This tapa is based on a fairly modern Basque-country dish, which has become very much a part of the mainstream. Basque people love their crabs, and txangurro has grown into something of a national dish in the region. For me, the most frustrating part of preparing this dish is that I rarely finish making it. Why? Because I love to eat the meat as I’m cleaning the crabs.
For the crabs:
• 2 tablespoons sea salt
• 8 fresh blue crabs (see tips), preferably female (about 2 1/2 [2.5] pounds total, to yield 1/3 [one-third] pound of meat)
For the filling:
• 6 ripe tomatoes
• 2 tablespoons Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
• 1/2 [.5] Spanish onion, peeled and finely chopped
• 1/2 [.5] leek, white part only, well washed and finely chopped
• 1 guindilla chili pepper (or your favorite dried chili pepper)
• 2 tablespoons Spanish brandy
• 1/4 [one-fourth] cup Txacoli (a Basque white wine) or other fresh, young white wine
• 6 fresh tarragon leaves
• Salt to taste
Cook the crabs: Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot and add the sea salt. When the water is boiling, drop in the crabs and cook for 8 minutes. Drain, and allow the crabs to cool. Then remove the claws and legs, taking care to keep the upper shell intact. Working over a bowl to collect the juices, remove the meat from the claws, legs, and body. Reserve the juices and the crabmeat. Carefully clean and set aside 4 of the empty shells.
Prepare the filling: Cut each tomato in half lengthwise. Place a grater over a bowl and grate the open side of the tomatoes into the bowl. Discard the skin. Strain the grated flesh through a sieve to produce 2 cups of tomato puree. Set it aside.
Heat the olive oil in a medium pan over a medium flame. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and cook until it begins to brown a little, about 30 seconds. Add the onions and cook for 2 minutes. Add the leeks and the guindilla, reduce the heat to low, and cook until the onions are soft and translucent, about 15 minutes.
Add the brandy and the wine, and cook until reduced by half, about 1 minute. Add the tomato puree and cook until it thickens and begins to darken in color, about 5 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and add the crabmeat. Add the crab juices and the tarragon. Stir to combine, and add salt to taste.
To serve, place an empty crab shell on each plate. Fill the shells with the crabmeat mixture. Serve with a teaspoon on the side.
If your time is limited you can buy crabs already cleaned and boiled. Just make sure that they have not been seasoned and are very fresh. If you can’t find Maryland blue crabs, you can always substitute Dungeness crabs from the West Coast.