This recipe might sound a bit 'cheffy', and is an adaptation of a Raymond Blanc recipe, but it's not that difficult to make and the flavours really are beautiful. I leave out a couple of elements used by the marvellous Monsieur Blanc (Worcestershire sauce, tabasco, thyme) as I think it works better with the delicate crab that way, but feel free to reinstate them if you are inclined to do so. The recipe serves 4 as a light lunch or starter.
For the crab timbale:
- 300g fresh white crab-meat
- 1 small avocado, peeled and finely diced
- 50g deseeded and finely diced cucumber
- 1 tbsp mayonnaise
- Juice of ¼ of a lemon
- 1 tablespoon chopped dill or parsley
- Pinch of salt and cracked black pepper
- Lemon wedges to serve
- You will need four deep, lightly oiled ramekins or four serving rings to serve the timbale.
For the essence:
- 2kg ripe (they must be ripe!) cherry tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1 stick celery, finely chopped
- 1 small shallot, finely chopped
- Half a fennel bulb, finely chopped
- 1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
- 4 leaves tarragon, roughly chopped
- Handful of basil leaves, roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp golden caster sugar
- 1 tbsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Make the tomato essence first. Mix all the essence ingredients together in a large bowl, cover with cling film and leave to marinate for 6 hours.
- Once it has marinated pour it in batches into a food processor and pulse to roughly chop the tomato mixture. You are looking for a textured, rough chop not a mush or purée.
- Fold a muslin cloth in three, or use a very clean tea towel over another large bowl. Carefully pour the processed mixture into the muslin or cloth and tie it up with string. Hang the cloth containing the mixture over the bowl and leave in a cold place for a couple of hours so that the juices can strain through the muslin/cloth. Don't, whatever you do, be tempted to squeeze the muslin/cloth to get more juice out as it will push through some solids and rather ruin the effect.
- Once you see that the clear juices have come through into the second bowl you can set aside the pulp and pour the essence into a jug. Clingfilm it and put it into the fridge to chill.
- To make the timbales put the crab, diced avocado and cucumber, lemon juice, chopped herb, mayonnaise and salt and pepper into a bowl and mix together well. Chill in the fridge until ready.
- Spoon the mixture into the ramekins if using and press down well. Turn these out onto four chilled soup bowls. If you are using the serving rings put one into each bowl and spoon the mixture into them, also pressing down. Remove the rings to leave the timbale standing in the bowl.
- Take the chilled tomato essence from the fridge and gently pour around each timbale. Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil on to the essence around each timbale. Serve with Melba toasts or thin slices of French bread baked until golden and very crisp.
Pouring the essence carefully at the table in front of each guest provides a bit of low-key showmanship.
Wine: An ethereally pale pink Provencal rosé will work beautifully with the crab and tomato elements here.