Home Cooking with Elena Arzak: spider crab and crab cookies

Giulia Sgarbi - 02/05/2019

In the third instalment of 50 Best’s Home Cooking series, presented by Miele, chef Elena Arzak invites us into her kitchen to show us how to make the most of San Sebastian’s abundant seafood with one of her favourite recipes to prepare for friends – spider crab and crab cookies

Elena Arzak is the fourth-generation chef in the Arzak family to manage their eponymous modern Basque restaurant. Located in San Sebastian, Spain, Arzak was brought to the world stage by her grandparents, who opened the first incarnation of the restaurant in 1897. She recalls that at their house, everything revolved around food. “Celebrations, birthdays, Christmas – we always found an excuse to be eating around a table,” she says.

“It’s a part of Basque culture that when someone knocks on your door, you have to prepare a quick lunch or a meal for them. Everybody is welcome in our house,” says Arzak.

Today, the chef is hosting some friends for lunch to showcase a local delicacy from the sea surrounding San Sebastian: the spider crab, known locally as txangurro. “This original recipe is based on a local preparation and it’s very tasty; delicate but intense, and it also uses the coral of the crab.”

“I call the dish ‘Looking for Crabs’. If you grew up in San Sebastian, then you would have gone to the beach to hunt for crabs as a kid. It’s a reminder of my childhood but also a reminder of normal life in this town. But the crab will be a surprise, because my guests are not going to expect how I’m going to serve it,” she hints with a grin.

Spider crab or txangurro

As part of the presentation, the chef served the dish on a special tool that is used for catching crabs on the beach, giving the impression that the product has just come out of the sea. However, the dish tastes just as good presented on a plate.

Follow the recipe below to make Arzak’s home-cooked dish ‘Looking for Crabs’.


For the spider crab:

1 large crab
2 onions
1 ripe tomato
½ cup brandy
40g olive oil

For the crab cookie:

100g brown sugar
½ egg white, whipped
20g water
12g brandy
500g melted butter
2.5g cinnamon powder
2.5g ginger powder
1.5g ground clove
250g wheat flour
2.5g baking powder

For the presentation:

Several types of dried edible seaweed
1 hand-fishing crab net (optional)
Seasonal edible flower petals


For the spider crab:

1. Cook the spider crab by boiling it whole for 12 minutes per kilo (average-sized crabs take around 16 minutes total). Scoop out the meat, separate the white and coral, clean the shell and set aside
2. Thinly slice onion, add oil to a pan and sauté for a few minutes
3. Peel a tomato and remove the seeds, then dice and add to the pan. Stew for 20 minutes
4. Add crab meat and coral, then add a glug of brandy. Tilt the pan and allow the liquid to touch the heat to flambé, then swirl the pan and its contents
5. Cook for 2 minutes over low heat and season to taste

For the crab cookie:

6. Mix sugar, flour, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, flour and baking powder in a bowl
7. Add honey, water, whipped egg white, brandy and melted butter
8. Add salt and knead the dough
9. Rest for 20 minutes
10. Stretch to a thickness of 0.5cm and cut with cookie cutter. Crab-shape ideal, but not essential
11. Place in a preheated oven at 175°C for 10 minutes

For the presentation:

12. Place the dried seaweed in the hand-fishing crab net
13. Place the crab meat and coral mixture on the crab cookie, then place on the net or plate
14. Finish with flower petals on each bite

Watch Arzak prepare the dish for her friends:

Now go inside Jorge Vallejo’s home in Mexico City to discover how he makes his signature chicken casserole:

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