About Great Food

Sophie Grigson

Spaghettini with Crab, Lemon, and Chili

I've played around with more complicated crab sauces for pasta, using cream and other fancy ingredients, but in the end, the best sauce of all is the simplest and quickest. Here, the sweet, juicy taste of the crab can shine through, supported and enhanced, but not masked, by the other ingredients. It takes literally a minute to put together the sauce, so quick that it should only be started when the pasta is cooked.

Be sure to use fresh crab for this. Freezing dulls the flavor of crab, especially that of the white meat. If you must use frozen crab, you will definitely need the extra brown meat to enhance the flavor. If the crab is fresh, the extra brown meat is not essential but can be used as an option.

Having tried this with tagliatelle and other forms of pasta, I have come to the conclusion that the only one that really works is spaghetti, preferably the thinner sort known as spaghettini. Somehow, the finer, tubular form is a far better support for the delicate but distinctive nature of fresh crab. As far as the choice of herb goes, parsley and mint are far more Italian but cilantro is always fantastic with shellfish. And one last thing: please, please, please, don't add any Parmesan or other grated cheese. It really doesn't need it.

Serves 4

  • 14 oz dried spaghettini or spaghetti
  • 8 oz white crab meat
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons brown crab meat (optional)
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 level teaspoon crushed chili flakes
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Either 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint or 4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pan of salted water to a rolling boil and add the pasta. Bring back to a boil and cook until al dente. Drain thoroughly and return to the pan. Add the white crab meat and, if using, the brown meat.

Very quickly warm the olive oil in a small pan and add the chili flakes. Cook for just a few seconds and stir in the lemon zest and herbs. Quickly pour the mixture over the pasta, scraping in any bits left in the pan. Add the lemon juice and season with salt and a touch of pepper. Toss everything together and serve immediately.

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