“It is an ancient town that stands

Upon a lofty cliff of mouldering sands;

The sea against the cliffs doth daily beat,

And every tide into the land doth eat”

John Taylor

Some 12 miles from our cottage sits the Victorian seaside town of Cromer.

Although perhaps past its cultural peak, it’s certainly had its moments. John Taylor, Daniel Defoe, A C Swinburne, Alfred Tennyson, Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle and George Barker all visited and wrote of its idiosyncrasies, even Stephen Fry spent some time serving tables in the anomalous Hotel de Paris. And as the once desirable haunt of Edwardian millionaires, the North Sea’s maritime embrace still holds a number of Edwin Lutyens’ quaint arts and crafts buildings.

With shades of Miss Havisham, its’ failing grandeur remains beguiling. But for me the current allure rests on the quality of its sweet, brown-shelled Cromer crabs.

My family were not adventurous fish eaters, save only for my father’s weekly fix of unshelled prawns, and my hazy recollection embodies fish and chips purchased on the occasional Friday and tins of salmon and crab in the pantry. When young I believed these canopic urns, no bigger than hockey pucks, held out the promise of luxury and sophistication, although when eventually turned out, the crabmeat had more in common with moist ceiling tiles than the sprightly Norfolk shellfish I consume today.

I have long been curious as to why crab is comparatively underrated in our metropolitan hot spots, often in favour of hideously expensive lobsters, yet revered alongside its coastal breeding grounds. I can only assume that there must be many townies, who, like me, were weaned on John West tinned crab and have subsequently abandoned their crustacean quest altogether. This is a shame. Cromer crab’s sweetness and fattiness, coupled with its modest price and prolonged seasonal availability, provide a home cook with a wide choice of glorious suppers. For those crab lovers like myself, you will not be surprised to find several such recipes on this site. The one that follows can be simply scaled down if your family is modest or your guests are few.

Linguine with Crab [Linguine al Granchio] from The River Café Cookbook (1995) Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers

Serves 10

2 large male crabs about 2-3 kg total weight

3 fresh red chillies

3 handfuls flat-leafed parsley, finely chopped

Juice of 4 lemons

3 garlic cloves, peeled and ground to a paste with a little salt

250 ml olive oil

500 g linguine

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Extra virgin olive oil

Assuming you are buying a fresh, dressed crab, mix the white and brown meat together in a bowl

Add the chilli and most of the chopped parsley, the lemon juice and crushed garlic to the crab mixture

Stir in the olive oil, the sauce should be quite liquid

Cook the linguine in a generous amount of boiling salted water, then drain thoroughly

Stir into the crab sauce, but do not reheat

Serve sprinkled with the remaining parsley and a generous amount of the extra virgin olive oil

Wine thoughts

 A local (Italian) white from the Marche region on the Adriatic – Verdicchio is my choice for this light but filling supper dish. There are two distinct types; Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi (often in a corny, amphora-shaped bottle) and the more concentrated Verdicchio di Matelica. Although one might initially find an exciting citrus zing, the overarching flavours of both are reminiscent of ripe cooking apples (a virtue beyond simple refreshment), along with a nutty, almond-like finish. Will partner sophisticated shellfish dishes all day long.