Like soup made with chicken or beef bones, tomato sauce—gravy in the parlance of South Philly—made with whole crabs has a richer, more profound flavor than just throwing some crab meat over pasta. Fresh cleaned blue crabs are ideal, but frozen are OK if that’s all you can find. If you’re on the West Coast, this recipe would also be delicious with Dungeness.
- Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot. Add the crabs and cook on each side until claws begin to turn red and the bodies begin to brown. Remove from crabs from oil and reserve.
- Add onions, garlic, and chile flakes and sauté for one minute. Season with kosher salt to taste. Cover and sweat over medium heat until onions begin to turn translucent, about six minutes.
- Add crabs back to pan and covered with canned tomatoes. Simmer uncovered until crabs are completely cooked, gravy has thickened, and the kitchen smells like crabs. Season with kosher salt to taste.
- Cook the pasta in heavily salted water according to package instructions.
- Remove crabs from gravy and arrange in a bowl. Drain the pasta and toss with desired amount of gravy. Garnish pasta with extra red pepper to taste, fresh basil, a drizzle of fancy olive oil, and grated pecorino. Serve pasta with bowl of crabs on the side.
Adam Erace is an award-winning food and travel writer who contributes to Travel + Leisure, Fortune, Food & Wine and many other publications. He is the co-author of the Palizzi Social Club and Laurel cookbooks and lives in South Philly with his wife and three maniacal rescue dogs. His new book, The Cocktail Workshop, comes out this fall.