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One French word: araignée, a French recipe: crabe mayonnaise

Araignée, feminine noun (une araignée, l’araignée, des araignées) = spider (pronounced array-ñay, no particular stress).

Une toile d’araignée = a spider’s web

A French saying: Araignée du soir, espoir; araignée du matin, chagrin. = Spider seen in the evening brings hope, spider seen in the morning brings unhappiness.

But most important for my purposes here, araignée de mer (literally sea spider) = a spider crab.

Live spider crabs

It is the season for spider crabs here in Brittany at the moment. I bought one yesterday evening from a fisherman’s wife for 3€15 (about 4US$ or £2.75). Not even the price of a steak. And so much more pleasure. It weighed 790gr, most of which is shell of course. It was one-person portion size, and I have to say that for the very first time I really appreciated  why people say that spider crabs are so much better than ordinary crabs. The meat was really sweet. (The two pictured above were given to me by my neighbour last Spring.)

Now I know I’m going to lose a few friends here. I bought it alive, and cooked it in a very large pan of boiling sea-salted water (15 minutes from the time the water came back to the boil). I can hear a lot of you saying “How could she?”  Well, very easily is the answer.

And now it’s my turn to sound off – I think it hypocritical (unless you are a very strict vegetarian or vegan) to squirm and go pale when someone talks of actually killing something to eat it. It’s too easy to go and buy two plastic wrapped chicken breasts at your local supermarket; they were alive once you know, someone else killed them. If everyone had to kill, pluck and prepare their own dinner, we’d eat a sight less meat.

So, back to the spider crab, I have no qualms about cooking seafood. I prefer to do it myself and be sure exactly when it was cooked and how fresh it was. Crab should be cooked at least two hours before it is due to be eaten so that it can cool if you are eating it with mayonnaise.  In France it is difficult to find picked crab meat, we always sit down with a whole beast in front of us and eat in a very basic and almost prehistoric fashion, get very messy and make lots of noise.

Cooked spider crabs

As far as home made mayonnaise (pronounced maa-yon-nez) is concerned, it’s really very easy, especially since the invention of the hand held mixer! Before it was much more strenuous. Home-made mayonnaise does not keep since it contains raw egg (one day in the fridge is the limit), so only make the quantity you think you will use immediately. All the ingredients and the bowl should be at room temperature.

You will need :

  • one very fresh egg yolk
  • ¾ tsp French mustard
  • a couple of pinches of table salt
  • ½ tsp wine vinegar
  • about 175ml of olive oil, or corn or peanut oil, or a mixture of the two

The oil is really a question of personal taste. Olive oil makes a strong, dark coloured mayonnaise, suitable for eating with an aïoli (cold vegetables and fish) for example. Corn oil makes a more neutral tasting mayonnaise.


  1. Choose an appropriate bowl, fairly deep so that the oil does not spatter all over the place when you mix. Place a wet dishcloth on the kitchen counter under the bowl, it will prevent it from migrating from the vibration of the mixer.
  2. Break the egg and put the yolk into the bowl, saving the white for another preparation.
  3. Add the mustard, salt and vinegar and stir. Leave for a minute or so for the mustard to “cook” the yolk.
  4. With the mixer in one hand and the oil in a pouring jug in the other, start mixing at high speed, but only let a tiny trickle of oil run into the bowl. Stop pouring often to make sure the oil is being well incorporated into the egg.
  5. Continue in this fashion until all the oil has been used up and the mayonnaise is very thick.
  6. Should it not be thick enough, put it in the fridge for half an hour, remove it and mix again (but add no more oil). It should thicken.
  7. Should it turn or separate, stop what you are doing, put another egg yolk into another bowl, and incorporate slowly the “turned” mayonnaise into the new egg yolk, as if you were starting over again. Well you are starting over again. When this is done, continue with any oil that is left.
  8. Taste and if necessary rectify the seasoning.

Here is a video in French which shows you how to make mayonnaise. Have a look even if your French isn’t good: a) it’s easy enough to understand and b) your French might improve. But two things I would say about the video: I think she puts too much mustard, and you can see from her bowl sliding all over the place how useful it is to put a wet dishcloth underneath it.

Home made mayonnaise is so much nicer than shop bought; and you can mix chopped herbs with it once it is completed, to make green mayonnaise, or crushed garlic, or paprika, or chopped gherkins and capers to make tartare sauce, your imagination is the limit.

Last night’s crabe mayonnaise

Spider crab and mayonnaise, heaven. But hard boiled eggs are good too, or left over white fish or shrimp.

Bon appétit.


About OneFrenchWord

I was a professional linguist and have been a life-long foodie. I am now lucky enough to be retired and free to roam the beaches around my home at the tip of the Finistère (Brittany, France). Writing is occupying a larger place in my life, with this blog and a children's book in preparation. I shall feel much happier calling myself a writer when I have published a book. And so posts on OneFrenchWord will be published first as an e-book, my ambition being to see a glossy volume on French language and cuisine in print some day. So keep reading, and snap up the book when it appears!

5 responses »

  1. My mum cooked spider crab wasn’t alive though..but I feared when she put it in boiling water it would come alive again and jump out..I was young *he he*
    But it did taste amazing I will say :)
    Awesome recipe :)

  2. I had the opposite experience of originalapple!!! My mom had a friend whose husband was a fisherman. She gave us a crab one day, and we thought it was cooked!!! Imagine our horror when it started moving. No problem, boiled the water and in it went. But this shows how we all become so citified. (is that a word?) By the way this incident happened in 1955!!! Aside: I love crab; I can see the crab boats from my window. They start in November and continue until March.

  3. Well of course I can’t tell anything about crab to someone who lives in SF! I just read on internet that there are 350 different types of crab (i’m trying to compete with your snail blog!).

  4. I would always prefer to cook my own crab but here, just about as far from the sea as you can get in France, that’s not a possibility. Hence – I never buy crab. A pity – I love it.


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