Cooking With Canned Crab Taught Me A Nifty New Pasta Trick

One night, I was jonesing hard for any sort of seafood pasta. Clam linguine, shrimp fra diavolo, mentaiko spaghetti—if it lived in the sea, it could nestle in my bowl of noodles. So the idea of crab plus angel hair sounded exceptionally delicious on a cold winter's night.

There was only one problem.

I wasn't about to spend $50 on King crab leg meat from the waters off the Aleutian Islands. What I did have in my pantry, however, was a $4 can of crab meat, the crap tin found on the supermarket shelf next to the baby smoked oysters.

The Takeout prides itself on stretching what's in our meager larders. Surely, we could piece together something halfway delicious. So I solicited the chef at one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago, Kevin Hickey of The Duck Inn (their rotisserie duck is perhaps my favorite preparation and presentation of roast duck, anywhere).

I presented Hickey with my dilemma. I wanted to throw something together in 10 minutes involving angel hair pasta, canned crab meat, and whatever was in my cupboards.

His first suggestion was taking tomato paste (the stuff in a tube) and slowly caramelizing it in olive oil over a low heat for 10 minutes.

"It's one of my favorite things to do," Hickey told me. "You slow cook tomato paste, constantly moving it, stirring it until it takes on color. It's gonna bring out flavors that maybe wasn't there, add a depth of flavor and a lot of umami."

Once the tomato paste gets nice and caramelized, Hickey suggested throwing in a dash of cold chicken stock, which will turn the paste into a pan sauce. After that, add a big glob of butter, on which you warm the crab meat, then throw your cooked angel hair into the pan with a generous splash of salted pasta water. Lastly, chop up whatever herbs are in the fridge drawer—parsley, chives, tarragon—plus a crack of black pepper, and bon appetit.

So that's exactly what I did. As any chef would suggest, I tasted as I went along. I realized it needed a bit more salt, as well as a squeeze of lemon to balance out the sweetness of the caramelized tomato paste. I also drizzled some good olive oil to finish.

How was it? Not bad! Even though the canned crab was subpar, the idea of slow-caramelizing tomato paste + butter + lemon + protein was a technique I'm glad I now have in my back pocket. And now you do, too.

Hey Takeout readers! Any thoughts on building on this idea? Any suggestions on an easy seafood pasta dish?