A tasty dish from the Norfolk coast

Under the sea, just off Happisburgh, is the tip of Europe’s largest chalk reef, which covers an area of 321 km2 along the Norfolk coast from Weybourne to Happisburgh, a distance of 32 km. The reef, recognised internationally for its environmental significance, has been officially designated as a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ). It is home to many species of marine fauna that are rarely seen elsewhere in the UK, including a newly discovered species of sponge.

For hundreds of years, a major contributor to the local economy has been the crab, whose sweet, delicate flavour and exquisite texture are due to the clean, chalky flint sea bed and shallow water. Muddy water and high pressure are conditions that mar the quality of crab meat. It’s a universally acknowledged fact that Norfolk crabs really are the best in the world.

Fair Maiden Shellfish, in Happisburgh, is a tiny traditional wet fish shop owned and run by Kirsty and Dean, who have long associations with the fishing trade.

Although there were no fishermen in his family, Dean became hooked on fishing at the age of thirteen, and it was an interest that never waned. As a boy, he’d go out to sea with the local fishermen, and from the time he left school to this day, Dean has earned his living through sea fishing. Throughout the year, Dean stocks Fair Maiden Shellfish with the freshest and finest quality seafood available.

The shop is managed by Dean’s partner, Kirsty, whose family is intimately connected with the fishing trade. Kirsty’s great-grandfather was a full-time fisherman, and his mother (Kirsty’s great-great-grandmother) sold fish from a horse and cart around Happisburgh and the neighbouring villages.

Fresh, seasonal fish is available all year round at Fair Maiden Shellfish: herring, skate, cod, haddock, mussels … “Everything has a season,” says Kirsty. And now that spring is in full swing, it’s crab and lobster season. A dressed crab or crab sandwich is a very important part of a Norfolk holiday, and when you’re staying at Boundary Stables, this beautiful food is brought to you directly from the North Sea to your very local fish shop.

So what else can you do with your crab or lobster? Kirsty enjoys seafood just as it is and prefers not to conceal the flavour in complex recipes. “It doesn’t need messing with,” she says. But if you’re partial to an accompanying sauce or a few herbs and spices, there are some lovely recipes to try out, like crab linguine with chilli and parsley:

• 400g cooked linguine
• 60 ml olive oil
• 1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped
• 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
• 1 cooked crab (or 100g brown crabmeat and 200g white crabmeat)
• 75 ml white wine
• Squeeze of lemon
• Handful of chopped parsley (from the visitors’ herb garden at Boundary Stables)

• In a large pan, gently fry the chilli and garlic in ¾ of the oil.
• Turn up the heat and add the wine.
• Take off the heat and mash the brown crabmeat into the oil, garlic, and chilli.
• Add the cooked pasta and mix well.
• Mix in the white crabmeat and parsley.
• Add a squeeze of lemon and the remaining oil.

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