Lusciously sauced crabs

If YOU have been following this column, you would have noticed that we often look at seasonal events around the world and try to share the culinary experience of various regions.

As Singapore is celebrating its independence day tomorrow, it is only appropriate that we pay tribute to its contribution to world cuisine.

Singapore has gone to great lengths to prove its claim that chilli crab originated from the island nation and that it was invented by a couple who used bottled tomato and chilli sauces as part of the ingredients in 1956.

The recipe has since evolved and the current version includes egg as a thickener for the sauce.

The recommended species for this recipe is mud crab but any type of crab can be used.

Flower crabs are preferred if the dish needs to be halal. They are also more easily available at the market because they cannot survive out of water.

The other crab species is usually sold live in special cages. As such, fishmongers require them to be ordered in advance so they can make arrangements for delivery and storage.

You need about 1kg of crabs for this recipe, which is about two mud crabs or three to four flower crabs.

When handling live crabs, do not remove the rubber band around their claws before killing them.

The method of cleaning any type of crab is the same.

The first step is to break open the triangular piece of apron from the bottom shell of the crab.

Then, insert your thumb into the cavity where the apron was broken off and pull the top carapace off.

Although the method is the same, it is easier to do this with the flower crab.

The opened carapace will reveal the crab’s gills and organs, which you then have to remove.

You may keep the roe and the green or yellow mustard, which are the hepatopancreas (or the liver and pancreas) of the crab.

If the mustard is black, grey or brown, wash them off because they could be contaminated.

Break off the claws and you will be left with four legs on each side of the carcass.

With a sharp knife, cut the carcass into quarters, with two legs attached to each quarter.

You may also cut off the pointed tips of the legs and back swimmer or leave them on.

Then with the back of the knife, crack the shells on the legs as well as the claws and knuckles.

Start cooking by toasting belacan in a dry wok before adding oil to sauté the spice blend.

You can omit this step if you are using belacan powder because it is already toasted.

Any garlicky sweet chilli sauce may be used for this recipe, although I find that Thai chilli sauce is much too sweet and Sriracha much too spicy.

The most distinctive trait of chilli crab is its fluffy sauce, which is achieved by turning off the stove before adding eggs so that they cook into streaks of clouds across the sea of red sauce.

Traditionally, chilli crab is served with steamed mantou but fried mantou has now become the norm.

Steamed or fried, the bun is the right vehicle to soak up the sauce that has a balance of sweet, sour, salty and spicy.

Chilli crabIngredients20g belacan

½ cup cooking oil

30g tamarind pulp + ½ cup water

1½ cups water

2 mud crabs or 4 flower crabs, about 1kg

¼ cup tomato puree

½ cup chilli sauce

1 tsp sugar

¼ tsp salt

2 tsp cornstarch + 2 tbsp water

2 large eggs, beaten

Spice blend

3 shallots

½ bulb garlic

4cm ginger

4 Thai chillies

Garnish2 sprigs spring onion, diced

1 sprig coriander, chopped

1 red chilli, slivered

12 pieces mantou2 cups cooking oil

MethodHeat two cups oil in a wok to fry mantou. Remove when they turn light golden and crispy. Drain off excess oil with paper towels and set aside.

In a dry wok, toast belacan over medium heat until fragrant. Add oil and heat until shimmering.

Stir in spice blend of shallots, ginger, garlic and chillies. Sauté until fragrant, for about 1 minute.

Add crab pieces, tamarind juice and water.

Bring to a boil, then cover with a lid and simmer until crab has turned red, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Remove lid and stir in tomato puree and chilli sauce.

Simmer another minute and season to taste with salt, sugar and additional chilli sauce, if needed.

Remove crab pieces from the wok and arrange on a serving dish.

In a small bowl, stir cornstarch with two tablespoons of water, add to the sauce and bring to a boil to thicken.

Turn off the heat and stir in eggs. Ladle sauce over crab, garnish with spring onion, coriander and chillies.

Serve hot with steamed or fried mantou.

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