Whitby is a charming fishing port on the East coast of England with a significant fishing fleet and fish market that has developed an interest for tourism alike. Beautiful stone houses in narrow streets are surrounded by the river Esk, compose a magical picture for the visitor.
However, the main tourist attraction in Whitby is the marine gastronomy. There are several fishmongers offering a vast range of fresh fish and seafood from their own boats. The town is described as ’a big chippy’ and it is highly renowned by their crabs. It is said Whitby crabs are better quality than your average crustaceans, with a very sweet and juicy meat.
Crabs form an important source of income to the fishermen in Whitby, being brown (Cancer pagurus) and velvet crabs (Necora puber) the most important species to the local fishery.
Crabbing in the harbour
Many visitors of Whitby gather by the harbour at the side of the Swing Bridge with their rudimentary crab lines to fish some crabs as a great family pastime, getting the place very crowded in warmer days.
Crab fishing is called ’doggering’ by the locals, as they call the crustaceans ‘doggers’. The activity involves a basic hand held fishing line and a little weight to lower the bait that could be a fish head or a slice of bacon. Don’t expect to catch a giant crab and in fact, most of them are so small they are not worth as food.
On the other hand, commercial fishing provides the good catch to the local fishmongers if you want to experience the good Whitby crab and cook with premium ingredients.
In order to prepare live crabs, you have to cook them first. Boil them in salted water for 15 minutes per kg up to 1kg, then 5 min per kg thereafter. Leave it to cool, but don’t put it in cold water, as this would make the meat soggy.
Hand picking is the most usual method to remove the meat, although compressed air jets are sometimes used, especially to make the most of the legs.
There are two kinds of meat: the white meat is removed mainly from the claws and legs, meanwhile the brown meat is from the body of the crab. You can eat everything soft except the yellow papery stomach just behind the mouth, the ‘dead man’s fingers’ and other papery membranes.
The simplest way to enjoy Whitby crab is by eating the claws as a snack with lemon and mayonnaise or making crab sandwiches and salads as an alternative lunch.
But maybe the most popular way of preparing the crustacean comes usually as a dressed crab, served in the carapace with a fresh salad, brown bread and a wedge of lemon. Other old-fashionable alternatives include potted crab and crab cakes. These contain their meat with breadcrumbs and egg, slightly flavoured with spices, formed into patties and fried.
After cooking and removing the meat out of the carapaces, it is wise to make the most of the crustacean and boil them in water in order to make a good stock for sauces or soups.