Grilled crab with fennel, lemon and alioli

Grilled crab with fennel, lemon and alioli

Grill Smoke BBQ
Kris Kirkham

You can buy pots of white and brown crabmeat in supermarkets, and they are certainly convenient. However, pristine meat picked straight from a fresh crab is a revelation. Sure, it’s quite messy, but there’s much fun to be had breaking and cracking the shells, then getting stuck into the sweet flesh. This is a dish of two halves: the legs and claws grilled; then the brown crabmeat (my favourite), mixed with raw fennel and grilled in the shell. Serve with plenty of flatbreads to mop up the juices. Absolutely delicious!

Your fishmonger should be able to source live coastal crabs, such as brown and Dungeness. If a live crab is a bit too much, frozen crabs make a good substitute.


Quantity Ingredient
2 x 1.5kg brown or dungeness crabs
100ml extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
2 unwaxed lemons
1 small fennel bulb, finely sliced
sea salt
black pepper
1 quantity see method for ingredients, to serve


  1. If you have live crabs, put them in the freezer for an hour – this will put them to sleep, so they can be dispatched as humanely as possible.
  2. On the stovetop, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil over high heat. Plunge the crabs into the boiling water and cook for 3 minutes before removing and plunging into cold water to stop the cooking process; the crabs will only be partly cooked at this stage.
  3. Drain the crabs, then place them on their backs on a chopping board. Remove the triangular flap from their base and then insert your thumb or a rounded knife into this same spot and prise off the top of the crab shell (carapace). Remove the feathery gills and any intestine – you just want to keep the creamy brown crabmeat. Break off the claws and legs and discard the central body. Crack each claw and leg with the heel of a knife or a claw cracker and each of the legs. Be careful not to smash them completely – you just want to crack the shell and expose the meat. Now you are ready to grill.
  4. Light the barbecue and set for direct cooking.
  5. Pour the olive oil into a small saucepan and add the fennel seeds, garlic and the zest and juice of one of the lemons. Heat the pan on the barbecue until the oil starts to bubble, then cook for 2 minutes before pouring into a bowl.
  6. Brush the shells of the crab legs, claws and the inside of the carapace with the fennel oil. Stuff the sliced raw fennel into the carapace, along with the brown crabmeat, some seasoning and another good drizzle of the fennel oil.
  7. Place all the crab parts on the grill and cook the legs for 2 minutes each side, and the claws for 3 minutes each side. Cook the carapace (without turning it!) for 5 minutes or until bubbling and the brown crabmeat is thickened and creamy.
  8. Serve all the crab bits together on a platter, along with the alioli, the remaining fennel oil and lemon quarters.
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