“Every chef has a signature dish, and crab crème brûlée is mine,” said Paul Flynn in an episode of his recent TV show, Paul Flynn: Irish Food. “I was just rooting around among my books and recipes and magazines that I had and I found this old Mrs. Beeton recipe from the late 1800s. It was called potted crab and it was crab and cream and salt and pepper, and that was pretty much it, and some eggs just to set it, like a custard. And I thought, this is really interesting, but I wanted to jazz it up just a little bit and just add a little more piquancy into it.”
When you get the chance to go to The Tannery in County Waterford, you don’t pass it up if you can help it. And if you’re there, you don’t miss a chance to have their trademark dish. So it was that I found myself there last Thursday for a whirlwind trip for the launch of the new Cook with Avonmore website and cooking channel, which renowned Tannery chef Paul Flynn has contributed to for their Chef’s Corner. And even though I’d already had the crab crème brûlée once before, when I was there in April for the Waterford Festival of Food, I couldn’t resist having it again.
It’s the only dish that’s been on the menu since The Tannery opened, and with good reason — it’s a modern classic from one of Ireland’s best chefs. But even if you can’t have it at The Tannery, it’s easy to make at home. It’s also a perfect starter for a dinner party, since everything can be made in advance and it all looks impressive on the plate.
Paul sums it up neatly when he says, “As with all the good things, it’s very hard to invent things, but also the best things are the simplest things.” Try it for yourself and see.
Serves 4 as a starter
“Any time you have something creamy, you need something sharp to offset it. This is why we serve pickled cucumber with this dish. You need something to cut through the cream, and the pickled ginger is the starting point of that,” says Paul Flynn. One of the keys to this dish is its lovely creamy consistency, so keep an eye on your oven temperature: “You put it into a low oven because you don’t want the eggs to soufflé, you want them to gently set, like a custard.”
400 ml (1 3/4 cups) cream
2 egg yolks
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped (or grate it directly into the custard mixture with a Microplane grater)
2 tablespoons pickled ginger, drained and finely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
150 g (1 cup) picked white crab meat, finely chopped
50 g (1/2 cup) freshly grated Parmesan
pickled cucumber, to serve (see recipe below)
Melba toast, to serve (see recipe below)
lemon wedges, to serve
Place the cream in a bowl with the eggs, garlic, pickled ginger and some salt and pepper and mix well. Add in the crab meat, ensuring there is no shell, and mix well again. Cover with cling film and place in the fridge to allow the flavours to infuse for at least 30 minutes, but ideally up to overnight.
Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F).
Ladle or pour the mixture into the ramekins, making sure you get an even amount of crab in every ramekin, as the crab tends to fall to the bottom. Place the ramekins in a roasting tray. Fill the tray with warm water until the water comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Place this bain marie in the oven and cook for 45 to 60 minutes (check after 40 minutes). When cooked through, the mixture should be set but still have a slightly wobbly consistency. Remove the ramekins from the bain marie and allow to cool — the crab crème brûlée should be served at room temperature.
When ready to serve, sprinkle a very thin layer of Parmesan on top of each ramekin and brown under the grill. Serve with pickled cucumber, really thin Melba toast (“sort of a retro addition that you don’t see very often”) and a lemon wedge. “So there you have it,” says Paul. “The Tannery crab crème brûlée – my classic.”
pinch of salt
50 g (1/4 cup) caster sugar
50 ml (1/4 cup) white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sweet chilli sauce
Slice the cucumber as thinly as you can (a mandolin or food processor’s slicing attachment is perfect for this job). Place the sliced cucumber in a bowl and sprinkle with a little salt. Set aside.
Bring the sugar, vinegar and chilli sauce to the boil and reduce for 30 seconds. Take off the heat and allow to cool completely. Once it’s cool, pour the liquid over the cucumbers and stir gently to coat them all. This will keep in the fridge for 2 or 3 days — any more and the cucumber loses its colour.
Toast slices of white bread and remove the crusts. Slice the bread laterally to make two slices that are half the original thickness of the bread. Rub off excess bread from the untoasted side, then cut diagonally into triangles. Place the untoasted side under the grill until the edges curl.