Singapore-styled Chilli Crab (recipe)
The imagery of how the chef cooked the local delicacy was seared in my memory like a fillet of salmon on a hot griddle. It was undoubtedly any gastronomer’s journey to prepare this dish, like a rite of passage for all aspiring Singaporean cooks and that’s none other than our very own Singapore-styled Chilli Crab. I too decided on that journey recently.
I was at NTUC just taking a walk and wondering at some dinner options. I’m kind of sick of food courts and their exorbitant amounts of MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) and whatever it is that they introduce into the flavours of their dishes. There’s often a dry raspy feeling in the throat and you almost always know that you have just been MSG-ed. No wonder the dubious moniker – Many Sick Gourmets. I was determined to make my own dinner that night.
And there they were all gleaming in their shiny-shell glories. I knew this is the night. I was going to make them mine. But it was a little difficult getting to them at first because there were these foreign talents standing on either side of where the crabs were displayed. They appeared to be browsing, like window shopping. The Indian guys were all discussing dinner options – what to buy; what not to buy. They looked largely undecided with their wide-eyed bewildered expressions. “Great.” I thought, and the aunties on my left were looking rather disinterested, poking at the squids on display as if to test if they were fresh. This was my only chance, I thought and literally threw myself forward and wedged in between them.
Flanked by two of the world’s most populus nations represented here at the seafood section, I felt that I had to grab the opportunity before it all goes away. The mud crabs were looking gloriously fresh, like as if they just stepped out of their sand dunes for a sun-tan, minding their own business and next thing you know they are congregating on ice trays far far away from home. There were a few large ones, perfect for chilli crabs. I made sure i took enough for what I wanted to do. Two mud crabs with a total weight of one point one kilograms. Perfect.
The Chinese ladies on my left started muttering to themselves speaking in their native tongue. “Hey.. look, that man’s buying crabs.. Oh! Look how large they are! Maybe we should buy them as well.. But oh! He’s taking all the big ones..” Needless to say, I was pleased to say the least. The Indian guys on my right were still discussing and still looked undecided. Oh well. No prizes for taking your time dudes.
Preparing chilli crab is just about as difficult as making ice cubes in a tray. It’s pretty much a no-brainer as there are only so many things that could go wrong in the preparation. Like for example, you forgot to pay your monthly gas utility bills and thus there was no gas. Things like that. But other things remaining constant, preparation is a walk in the park. Like I always say. If I can cook, you can cook too.
The other ingredients for the preparation of this particular recipe requires large white onions. These are the kind of onions that they use to cook French Onion Soup. Don’t ask me why they aren’t called French Onions at the shop. I am using three large white onions and four pieces of garlic. Two inches of ginger, and four large red chillis. I couldn’t find red chilli padis at the NTUC as they only had the green ones which weren’t nice. But chilli padis would definitely give it more kick.
A small square of Belachan, which is a fermented mixture of tiny seafoods like shrimps, squids and other microbiotic creatures, is needed. Some background on Belachan. Apparently some fisherman in Malaysia once found a puddle of prawns and squids rotting with maggots and there was an awful stench coming out from it. Undaunted by the smell, he brought it back home and cooked it for the family and ironically they loved it. In fact their food was so fragrant that the neighbours wanted to know what secret ingredient that they were using that night. And that kind of got him thinking that this could be a multi-million dollar business – selling rotting carcasses of tiny sea creatures to the world. Brilliant!
I use canned tomato paste and tomato puree as they offer a nicer texture to the taste of the chilli crab. Less of the artificial flavouring that you would get if you dumped three bottles of Maggi Tomato Sauce as some are fond of doing. It’s too much salt I think. You can choose from any of the brands but personally I think Hunt’s is a good brand. So all that’s left is basically the way of doing this. This is where i will use my trusty kenwood food processor to help me in the preparation. If you don’t have one of these, you should really consider getting one. It can chop, cut, dice, mash. Whatever you want.
Firstly put in the white onions, blend it, then put in the garlic, ginger and chillis.. continue to blend until it’s a pulpy texture..
Then chop and wash the mud crabs, breaking them into pincers, and mids.. reserving the eggs. (if any)
After this, you’re ready. Fire up the wok with about five tablespoons of oil. Once heated, spoon the blended paste to fry till fragrant. Then add in the Belachan and a bowl of water. After which you add in the tomato paste and puree and continue frying. Add in a tablespoon of light soy sauce. Once that’s done, you can throw (literally) the crabs into the wok and fry.
This is where you should also add in three tablespoons of Shao Xing Hua Tiao Jiu aka chinese cooking wine. Throw on the lid and let the spicyness of the mixture fuse with the juicy freshness of the crabs. Then let it simmer for about five minutes and you are just about done. Crack in an egg or two and a little parley for garnishing. Easy!
Nicely done. Singapore styled Chilli Crabs