As Valentine's Day is but tomorrow and because I'm in a generous holiday mood, let me tell you how to thoroughly impress and fully satiate your respective loved ones. And it'll work on those whom you're trying to make an impression on for the first time as well. Intrigued?
If you live anywhere around the tropical top end of Australia, slap on your trusty Akubra (the one studded with crocodile teeth), hop into you beat up tinnie (aluminium dinghy), avoid the angry and hungry cousins of those crocs you'd extracted teeth from, and go catch yourself a good sized muddie (mud crab)...
Failing the above, simply mortgage your house so to be able to afford to get down to your similarly trusty fishmonger or seafood purveyor and secure yourself a large live mud crab of around 1.2-1.5 kg. This morning, lively and extremely vicious looking specimens were an eye-popping $36.90 per kg at the popular Charis Seafoods on the Gold Coast in Queensland. Whether slightly cheaper or dearer, a good sized individual would probably cost you around the $50 mark, but your Valentine is worth it right?
Once back in your kitchen (of course it's all about food!), either dunk the crab into a generous slurry of ice (water chilled thoroughly with loads of ice cubes) or into the freezer for 20-30 minutes to put the crab well and truly to sleep so as to avoid cruelty, and any chance of losing parts of your extremities to its crushing claws. The next steps are not for the weak or squeamish but you'll have to properly rinse the crab under running water, then remove its carapace (give this a quick rinse and retain for cooking) and discard all of the grey gill section (known colloquially as the dead man's fingers). Remove the two large claws from the rest of the body then using a sturdy knife, divide each claw into half at the joint and chop the body of the crab into four quarters. Next, crack all of the crab's heavily shelled joints and claw sections with confident sharp blows using a heavy steel kitchen mallet or hammer (but avoid over shattering the shells). Set all crab pieces aside ready for cooking and follow the simple recipe below for the rest of the ingredients needed to prepare the world renown Singapore Chilli Crab!
1.2-1.5 kg cleaned mud crab pieces
2 eggs (beaten)
1 Tbs fresh ginger (finely julienned)
2 stalks spring onion (roughly chopped)
8 Tbs oil
Sauce (mix together):
1 Tbs sugar
1-2 tsp salt (to taste)
4-5 Tbs tomato ketchup (Heinz)
Rempah or chilli paste (blended or pounded together): (edited)
2 large slices ginger
2 large cloves garlic
6-8 large fresh red chillies (depending on heat and to taste, but dish should have some heat)
8-10 red shallots
2 fresh kaffir lime leaves (finely slivered)
1 lemongrass stalk (use the tender inner leaves and bulb, roughly chopped)
1 thumb-sized knob galangal (outer skin scraped away)
1 thumbnail sized piece fermented shrimp paste or belacan (dry roasted)
Heat large wok until very hot, add in 6 Tbs oil and stir-fry crab pieces for several minutes until coated in oil and shells turned just slightly orange, then remove. Add further 2 Tbs oil to wok and fry ginger and the rempah until fragrant. Return crab to wok and quickly toss, then add the sauce mixture and stir. Add 2 capfuls of Xiao Tsing wine (chinese cooking rice wine) or sherry and a dash of water to deglaze, return to the boil and cover wok to cook for 5 minutes. Lower the heat and stir in eggs to thicken the sauce and nicely coat the crab pieces. Dish onto a large platter and serve immediately!
(Recipe modified slightly from Mrs Lee's Cookbook by Mrs Lee Chin Koon, Eurasia Press. This is an invaluable reference for authetic and unadulterated Singaporean Nonya recipes authored by the mother of Singapore's most illustrious statesman and former Prime Minister, Lee Kwan Yew).
Let me add that you simply cannot get the same enjoyment from Singapore chilli crab at a fine dining restaurant compared to tucking in at home (or at a hawker or street corner stall when in Singapore), although some such establishments do offer it (see Pearl Restaurant Richmond's ode to the full moon). If dining on mud crabs at Pearl, I dare say that you'll discover that I'm really not joking about pawning the house! But back to tackling chilli crab at home, you'll be able to forget about any table niceties, arm yourselves simply with a nutcracker and get down and dirty with your fingers! In Singapore, the dish is usually served with mantou (or chinese steamed buns) to mop up the wonderful crabby and eggy chilli sauce with once you're done with the crab but crispy grilled baguettes can be a worthy substitute.
As for Valentine's night following your mud crab meal, you'll look across the table at your partner and see a goofy and fully contented grin with chilli crab sauce thoroughly smeared over both hands and on their face, and know that there'll be enough euphoria left over that they'll be putty in your hands for the rest of the evening!