I got crabs, lah!

Long have I wanted to macrab 1ke Chili Crab, Singapore style (apologies to my Malaysian relatives if this should be Chili Crab, Malaysia Style – I’m sure the battle lines are drawn). Chili crab is a deep, intense and blisteringly insane experience. All that focused cracking, pulling and sucking, coming up occasionally for beer and / or tea,  shell fragments from one end of the table to the other, meat under your fingernails, burning lips etc. What greater offering could you make to those you love. Alas, it would seem no crabs are available for commercial purpose in these here parts. The love is not forthcoming.

Last weekend we took the kids fishing down at the pier. It may have been the crappy bait, it may have been their excited screams, it may have been our total lack of skill. Whatever. We got nothing. Walking back to the car we passed a large group of Chinese people fishing in an unusual spot and as we were heading over to check it out, a man reeled in a crab on his line.  It was just a smallie, a little native sand crab not more than 10cm across the shell. I took my son across to have a look and lo and behold, they lifted the lid off their bucket and it was chock full of sand crabs. Now they had little English and I have no Chinese but we knew enough for them to offer me a bag of crabs and for me to accept. And that’s all I needed to know.

The Australian Sand Crab. Yes, you can eat it and (even better) yes, you can apparently also catch them. I am now officially harbouring a fantasy of catching a mass of crabs and making Chili Crabs for all when the Apollo Bay Kendo Club hosts its inaugural seminar. They lived a little while in the fridge, squeaking and bubbling and waving their wee claws, before I popped them in the freezer for half an hour. Preparing and cleaning them was pretty intuitive after cleaving them down the middle. The yucky bits are obvious but you really have to get your fingers under the shells to clean them out. They don’t have much meat in them at all but what there is incredibly sweet and delicious and the shells are great to suck on. The recipe that I’m about to give you comes from Wendy Hutton’s Green Mangoes and Lemongrass and its a really, really great one. I have made some adaptations based on the availability of ingredients late on a Saturday night in Apollo Bay.  This was an amazing dish: hot, visceral, interactive and celebratory.  So here it is: Singapore style chili crab, lah!

Singapore chili crab

  • About 1.5 kg live crabs (prepared as per the description of sand crabs above)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 finely minced red onion
  • 4 large red chilies, minced
  • 2 tbsp finely minced ginger
  • 6-8 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 3.5 litres chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup bottled chili sauce
  • 1/2 cup bottled tomato sauce
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp Chinese rice wine
  • 2 tsps salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp cornflour mixed with 3 tbsp water

Ginger Chilli Sauce

  • 4 large red chilies, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp finely minced ginger
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp water

To make the chili-ginger sauce, blend all the ingredients in a small food processor or spice grinder and set aside.

Heat the oil in a wok or large saucepan (I used a large saucepan) and add onion, ginger, garlic and chilies. Keep moving  over a medium heat for 3 minutes or until fragrant. Add the Chili ginger sauce, stock, chili sauce, tomato sauce, sugar, rice wine, salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and then drop back to a simmer for 10 minutes. Add the halved and cleaned sand crabs and cooked for about 5 minutes, stirring the pieces through the sauce. If you are using bigger crabs such as muddies, simmer the sauce for 2 minutes and cook the prices in the sauce for about 10 minutes. Then add the cornflour mix and stir through until the sauce clears and thickens. Finally, add the eggs and stit until set. Serve with rice or crusty french bread. Good with a cooling cucumber salad and a cold beer.

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