thanks for the crabby tip too, will look out for it next time at the big fish market – I never go there but have not seen such crabbage at good old Faros Bros. Will look more closely next time.

  4. I want to hear about the grass clipping chick!

    • ha! Gully_girl, it was a mild sort of disaster. I think the proper name is something delicious-sounding about herbs and roasting blahdyblah, and it was from the otherwise impeccable Patricia Wells. It involved whizzing up a MOUNTAIN of fresh herbs including sorrel into a kind of paste, then painting an eggwash over a chicken and covering the chook in the herbs. Sounded great. But the result, when cooked as per the recipe, really tasted exactly like chicken coated in lawn clippings. Slightly bitter, sodden green slush. Not nice at all, but as I said, our guests Ms Ali and her beau were exceptionally polite. So much so I had to reward them with the dong do pork on another occasion. Now that one worked.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: