Blue Crab with white background
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Food Talk: The Algarve’s delicious invader

The American Blue crab is now a prevalent and invasive species in our waters, so the more we eat the better!

I love crab. I enjoy it simply boiled or steamed, mixing the brown and white meat together and spreading on buttered toast. But, most of all, I adore Asian dishes such as the chilli or pepper crab of Singaporean fame or my absolute crab heaven, a southern Indian-style crab curry.

Last year, my passion for this crustacean took me to the world’s most famous curry restaurant, the Ministry of Crab in Colombo, Sri Lanka. I have tried pretty much every kind of crab I know of, from Florida Stone Crab to Alaskan King Crab (both overrated in my humble opinion), to the superb mud crab of Sri Lanka.

Blue Crab by Patrick Stuart
Blue Crab by Patrick Stuart

The most common species of live crab available at markets, supermarkets and restaurants here in Portugal is the common brown crab (sapateira), but, curiously, this is not caught in our waters but is exported all over Europe from places like France and Ireland.

Until recently, the local crabs we could buy here have been limited to spider crab (santola) and lady crab (navalheira). All are delicious, but last weekend I got my first taste of the Blue Crab, bought from the recently opened seafood shop Mariscos dos Santanas in Lagoa, and I will go as far as to say this is some of the finest crab I have ever tasted.

The meat is sweet and delicately flavoured, but, most importantly, there is lots of it in relation to the size and weight of the crab.

But now for the bad news. These delicious crabs, which are caught locally and priced similarly to the imported brown crab (but with a far higher yield of meat), are an invasive and undesired species in our waters.

They made their way over from the east coast of the Americas in the ballast of ships and first started to be found in European waters some 100 years ago. But, over recent decades, the population in Southern Europe has exploded, both in the Mediterranean and especially around the gulf of Cadiz and along our Algarve coast.

There are concerns that they will unbalance our marine ecosystem as these hardy creatures multiply at an alarming rate and reach maturity in just one year. So, for all us crab lovers, this is something we can feel very good about eating, as plentifully as possible!

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