This recipe is a two-step process: Making the sauce base and then the sauce itself. You can make the base a day ahead if you'd like. Any crab will do here, but I use a combination of red crabs, rock crabs and Dungeness crabs. The only tricky ingredient here is ouzo, which is a Greek anise-flavored liquor. Most liquor stores have it, but you can sub in sambuca, raki, Pastis, Pernod or any other anise-flavored liqueur. Still can't find it? Go with brandy; that's what my brother-in-law does.
Shells from 2 or 3 Dungeness crabsor 4 to 6 large rock crabs, or 8 blue crabs
Tops from 1 fennel bulb,chopped
1/2cupchopped fennel bulb
1heaping tablespoon tomato paste
A 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
2cupsof the crab sauce base
Tabasco garlic-pepper sauce to taste,or other hot sauce
Chives,green onions or parsley to garnish
To make the sauce base, put the onions and olive oil in a stockpot and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent, about 6-8 minutes. Add the crab shells and the garlic and stir to combine. Use a potato masher to smash the crab shells into small pieces. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes.
Add the bay leaves, the tops from the fennel bulb, ouzo and a healthy pinch of salt. Add enough water to cover everything by 1 inch. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 hour. Turn off the heat and pick out as much of the solids as possible, making sure you save the liquid. Strain the liquid through a paper towel set in a colander. Reserve.
To finish the sauce, heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or other large, wide pot over medium-high heat. Saute the onions and chopped fennel until they are soft and translucent, about 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute.
Mix in the tomato paste and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring often, until it darkens and turns the color of brick. Add the ouzo, the tomatoes and 2 cups of the crab sauce base. Stir well and bring to a simmer. Taste for salt and add the Tabasco to taste. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time.
Boil your pasta. Once the pasta is ready, add the crabmeat to the sauce and stir gently. Mix the pasta with a little of the sauce, then portion it out. Top with more sauce, and garnish with chives or parsley.
Once you make this sauce, it will last up to 3 days in the fridge before it starts to get funky.