OK, we’re not even there. We’re actually on a motu (a coral island) off Moorea.
Our pareo-clad hostess has seated us at a rustic table on the sand, just a couple of metres from the water’s edge. And we’re about to deal with a huge platter of speckled ruby red coconut crab.
But before we start to hammer open the claws (forget regular crab tools, these fellows are whoppers: we have each been equipped with a small mallet and a block of wood to get at the sweet flesh) our Polynesian hostess, Maire, wife of French-born chef, JP, shows us an even greater delicacy.
“Before we prepare the crab we feed it on coconut for days,” she says, cracking opening a section as big as the body of a normal crab. “When we cook it, this – the crab’s liver – becomes our foie gras!”
Crab liver? Not force-fed goose liver? Could this be the South Pacific’s answer to an ethical dilemma?
At Maire’s urging we dip our knives into the creamy mass and spread it on crusty French bread. It turns out to be just like the real thing, too, but with the faintest hint of coconut, as you’d hope. Who cares that we never knew crabs had livers until this moment?
Coconut crabs are the world’s largest arthropod. That’s any beastie with a shell, not a spine. Technically they are in the same classification as spiders and scorpions and a whole host of other things I don’t want to eat and which probably don’t have livers anyway.
As you’d expect from its name, the coconut crab is happiest hanging around coconut palms, of which its habitat – the Indian and Pacific Oceans – has many. While they can climb trees, they wait until the coconuts fall to the ground before relishing them.
Just imagine how a quiet beach walk would turn scary if you encountered one of these individuals as they often measure a metre across and are said to weigh as much as 16 kilograms.
Predictably, coconut crabs eat coconut, which would be a problem for them if they were not strategically equipped with pincers strong enough to crack the shells and allow them access to the sweet milky flesh. Comparing my fingers, arms, legs to the toughness of a coconut, suddenly I’m glad the one I have encountered on this beach is safely cooked and glowing temptingly on my table!
As we get our mallets and stones to work on the flesh of the crab, it turns out to be tender, delicious and of course plentiful. Some say it’s an aphrodisiac.
I know I have certainly been smitten by its foie gras. Just my luck to fall for something so rare, so distant, I may never come across it again, I think.
Oh, well, that’s love for you, I guess!