Monday, April 26, 2010

Gillian Hirst's Sandcrab Lasagna

Sandcrab Lasagna
Home Cooking

My first and only previous taste of sandcrab lasagna was at Il Centro on Eagle St Pier. It's their signature dish and definitely deserves that title. I tried it and it blew my mind. It never really even occurred to me that I could recreate this dish at home but somehow, over the Anzac long weekend, I got the idea to try it.


I Googled 'sandcrab lasagna' online and Gillian Hirst's recipe popped up repeatedly so it seemed to me that this was the way to go. I e-mailed mum proposing my idea and she went out and bought some sandcrabs that day.

My grocery bag contents (excuse bargain purchases, am on a budget)

Though I thought the recipe would be really difficult to follow, it was surprisingly straight forward.

Sauces bubbling away

Basically, you make 3 simple sauces and do some layering. I halved the original recipe to make it serve 3 instead of 6. For the original quantities, click here.

Crabs in steamer

My mum steamed 2 sandcrabs with a bit of ginger and some shallots. The crabs weighed an average of 850g each and together, produced about 270g of meat. I suppose you could use canned crab meat but I've never tried that stuff before so couldn't comment on how it would work.

Extracting meat from crabs... a labor of love

Crab meat

Sandcrab Lasagna
Serves 3


For the bechamel
  • 30g butter
  • 1/6 cup plain flour
  • 1 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper
For the tomato sauce
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 diced onion
  • 1/2 clove garlic crushed
  • 400g can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp freshly chopped basil
  • 1 tsp Italian parsley
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
For the lasagna
  • 300g cooked crab meat
  • instant lasagna sheets (I prefer fresh)
  • fresh mozzarella cheese (optional)
  • chopped parsley, to serve
For the tomato cream sauce
  • 500ml fish stock
  • 60ml white wine
  • 250ml cream
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp tomato paste

1. Make the bechamel sauce by frying the butter and flour in a small non-stick saucepan until combined. Add the milk gradually and reduce the heat. Keep stirring until it forms a thick, white sauce. Remove from heat.
2. Add the parmesan cheese to the sauce and stir until incorporated. Season and set aside.3. To make the tomato sauce, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and cook the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent. Add the canned tomato and mash with a wooden spoon until saucy. Reduce the heat and simmer for around 20min.4. Add the basil, parsley and oregano to the tomato sauce and season with sugar, salt and pepper. Cook for an extra 2min and set aside.5. Mix 2 tbsp of the bechamel with the crab meat and mix and mash with your fingers.
6. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Start layering your lasagna in the dish. Start with a thin layer of tomato, a layer of lasagna sheets, a layer of crab meat, a layer of white sauce and repeat. End with white sauce. I topped with some torn pieces of fresh mozzarella because that's what I had in the fridge and er, because I like cheese.7. Pop your lasagna in the oven for 30min until the top is golden and bubbling. All the components are precooked so you really just want the lasagna sheets to cook and for the dish to heat evenly throughout.
8. While your waiting on the lasagna, make your tomato cream sauce. Combine the fish stock and white whine and boil until reduced to 1/3 the volume.
9. Stir in the cream and continue to boil until again reduced in volume, to about 1/2.10. Add the tomato paste and taste and season.
11. When the lasagna is done, let it rest for 5min or so and then serve with the tomato cream sauce and some chopped fresh parsley.

Even with my exceedingly low standards for food aesthetics, I admit that my photos are less than flattering. Dad (bless his soul) tried really hard to scoop out nice, defined portions of lasagna but failed abysmally. Basically, the whole pot got massacred into a sludge pile of red and cream.

DESPITE THIS, I will say unashamedly that this is the most delicious dish I have ever produced. The combination of sharp bechamel, tangy tomato sauce and decadent, fresh crab meat was just phenomenal. What really brought the dish together was the tomato cream sauce ladled on at the end.

Close-up of the slice (best view)

We had some sauce left-over at the end and my parents used to to serve with noodles and spinach the next day. It was simplistic but the sauce brought these 2 ingredients to a new level. If you read the recipe, you'll see that the sauce is little more than cream reduced with fish sauce + a bit of tomato paste. When it's dissected to that level, it sounds way unimpressive but trust me, when used well, the sauce works wonders.

Mashed up goodness

My parents aren't big on hearty Western food and dad openly dislikes anything tomatoey or tangy. Nonetheless, both RAVED about this lasagna. Mum is usually quite a sparse eater but she slurped up 2 servings with a happy smile and dad whinged about how there was clearly not enough to satisfy him (did you SEE how big the pot was??)

I'm far from being even a decent cook but I could pull this recipe off and it sounds impressive as something to serve your guests. I totally recommend.


  1. How does one successfully steam and extract meat from a sandcrab? A tutorial would be appreciated!

  2. I never heard anything like this before, sandcrab lasagna, sounds really interesting to me. Although it looks like a lot of work, I think it's really worth a try. I'm quite positive that my kids, who are big lasagna eaters, will have a blast with this new found lasagna recipe. Thanks for sharing by the way.

  3. Hi PJ! I'm not 100% on how to steam it but I think my mum just popped them on a plate with some ginger and shallots (that's supposed to eliminate fishiness/ocean smell) and then into the steamer for ~15-20min. Afterwards, you can wait for it to cool down. I believe the proper way to extract meat would be to use crab claws and your hands to pick the meat out. My parents worked as a team and just used whatever tools they had incl teeth, chopsticks and so on (chopsticks are great for pushing meat out of the legs). Obviously if you're serving to guests you wouldn't use teeth ;).

    Hi Lasagna Recipe (:D)! Definitely give it a go. The recipe was quite easy to be honest. The hardest part would be extracting the meat but you can get around that by purchasing canned crab meat.

  4. Thank you so much for the tips. I will definitely try this recipe. My hubby and I lived in Brissy for awhile in 2004 - 2005 (back when we were dating!) and he still craves Il Centro's sandcrab lasagne. We are actually seriously considering moving back there (maybe only partially because of the lasagne...) but it will be great to cook a version of the lasagne at home in Sydney in the meantime...

  5. I"ve been searching the web to try and find out how many the Gillian Hurst recipe would feed ... very excited to find your blog that told me that and gave me tips on making it (loved your photos - they made me smile!) will have to keep an eye on this blog and see what else you do!... thanks!

  6. Can i just say that Gillian Hirst used to work at Il Centro, so the Sandcrab Lasagna there is actually her recipe.

  7. So great that you have tried this. I just love the ll Centro dish and wondered if it was the same. I'm off to get the ingredients. I really think that fresh crab - not canned - is the way to go though. Thanks so much for all the effort.

  8. Hi Caroline...

    Good luck and let me know how it goes. I agree: fresh crab all the way. It's worth it.

  9. MY GOD, I love you. I am so making this, I love Il Centro's sandcrab lasange. How do you think your recipe compares, Cora - you reckon it is in fact the same recipe as what Il Centro seres?

  10. Hi Ally...
    Its been a long time since I made this or had the Il Centro version but I just remember at the time that I loved both. I don't recall the at-home version being much "inferior". Maybe a bit less refined like uglier presentation, less smooth sauce etc but the flavours were definitely top notch. I did read somewhere that the Gilian Hirst recipe is the one used at Il Centro, unless they've modified it since then. But it's hard to know what's real with food rumours! Whatever the truth may be, this is a worthwhile recipe to try though I can't stress enough the importance of using fresh crab :)

  11. My husband & I went to Il Centro last night for our wedding anniversary and with all the comments about sand crab lasagne, I knew I had to try it. Absolutely delicious BUT I found it was swamped in the tomato cream sauce which made the dish too heavy and rich. unfortunately when I got home I was ill several times. if i had my time again, I would have ordered the same dish but with a quarter of the tomato cream sauce.

  12. This will be the second time we have made this dish, spend a little extra time to reduce the cream sauce and it's fantastic !