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Tempting food from the Pyrenees.  By Gerald Hirigoyen with Cameron Hirigoyen (Harper Collins, 1999)

This book of Basque cuisine, comes via America, but the journey is worthwhile. This is a book that certainly makes you want to eat. For now, I feel Hirigoyen's "Shepherd's Pie of The Sea' as he refers to his Crab and Potato Gratin, is a curiously tempting proposition. Those not in the Basque area could substitute hot paprika for the pimento d'Espelette.



Piled high in its own cleaned shells, txangurro (stuffed spider crab) makes one of the most evocative dishes of the Basque coastal region.  The spider crab has very long legs but no claws, and is found all aong the coast.  This recipe challenges tradition by the addition of potatoes, but I like the way they offset the richness of the crab.  As a result, I've dubbed this dish my "Shepherd's Pie of the Sea".  If you are cooking and cleaning your own crab to make this dish, reserve the shells to use for presentation.  Otherwise, I like to use a cazuela, or earthware serving dish.

Serves 4 to 6


  • 1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and coarsley chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup warm milk
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/3 cup finely diced onion
  • 1/3 cup diced roasted red bell peppers
  • 1 pound fresh crab meat
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 tablespoons snipped fresh chives
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon piment d'espelette
  • 3 tablespoons fine dried bread crumbs



  1. Preheat the broiler
  2. Place the potatoes and garlic cloves in a large saucepan.  Cover with water, and bring to a boil.  Cook until soft throughout, 15 to 20 minutes.  Drain, spread them on a sheet pan, and place under the broiler to "dry out" for 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Scoop potatoes and garlic into a food mill and grind over a large bowl (or mash the potatoes and garlic together, using a large fork). Stir in the milk and 6 tablespoons butter; set aside.
  4. Warm the olive oil in a large saute pan.  Add the onion and pepper and saute until translucent, 4 to 5 minutes.
  5. Add the crab and white wine, and bring to a boil.  Cook until the wine has evaporated completely.  Remove from the heat, add the chives and basil, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Add the piment d'Espelette and mix the ingredients together well.
  6. Place the mixture in an ovenproof cazuela, or in four individual crab shells.
  7. Sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over the top of the crab and potato mixture and dot with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter on top.  Place under the broiler until the surface is lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes.