Crab loaf

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This crab dish from chef Ashley Palmer-Watts shows just how much work goes into this aesthetically minimalist dish, which is on the menu at his two-starred restaurant Dinner by Heston. While we know it's too complex for the vast majority of home cooks to recreate at home, it offers a fascinating insight into the accomplished cooking that goes on within his kitchen. Pieces of brioche cooked in a rich crab custard are topped with a wonderful crab salad, with a cucumber fluid gel alongside. It's like the best crab and cucumber sandwich you've ever tasted.

First published in 2019




pickled lemons

  • 300ml of water
  • 210g of Chardonnay vinegar
  • 100g of caster sugar
  • 300g of lemon, ideally from Amalfi, thinly sliced and pips removed

confit shallots

crab butter

crab dressing

crab stock

crab loaf

lemon mayonnaise


  • 5 cucumbers
  • 22g of Chardonnay vinegar
  • 5.6g of sugar
  • 1.6g of gellan gum type F
  • 1.4g of fine salt

crab salad

to garnish


  • Thermomix
  • Sous vide equipment
  • Micro scales
  • Hand blender
  • Food mixer with paddle attachment


This recipes requires several different elements, the majority of which can be made in advance and chilled. To make it easier to follow, we have given instructions on how to create each one, then instructions on how to finish, plate and garnish the dish when you're ready to serve. We recommend starting off with the pickled lemons as they need at least 3 days to pickle, then creating the rest of the elements a day or two in advance (apart from the salad, which should be made as close to serving as possible). Be sure to read the recipe through carefully before beginning – and good luck!
To make the pickled lemons: place the water and Chardonnay vinegar into a pan over a medium. Add the sugar then cook and stir until it dissolves. Set aside to cool. Once cool, place the lemons in a large vacuum bag and pour in 600g of the cooled pickling liquor. Seal and leave to pickle for 3 days. You will need 40g of the liquid for the dressing later, so don't discard it
  • 300ml of water
  • 210g of Chardonnay vinegar
  • 100g of caster sugar
  • 300g of lemon, ideally from Amalfi, thinly sliced and pips removed
To make the confit shallots: place the butter in a pan over a medium heat. Once melted, add the shallots and stir to combine. Cover with a cartouche and cook over a very low heat for 45 minutes until soft and very slightly caramelised. Drain and set aside to chill
To make the crab butter: crush the crab shells in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment or the end of a rolling pin, then place in a colander to drain. In a pan heat the grapeseed oil and add the crushed crab. Roast until a light golden colour, then turn the heat down and add the diced butter. Heat until the butter reaches 85°C, then remove from the heat, cover and leave to infuse for 1 hour. Pass through a fine sieve to collect the butter, discarding the shells, and set aside to cool
To make the crab dressing: combine the bergamot juice with 40g of the liquor from the pickled lemons and 120g of the crab butter (melted), whisking to emulsify. Store in the fridge until required – you will need 120g for this recipe
To make the crab stock: place the brandy and white wine into a large stockpot over a high heat and reduce to 175g. Meanwhile, cut the crabs in half and remove the gills. Crush the crab bodies in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment (or with the end of a rolling pin), then drain in a colander (reserving the juices)
Add 50g of the sunflower oil to a very large pressure cooker and heat until it reaches 180°C. Fry the crabs in batches until light golden in colour, then set aside. Add the remaining oil with the carrots, onions, mushrooms, leeks, celery and garlic and cook until soft. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for a further 5 minutes, then add the roasted crab, reserved juices and reduced alcohol. Add the water, bring to the boil and skim off any impurities, then seal and cook on full pressure for 2 hours
Pass the stock through a fine sieve, then through a double layer of muslin. Chill, then remove the layer of fat on the surface. Return to a large pan and reduce as quickly as possible until you have 1 litre of concentrated crab stock, skimming off any scum. Pass once again through a fine sieve and double layer of muslin, then chill. The stock can be kept in the freezer until required – you will need 250g for this recipe, but the rest can be used in other dishes
To make the crab loaf: place the cream in a pan with 250g of crab stock and gently heat to 85°C. Remove from the heat and add the chopped herbs. Cover and leave to infuse for 10 minutes, then strain (using the back of a ladle to get as much liquid out of the herbs as possible) and chill. Add the blitzed eggs and salt to the mixture and use a stick blender to fully emulsify and create a custard. Place the pieces of brioche on a tray and pour the crab custard over them
Place the tray into a vacuum chamber and seal on setting 1 (the lowest setting). As the pressure decreases the custard will start to aerate and rise. When it reaches the top, open the lid and turn the portions of brioche 90°. Close the lid and seal on setting 1 again. Do this 2 more times to ensure the brioche portions fully absorb the custard. Transfer the brioche to silicone moulds or a tight-fitting container and pour any excess crab custard over the top. Place a sheet of cling film over the top, gently pushing down on the brioche, and set aside in the fridge for at least 1 hour to continue the soaking process. This can be done up to 3 days in advance
To cook the crab loaves, preheat an oven to 100°C with 50% humidity. Fill a tray with water to create a bain-marie, then place the clingfilmed brioche (still in their moulds or container) in it. Cook until the internal temperature of the loaves is 66°C, then transfer to the fridge to chill until ready to serve
To make the lemon mayonnaise: place all the ingredients apart from the oil into the jug of a Thermomix. Set it to speed 3 with no heat and blitz to emulsify (you can also use a blender). Gradually incorporate the oil, scraping down the sides of the jug with a spatula as needed, until emulsified. Place in the fridge until required – you will need 120g of mayonnaise for this recipe, and any leftover has a shelf life of 3 days
To make the compressed cucumber: cut the cucumbers into 8cm lengths, then trim off the edges to square them off (reserve the trimmings). Use a mandolin to slice the cucumber to 4mm thickness around the heart, then place the slices into a vacuum bag so they lay flat and compress on the lowest setting. Pierce the bag and repeat the process, then remove the cucumber and cut into 4mm dice. Set aside until ready to plate – you will need 120g for this recipe
To make the cucumber gel: juice the cucumber trimmings until you have 140g. Combine the vinegar and sugar in a small pan, bring to the boil and set aside to cool. Pass the juice through a sieve into the jug of a Thermomix, add the salt and bring to 85°C on speed 3. Add the Gellan F and blitz for 10 seconds, then scrape the sides and blitz for a further 2 minutes on speed 8. Pour into a tray set over an ice bath to create a thin layer of gel, then place in the fridge to chill
  • 22g of Chardonnay vinegar
  • 5.6g of sugar
  • 1.6g of gellan gum type F
  • 1.4g of fine salt
Blitz the gel with the vinegar mixture, then place in a shallow container and compress in a vacuum sealer on the lowest setting. Allow the fluid gel to rise to the top, then stop. Repeat this process until the gel no longer bubbles, then pass through a sieve and place in the fridge until ready to serve. You will need 120g of gel for this recipe
To make the crab salad: mix all of the ingredients together with 120g of the diced compressed cucumber and set aside until ready to serve. You will need 540g of crab salad for this recipe
After completing all the elements of this dish, you should have the following: 12 chilled crab loaves, 540g of crab salad, 120g of cucumber gel, 120g of lemon mayonnaise, 120g of crab dressing and some pickled lemons (you will need 24 slices of pickled lemon to garnish)
When ready to serve, remove the brioches from their moulds and evenly caramelise all over in a pan with a splash of sunflower oil. Once browned all over, transfer to an oven and cook until the internal temperature reads 60°C
Meanwhile, mix the crab salad with 120g of the lemon mayonnaise and season. Cut each pickled lemon slice in half
To serve, season the crab loaves with salt and pepper and divide between plates. Top each loaf with 55g of crab salad and use a squeeze bottle to place 10g of the cucumber gel alongside. Arrange 4 halves of pickled lemon on top of the salad, then garnish with the monk’s beard, samphire, oyster leaves, coriander and sorrel. Season with a little rock salt then drizzle the crab dressing around each plate

Only a handful of chefs around the world can cook with the same complexity as Ashley Palmer-Watts, who was an integral part of Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck Group for twenty years. Responsible for creating the two-starred restaurant Dinner by Heston, he has since co-founded Artisan Coffee.

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