I find crabs endlessly fascinating. We’re out on a creel boat and I’m enjoying seeing crabs being hauled in. How marvellous is it that the Earth is populated by such creatures? The Brown Crab was known as the Edible Crab when I was younger, although I think we may have stopped naming species as edible a while ago. Do we still talk about Edible Dormice? You wouldn’t eat one, would you?
The Brown Crab’s scientific name is Cancer pagurus, but in Orkney they are simply known as Partan. Partan is the Scots name for the Brown Crab and is probably from the Early Irish word partaing, which means the colour red. After all, they’re red and not brown, aren’t they? Where does the word partaing come from? It’s from the Latin word which came from the Ancient Greek word which came from the Old Persian word for the famed red leather which came from Parthica. Where is Parthica? It’s a region of northwestern Iran. The Brown Crab is really the Famed Persian Red-Leather Crab.
Here are two Brown Crabs, held by Stewart, our skeely skipper. The male, the cock, is on the left and the female, the hen, on the right.
They differ in the shape of the carapace on the underside. The hens need a large flap under which they hold their eggs. They need to be 140mm wide to be landed legally.
Thanks to Stewart I took a few Partan home with me and prepared them myself. This part may be difficult if you are vegan.
I killed them instantly and then cooked them for just a few minutes.
Then I had a go at dressing them. It was my friend’s birthday so I prepared a couple for her to have. Then I did one for myself. I have no specialist tools, but I found a serious pair of mull grips and a neat pair of pliers which did the job. I had it on a bed of rocket with a slice of bere bannock. Brown meat on the left, white meat on the right with a whole claw for good measure. I hope it was okay for a beginner.
Bere bannock is a bread made from beremeal, a form of barley. Bere is pronounced bare or bear and not like beer. Do be careful if you ask to see an Orcadian woman’s bere bannocks. You might get more than you asked for.
Tens of thousands of tonnes of Brown Crabs are caught in UK waters every year. Eating one isn’t a problem, it’s the wholesale industrial slaughter of them that worries me.
It was delicious, it’s just a shame I missed out the flat parsley leaf to decorate it in the photograph. Westray Crab. As fabulous as the famous red leather from Persia.