Thursday, February 23, 2012

Buttery Crab Bread Pudding from The River Cottage Fish Book

A far nicer photograph from Food and Wine
@Kate Mathis
         When I came across this recipe in February’s Food and Wine, I tried to resist it.  With its glorious crabmeat peeking out from layers and layers of French bread and creamy egg-y custard, I though it would be far too rich, far too full of carbohydrates and just far too all the way around.  But then when I pointed it out to Andrew, he too had glommed onto the irresistibility of the dish.  So I made it.  And I am so glad I did!  It is not heavy at all. Its richness comes from the crab and not the custard.  Lemon juice lightens the whole dish and I confess to cutting back on the butter and using a delicious whole wheat baguette to cushion the carb count.  It was simply delicious served with a green  salad.  There were leftovers, which I brought to a friend and disappointed Andrew who was looking forward to another delicious go at it.  And where did this delicious concoction come from?

         You have to love someone whose name is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the co-author, with the aptly named Nick Fisher, of the cookbook Buttery Crab Bread Pudding came from, “River Cottage Fish Book” (Bloomsbury 2007).  The name conjurs up a bucolic image of the English countryside in all its Technicolor glory.  Mr. Fearnley-Whittingstall is indeed English and the English country background is indeed a reality. The chef has a fascinating background.  He went to both Eton and Oxford before settling into a culinary career as a celebrity chef, journalist, food writer and television personality.  And he has a fascinating nickname: Hugh Fearlessly-Eatsitall.  This was given to him for his completely eccentric cooking style showcased in a series called “Cook on the Wild Side.”  I won’t go into some of the unbelievable things the chef cooked on the series but think of Andrew Zimmern, the American star of “Bizaare Foods”, and you’ll get the picture. 
         I think we can all breathe sigh of relief that in 1997, Mr. Fearnley-Whittingstall decided to repair to his “River Cottage” where he focused his attention on becoming a champion of the slow food movement.  The former gameskeeper’s lodge in Dorset became the setting for 3 television series: “Escape to River Cottage”, “Return to River Cottage” and “River Cottage forever”. But it hardly stopped there.  Then came “The River Cottage Treatment”, “River Cottage Gone Fishing”, “The View from River Cottage”, “River Cottage Spring”, “River Cottage Autumn” and “River Cottage Winter’s on the way”.  If you are not already exhausted from this output, Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall then produced “River Cottage Everyday” and in August 2011, “River Cottage, Veg every day” came on the air. Whew.
         The only real regret I have is that I made this in the city where our baking dish selection is limited. So my version did not have the visual panache of the original photograph by Kate Mathis, pictured at the top of this post.  Instead, mine was not packed in.  It was considerably smaller than the Bon Appetit version, but my, was it good.  I cut the recipe back but the one I am publishing is for the full dish which is said to serve 8 people.  That would give everyone a serving that would likely make a reasonable appetizer or a light supper or lunch.  It’s so satisfying that you don’t need a lot.  And you can put it together in under a half hour before baking it for another half hour.  Here is the recipe:
Recipe for Buttery Crab Bread Pudding from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “River Cottage Fish Book”(with Nick Fisher (Bloomsbury 2007)
10 ounces lump crabmeat, picked over
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 stick unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing the dish
One 24-inch day-old baguette—ends trimmed, bread cut into 3/4-inch slices
4 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup half-and-half

Preheat the oven to 350° and butter a 9-by-13-inch ceramic baking dish. In a medium bowl, toss the crabmeat with the parsley, chives, lemon juice and cayenne. Season with salt and black pepper.
Butter each baguette slice and stand up the slices in the prepared baking dish. Using a spoon, tuck the crab mixture evenly between the slices of bread.

In a bowl, whisk the eggs with the milk, half-and-half, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. Pour the custard evenly over the bread and let stand for 10 minutes.
Bake the bread pudding for 30 minutes, until the top is lightly browned and the custard is set. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.


  1. Two words, OSCAR NIGHT!! This is it! Perfect, thank you Monte!

  2. I cannot WAIT to try this! I almost licked the computer screen, lol!

    1. It is a wonderful dish which somehow is rich and light at the same time. Enjoy!