Extremadura, in western Spain, is my birthplace and will always be close to my heart – but I feel very much at home in the Basque Country too. It’s one of my favourite places in the world for both food and people.
For the people of the Basque Country, food is the most important thing. It’s sharing big plates around the table; it’s celebrating happy occasions; it’s a way of life. As much as I like visiting my friends in their creative, Michelin-starred kitchens, what I love most is simple food, good ingredients sourced locally where possible, cooked with little fuss.
One of my favourite Basque Country meals is crab. I love it in any way, shape or form. For me, there’s nothing better than sitting with friends around a table with one of these beauties in front of you, picking all of the glorious meat out of the shell, from the claws and the legs.
When we recommend wines to match our dishes, we look for a wine that doesn’t overpower the dish, or vice versa. When matching wines with pintxos (small snacks), go for contrast. For example, a pintxo with sweet flavours can be paired with wines with an acid touch; a salty pintxo can go well with a sweet wine; for raw preparations, older wines; and for bitter items, tannic wines. These combinations can feel risky, but often lead to the best pairings.
Baked crab recipe
This recipe for baked crab is a little bit of work, but you can prepare it the day before, just mixing the filling the next day and adding the breadcrumbs before grilling. For something different, pick out all of the white meat and combine with plenty of chilli, garlic, parsley and olive oil and add to some spaghetti – a great quick dinner for one, and just as good served in a big bowl for everyone to dig into.
Preparation time 30 minutes
Cooking time 60 minutes
- 2 live brown crabs (about 750g-1kg each)
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- ½ red chilli, finely chopped
- 40g plain (all-purpose) flour
- 175ml full-fat (whole) milk
- 100ml fresh fish stock or vegetable stock
- Small handful of chopped parsley
- Sea salt and white pepper
- 3 tbsp dry breadcrumbs
- Put the crabs in the freezer for 15 minutes. Bring a very large pan of water to the boil and drop in the crabs. Cover and boil for 15 minutes. Remove from the water and cool.
- Twist the claws and legs off the bodies and set aside. Put each crab on its back. Hold the edges of the shell with your fingers and then use your thumbs to push on where the leg section joins the body and lever the body out.
- Pull off the feathery ‘dead man’s fingers’ that are sticking out from the body. Then push with your thumbs behind the eyes, to break the section off. Remove and discard.
- Scrape out all the brown meat from the sides of the shell and set aside. Use a heavy knife or hammer to crack open the claws so that you can remove all the juicy meat. Make sure you break open the knuckles and legs to get every last bit.
- Cut the leg section of the body in half and use a skewer or lobster pick to pick out all the sweet white meat from the many compartments. Clean and tidy the shells.
- Heat the oil and gently fry the onion and carrot for 5 minutes to soften. Add the garlic and chilli and cook for 30 seconds, then stir in the flour. Cook for a minute, then gradually stir in the milk and stock until you have a thick, silky béchamel sauce. Remove from the heat.
- Stir the brown and white meat and parsley into the sauce. Season with salt and white pepper and spoon into the clean crab shells.
- Heat the grill to medium high. Scatter the crabs with breadcrumbs and grill for a couple of minutes until golden. Serve immediately.
The wines to drink with baked crab
The baked crab in Basque is my interpretation of a dish served at Ganbara, one of my favourite pintxo bars in San Sebastián. Whenever I visit, I’m greeted by the owner Amaia with a glass of Txakoli – a very dry, lightly bubbly white wine produced in the Basque Country. The flavours of the Basque crab are a match made in heaven with the Txakoli, and it’s one of my greatest pleasures in life!
Doniene Gorrondona, Bizkaiako Txakolina, Basque Country 2020
Hondarrabi Zuri from some of the best vineyards in the Bakio area, close to the sea. A lovely compromise between freshness and complexity. This is very clean, with wild herb notes and white fruit aromas. Rather round, balanced, with an expressive, open finish. 93 points
Drink 2022-2026 | Alc 13%
Another wine that works beautifully with this dish is a white Rioja. This delicious white wine ranges in style, depending on producer, from light and lemony-fresh to full-bodied, buttery and succulent, either of which will go perfectly with the crab.
Majestic, Definition Viña Majestica Blanco, Rioja, Spain 2020
Made for Majestic’s own range by Bodegas Muga, this is a great choice for those who prefer a more full-bodied style of Rioja blanco. Chinese pear, golden apple, honeydew melon and peach on the nose, followed by a zip of freshly squeezed lemon on the palate to freshen things up. Gentle use of oak gives the wine a silky texture. 89 points.
Drink 2022 | Alc 13.5%
Basque: Spanish Recipes from San Sebastián & Beyond by José Pizarro, is published by Hardie Grant books, £25 (hardiegrant.com)
José Pizarro is an award-winning chef, restaurateur and author. In August he opened two restaurants at London’s Royal Academy of Arts. He appears regularly on BBC’s Saturday Kitchen and Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch.