Degree of difficulty:
MEDIUM TO HIGH (processing crabs is messy work).
Will do again?
YES, when the stars align (ie right price, right time, right mood). Certainly tasted good, and at a fraction of restaurant prices.
“They’re all male….but they’re A-grade males!” That was Chris’s emphatic answer to my gender question.
I did a double-take at my Burwood fishmonger’s. His live mud crabs were making eyes at me while waving their feelers in a come-hither way. A well-priced $21.99/kg and – crucially – still very frisky.
Choosing fleshy crabs
I pressed my nose against the glass, all the better to see whether the pincers had a pitted and mottled surface and worn molars. Never mind that these were eggless males; were their pincers filled with meat (yay) or air/water (boo)?
My father taught me to look out for a battle-scarred shell. Those are signs of use, meaning that the crab has had its shell for some time and is more likely to have grown fleshy inside. Weighing the crab won’t necessarily help as water is heavy too.
These boys passed the test. Either they had lived in their shells for a decent length of time, or they’d lived a short but untrammelled life of aggression in them. I went home with a cable-tied, paper-wrapped pair of mud crabs.
So an official SINGAPORE CHILLI CRAB DAY was declared in our household.
My 9-year-old daughter watched as MOTH (Man of the House), ahem, processed the crabs. She didn’t flinch. She listened as he explained that all meat we eat comes from an animal that must be killed. She understood but was unfazed (cue relief), and remained keen to sample the dish.
“Starve while eating.”
That’s a Korean saying. I relate to it well. It applies to eating labour-intensive, low-yield foods like crabs, or perhaps a very seedy custard apple. I’m notoriously slow when it comes to eating crabs. MOTH thinks I’m a joke. Possibly because I try to keep 7 fingers clean (my philosophy: always leave one non-greasy hand in case the phone rings or children need attention), and I dig out the flesh with a pointy chopstick instead of cracking my tooth enamel on the shell.
It was my daughter’s first time eating a piece of crab with shell. We used to give her shell-less morsels of flesh, but were rather too engrossed in our own eating on this occasion. So we handed her a pincer and told her to go at it with all her fingers. She did an admirably comprehensive job, even managing to extract – intact – that tenderest, sweetest sliver of wobbly flesh from the sharp ends of the pincer.
Having enjoyed her first pincer, my daughter asked for another. She proceeded to remove all bits of shell, ending up with a delectable pile of crab meat and sauce on her plate of rice. But less than halfway through it, she announced that she was full! Well! Guess who got to hoover up her freshly picked crab meat?
And I thought it’d be a good 15 years before my children would de-shell crab for me to eat.
I checked not 1 but 5 chilli crab recipes. The souring agent is always tomato sauce, sometimes with tamarind and vinegar added.
My PPP (Pure Peranakan Pal), who has been cooking all sorts of complicated nonya dishes since he was 12, resolutely refuses to thicken his chilli crab sauce with cornflour. He relies only on beaten eggs, and I took a leaf out of his book.
Invariably, there was much more sauce than crab. The next day, I bought some jewfish cutlets from my trusty fishmonger, and simmered it in the leftover sauce. The finely-textured, soft flesh of the jewfish worked a treat with the punchy sauce.
Ahh, chilli crab. Truly a dish that keeps on giving.
You’ll notice this blog post doesn’t contain a recipe. That’s because all Making Makan posts are for the casually curious, and just for kicks, not for serious instruction. More about this on the Making Makan: Fun Pics, Not Recipes post.
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