Monday, July 25, 2011

Recipe: 'S-crab-tacular, 's-crab-tacular!

Crustaceans in the vernacular.

If there is one thing I’ve learnt from my shameless indulgence in a glut of reality cooking shows (ranging from Masterchef Australia to Masterchef-across-the-Tasman-and-every-other-continent-but-Antartica), it is that the mark of a successful amateur chef lies in a canny culinary ancestry. Never been to cooking school? Doesn’t matter when you’ve been generating gnocchi with nonna since the nursery — or if Junior Masterchef is anything to go by, since your first lip-smacked “Nyum nyum!”. Been working in an utterly-unrelated industry for yonks? Who cares when your produce-producing parents taught you to churn cheese with your right hand and sweat shallots with the left? As far as the cameras are concerned, it’s been time well-spent nurturing the blooming bud of your inner inheritance.

Wok Fried Black Pepper Crab

It is therefore to my endless envy and annoyance that I had the genetic misfortune of being born into a family big on the consumption end of the meal, but with limited interest in the creation side of things. It is a thin tin of recipes that I have taken from the family home, mother having happily surrendered stove duty to my aunt for the first 18 years of my life, and my aunt in turn being of the philosophy that a half-pound of pork plonked in a pot of boiling water is fab feed for a family of five — a powerful propensity for motion sickness means she hasn’t ventured outside the home in almost three decades and is still waiting for the price of pork to fall back to “five cents, maybe seven a catty”. This perhaps explains my ardent adoration of Mr. Gordon Ramsay and Ms. Amy Beh, my kitchen god-parents.

Every now and then however, I am caught by a wind of food nostalgia and it whips me back into the child hungrily watching from a safe corner in the kitchen, wielding a Barbie distractedly and unconsciously scraping tidbits onto the table of my memory. Such was the case last weekend when I spied with my little eye a delectable blue creature that swims. And I don’t mean Hayden Quinn in his Cronulla budgie smugglers.

Blue swimmer crab

Wok Fried Black Pepper Crab

(Recipe adapted from Matt Moran’s on Masterchef)


4 whole blue swimmer crabs
3/4 cup vegetable oil for frying
4 tablespoons black peppercorns
8 cloves garlic, sliced
1 big chilli, sliced (or 2 if you are spicily inclined)
8 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 teaspoons castor sugar
500ml water
1 bunch of spring onions, finely sliced on the diagonal
1 bunch coriander, leaves picked


1. To prepare the crabs, twist their claws off. Prise open the shell from the back.

2. Take out the gills and mustard. Cut the crab bodies into two.

2. Heat up the vegetable oil in the wok (I used a large pot) until smoking. Add the crabs and sauté quickly until their colour turns to orange. This should take 1-3 minutes. Remove the crab immediately. Some small bits of crab may have fallen in the oil. Leave them in there as this will add flavour.

3. Putting the crab aside, add the black peppercorns, chilli and garlic to the wok/pot and cook for 1 minute until fragrant. Speedily mix in the soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, and water (hence the need for a mise en place).

4. Return the crab to the wok/pot. Bring to the boil then simmer for 5-7 minutes. Mix in the spring onion in the last minute.

5. Serve with coriander sprinkled on top.

The stuff of ‘nyum nyums’! This was a great and very easy recipe.

Oddly enough the lessons I’ll never need again are the ones I savour most. Like how to stand squelching my toes in muddy slippers squinting into a Styrofoam box of caught crawling crabs. How mum would poke them with a stick to find the feistiest. How to tease a wily escapee out from under the piano by hooking onto its raffia-bonded claws with a rolled-out wire clothes hanger. How aunt would kill them by stabbing a chopstick quickly into the flap underside. How she hated being the one to have to end their lives.

How I never thought I would one day miss the taste of tasteless pork soup.