30 days of Scottish food: Day 23 – Partans

30 days of traditional Scottish foods. Day 23 – partans, or brown crabs.

Day 23  - Scottish Brown Crabs Partans - 30 Days of Scottish Food


The brown crab (cancer pagurus) is the most common species landed in Scotland – over 10,000 tonnes each year. Between 12.5 cm and 30 cm across, with a reddish-pinky-brown shell and black tipped claws. Known as partans in Scotland – and partan’s taes are the claws.


The major fishing areas are the Hebrides, Sule, Papa, South Minch and Orkney. The crabs are caught in deep-water lobster pots or creels, with fresh fish bait. According to Seafood Scotland, there’s some concern the population is being overfished


The majority of partans are caught in the second half of the year. There’s no EU restrictions on fishing brown crab in Scotland, but boats landing them need to have a shellfish licence and there’s a minimum landing size of 140 mm CW to the north of 56°N and 130 mm CW to the south of 56°N. 


There’s evidence coastal communities in Scotland have been eating brown crab since at least 3,000 BC. And it’s dark liver meat is strong and succulent, while the white meat is more delicate than lobster.


A traditional Scottish dish for partans is the creamy broth Partan Bree, from the north-east of Scotland. Here’s Michael Smith’s velvet version, from BBC Scotland’s Kitchen Café.

Image credit: Scottish Crabs by Caterina Policaro, shared under a Creative Commons licence

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