Join Mike Warner from A Passion for Seafood as he shares his summer picks and a delicious crab sandwich recipe - the perfect dish for summer on The Suffolk Coast!
It seems to have been a long time coming, but with balmy winds, calming seas and a definite warmth in the shallows, summer finally seems to have broken out along the Suffolk Heritage Coast. For seafood lovers, local and from afar, the summer here means a bounty of seasonal, wild produce caught sometimes just metres away from our holiday pastimes on the beach.
When I was a boy growing up in Felixstowe, I yearned for the summer holidays when I could fish for lobster and crab with a few old pots, (lent to me by one of the fishermen), from my little dinghy. Nothing for me spoke of the summer so well, as a just-landed and freshly boiled lobster eaten with an accompanying salad from my father’s vegetable patch, on the steps of our beach hut with the waves lapping only yards away.
It’s those memories which drove me to write about our native seafood and how our food culture doesn’t really make room for some of the amazing variety of fish that our boats land.
We love to go abroad and soak up the Mediterranean sun, frequenting bars, tavernas and bistros and seeking out thefinest of ‘Fruits de Mer,’ but little do we realise, that much of it (often up to 80% of it) has been landed by our own vessels here in the UK and transported to France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece, sometimes without even touching home soil!
However, if you want to dine well on local seafood, then our own county can provide more than enough quality and quantity to satisfy the most diehard of seafood lovers. From Felixstowe Ferry to Lowestoft, we have a plethora of delicious crustaceans and molluscs which are all in season and available if you know where to go.
Lobsters are probably our more premium species and our own Suffolk natives are right up there for flavour, with those of Scottish and Cornish waters. Caught mostly in ‘parlour pots’ (which have two chambers) lobsters are found generally on hard, rocky ground and are regularly landed into Felixstowe Ferry, Orford, Aldeburgh and Southwold. They can be bought cooked, but are often available live, especially at the harbours, straight off the boats.
Brown crabs too are most abundant, although the season in some parts is shorter and most are sold dressed or whole cooked and the meat is of exceptional flavour. The males (cocks) and females (hens) can both yield well, although there’s more brown meat in the hen fish. A trip to the beach isn’t really made, unless a crab salad has been packed, in my opinion.
Then we have our oysters, with arguably one of the most famous oyster fisheries in the UK residing at Butley Creek, under the faithful management of Bill Pinney. Pinneys oysters are a delight and I would recommend that everyone should try an oyster at some point in their life. Freshly shucked, these incredible creatures develop three distinct levels of flavour and should always be chewed!
First comes the saline - like kissing the ocean or being hit in the face by a wave. Secondly the intense sweetness arrives, bringing a distinct ‘oyster smile’ to the faces of those who know. Finally the metallic back flavour provided by the oysters’ high zinc content develops and lingers, often many minutes after.
And not forgetting the seaside snack fans, we have whelks, brown shrimps and mussels, although the latter are not that commercially commonplace and might take a bit of finding sometimes, but then you know who to ask!
So treat yourself, this summer to a lobster salad, a crab sarnie, a half dozen of Butley Creek’s finest, a pint of shrimps, a tub of whelks or perhaps a bowl of garlicky, moules mariniére to accompany your chilled glass of whatever.
And of course, remember to ask where they were landed!
The Ultimate Crab Sandwich
Everyone, yes everyone, should be made to try a good crab sandwich once in their life. My mother was obsessed with them and had a dream of retiring to Cornwall to sell them in a little kiosk on Looe harbour quay. I don’t honestly think she’d have made a lot of money, as such was her ardour for their flavour, she’d have just ended up making them for herself.
Ingredients (Serves 2)
250 g fresh picked white crab meat (from a brown crab)
100g fresh picked brown crab meat (from a brown crab)
2 tbsp of fresh, homemade mayonnaise
Several thick doorstep slices of fresh white bloomer loaf, or a split crusty baguette.
Cornish dairy butter
Half a lemon
Freshly ground black and white pepper.
Mix the brown meat in with the mayonnaise, a squeeze of lemon and fold to a smooth consistency. Butter the bread liberally and apply the mayo/brown meat mix. Heap the flaked white meat on to the prepared slices, firm down a little and again squeeze a little lemon over. Dust with a little white pepper and grind over some black pepper too, to your taste.
Close the sandwiches off and firm again before slicing and serving. You could of course add fresh herbs parsley, coriander or chervil to the mix (the latter being particularly suited to crab), but actually there’s nothing like having it unadulterated. Enjoy with a cold beer. Beer and crab go phenomenally well together.