Saturday, August 15, 2015

Feeling crabby and loving it!

Barbecue crab at Newton Circus, Singapore

I'm a huge fan of crabs, in any form. When I was pregnant with my son, B, I ate huge amounts of it, having been told that it was full of nutrients good for the baby. That was probably why he was all over the place like a crab, arms and legs going every which way when he was little! For many years, I felt guilty every time I ate crabs (as often as once a week!) believing it was raising my cholesterol levels. Now that the FDA has officially announced that the food we eat doesn't really affect our levels of LDL, I can merrily continue eating these and other crustaceans. You know how some people want their favorite things placed in their coffin during their funeral? I've told my friends that I want a crab claw sticking out of mine!

When I'm asked what my favorite dish it, I invariably say crabs, but if I had to choose what kind of crab dish, I'd be hard pressed to pick one. Black pepper crab in Singapore is right up there. They manage to do it so that the pieces of crab are coated in a thick, black pepper sauce that restaurants elsewhere can't seem to replicate. Penang style wok-grilled crabs are another favorite. I am pleasantly surprised that every time I go to Sea Pearl in Tanjong Tokong, they have a choice of crabs with or without roe. While on the small side, they're utterly fresh and delicious, just plain grilled. Some of the freshest, sweetest crab I've ever tasted was in Barcelona. Steamed, with no adornment or sauce, it was utterly delicious.
Plain steamed crabs in Botafumeiro, Barcelona
There isn't a crab dish that I'll turn down. Different versions of chill crab, steamed crab in Chinese wine, crab fried in spices and curry leaves or with salted egg yoke. Every time I'm in Melbourne, I have to have the crab noodles. Served with braised egg noodles and a creamy sauce, it's a standout dish.

A friend recently cooked crab curry for me in Penang. Steeped in a blend of fresh spices with a little coconut milk and tamarind, it was mind-blowingly good, especially since the crab was so fresh.

Plain barbecued crabs is another favorite. B introduced me to Singapore's version of it at Newton Circus. Both of us had one enormous crab each and it was finger-licking good. I used to barbecue mud crabs at home because for me, the taste of the crab, uncoated by any sauce, is really the ultimate for crab lovers. But it's getting harder and harder to find live crabs in the market, and I have to make do with a local variety called flower crab or blue swimmer crab when I do cook it.

Fried crab with rice vermicelli is something I had only heard about and not actually tasted. But when it was described to me, it sounded ambrosial and so I tried my hand at making it. I still have no idea whether what I make sounds like the original dish, but it tastes pretty good and is relatively easy to make. What I discovered was that while eaten when freshly cooked, it tastes great, it's even better when enjoyed as a leftover dish. The flavors really meld together and infuse the entire dish, and I can happily dine on it for a couple of days after cooking it.

Fried crab with rice vermicelli
 Fried crab with rice vermicelli
(To feed 4 hungry people)

4 crabs (It doesn't really matter what kind of crab. Substitute with prawns if crabs are unavailable)
20 gm flour (any flour will do)
200 gm rice vermicelli (meehoon)
200 gm beansprouts, washed and drained
100 gm dried shrimp
10 gm curry leaves, removed from stem
4 dried chillies (add more if you like the dish more spicy)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
fish or soy sauce to taste
oil for frying

Clean and cut up crabs into large pieces. Have your fish seller do this for you if you are squeamish. Pat them dry.
Heat up oil in pan. You can either use a wok or frying pan, but fill it up with 1-2 inches of oil.

Coat pieces of crab with flour (this is mainly to prevent the hot oil from splashing onto you) and fry them till golden brown. It doesn't matter if they're not fully cooked. They'll continue cooking when added to the rice vermicelli. Set aside.
Soak the rice vermicelli in boiling water till soft and drain.
Soak the dried shrimp in hot water and drain. Set aside.
Add 3 tablespoons of oil to pan.
Add the dried shrimp, curry leaves and dried chillies and fry till fragrant.
Add the minced garlic and continue frying for 1 minute.
Add the drained, softened rice vermicelli and fry for 2 minutes.
Add oyster sauce and fish (soy) sauce, tasting the vermicelli as you go along. Don't add too much fish sauce as the crabs tend to be salty.
Add the bean sprouts and fry for 2 minutes.
Add the crabs and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.
Cover the pan and continue cooking for about 3-5 minutes.
Serve with cut chillies or chilli sauce, although it's perfect on its own.

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