Crab gravy, a family tradition, now available in a jar

Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.
Photo | Adam Erace
It's right about this time of year that summer, humidity and all, starts to look really, really good. Alas, shore-birds, we're still a few months away from 85-and-sunny, but a taste of the summer (of an Italian summer, anyway) can be had at Iannelli's (1155 E. Passyunk Ave.). We told you about their cupcakes last week, now comes the word on their magical crab gravy. Crab gravy is what happens when Atlantic crabs are simmered long and slow in tomato sauce, a tradition at my grandparents' Ventnor flat every summer. Ideally, family fisherman/my cousin Joe Erace traps the crustaceans in the morning, Grandpop Mike preps them in the afternoon and Grandmom Ceil sautes and cooks them through in a bubbling vat of marinara by the time everyone's home from the beach and hungry for dinner. The scuttlers' ocean-y sweetness gives the gravy an uncommon complexity that's irresistible over spaghettini or angel hair with a big pinch of red peppers. (The actual crabs, stingy on meat, are cracked and picked through only after the pasta has been eaten.) It's a process, and no matter how many batches are frozen for winter, it's never enough.
Photo | Adam Erace
Aunt Lu's Crab Gravy
Great Aunt Lulu Erace-Williams (that's Pop's younger sis) occasionally makes crab gravy in the off-season with crustaceans she'll pick up in the Italian Market, and we were there for dinner not too long ago. Lu lives on the same Ellsworth block she, Mikey and their 14 siblings grew up, around the corner from Iannelli's. She's a fan of their tomato pie, but would probably rather quit smoking than buy anyone's jarred gravy, even theirs. I'm not that proud, and while I won't say Iannelli's crab gravy is as transcendent as my fam's, it is pretty close and satisfies a summertime craving in a flash with its pulpy body, bright tomato flavor and crabby sweetness. Eat it over pasta or use it in a braise for vegetables in it, as the pancetta/zucchini recipe indicates below.
Photo | Adam Erace
Crab gravy-braised zucchini with pancetta

Go Get This:

1 thick slice of pancetta, diced

1 tbsp olive oil

1/4 onion, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, smashed

1 sprig thyme

2 large zucchini, sliced into thin discs

1 teaspoon sherry vinegar

2 cups crab gravy

Red chili flakes, to taste

Salt and pepper, to taste

Now Do This:

In a large nonstick skillet, render the fat off the pancetta over medium-heat, turning occasionally to brown. Once evenly crisped, remove the pancetta and reserve.

Add the olive oil, garlic, thyme and onion and saute until onions are soft and translucent. Add zucchini and saute 5 minutes. Deglaze with sherry vinegar and add crab gravy. Cover and cook 15-20 minutes or until zucchini is tender. Serve garnished with crispy pancetta.

Ticket Stubs: Meal Ticket Weekly Recap, Jan. 31-Feb. 4 :: Meal Ticket :: Philadelphia City Paper
Posted 2011-02-07 11:13:41
[...] Adam Erace shares the Erace Clan’s crab gravy recipe. His grandmother has subsequently disowne... [...] 

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Posted 2011-02-02 14:29:37
[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Meal Ticket, Meal Ticket. Meal Ticket said: Iannelli's crab gravy, now available in jars for your home gravy-ing pleasure: [...] 

Posted 2011-02-02 10:40:50
I used to tag along with my best friend's family every summer to their shore house in Sea Isle. The best part was always the food, most notably his dad's spaghetti and crabs. That brininess from the crab does SOMETHING to the gravy that's just unreal. I would forgo the crab meat altogether-the sauce was glory enough.

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