Growing up in Malaysia, crab was considered a special treat. We hardly ever cooked it at home, preferring to visit a seafood restaurant specializing in cooking crabs and other seafoody things. And the crabs we normally got there were mud crabs. Mud crabs have very big, meaty claws, smaller bodies, and extremely hard shells. They were very sweet but require so much work for very little gain.
Over here, we don't get mud crabs, but Dungeness crabs are even better. I love that we get so much more meat from the Dungeness, plus the shell is not as hard so it's easier to get to the meat. I actually love Dungeness so much that I don't crave or ask for crab as much when I go home to Malaysia.
The Malaysian sweet-sour style of cooking crab, though, that I do miss.
Next to simply steaming them, the sweet-sour chilli crab preparation is one of my favorite ways of eating crab. The sauce is only slightly spicy with a sweet ketchup flavor and enriched with the delicious mixture of crab tomalley and beaten eggs. It coats the shell of the crabs and makes every bite and lick so yummy.
Normally, they would serve the dish with a side of toasted white bread or steamed mantou which was perfect for sopping up the extra sauce. Just writing about it makes me want to eat it all over again.
How NOT to Kill a Crab
I remember the very first time I tried to prepare this dish. I was a student in Hawaii then, with very little cooking skills. I called my mom and asked her how I should kill the crab. She said to poke a chopstick between the eyes. Maybe this works for mud crabs but it surely didn't work for Dungeness!
Somehow, I managed to stick that chopstick between the crab's eyes. I vividly remember the crab grabbing the chopstick with its claws and me screaming and cringing. We finally did kill the sucker by chopping it in half but I'm never doing that chopstick trick again!
How to Kill a Crab
So anyway, while my mom was visiting, we managed to get some Dungeness crabs. It is the perfect season to enjoy Dungeness crabs here in the Bay Area. And if you've been following our blog, you know that we steamed up two crabs using Old Bay Seasoning. But what you didn't know was that we actually bought FOUR crabs and cooked the other two in this sweet-sour chilli style.
Now, the way it's done in the restaurants is to cut up the crab, and then deep-fry them before proceeding with the rest of the recipe. I find that too humbug and so what if the sauce doesn't stick as well to the shell? It clings just fine without the deep-frying in my opinion so I just avoid that first step.
Some tips for buying and preparing crab:
1. If possible, try to get them alive from the Asian grocery store. Always check that the tank is full of crabs. If there are only a few in there, come back after Thursday.
2. Put them to sleep by sticking them in the freezer until cooking time.
3. To simplify the cutting up part, partly steam them first to kill them (about 5-6 minutes).
4. To remove the shell from the body, turn the crab over and grab the triangular tail and break it. Grab the edge of the shell near that broken tail and pry away from body.
Sweet-Sour Chilli Dungeness Crab
2 Dungeness crabs (about 3-4 lbs total)
1/2 cup tomato ketchup
1/2 sweet chili sauce (Sriracha will work too but if you're using that, use less, maybe 1/4 cup, and add a bit more sugar)
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 cups water
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1-1/2 inch ginger, chopped fine
2 shallots, sliced thinly
1 large tomato, cut into 8 wedges
2-3 Thai bird's eye chillies, cut in half each (optional)
2 eggs, beaten
2 stalks green onion, chopped fine (for garnish)
1. Prepare the crabs: Partly steam the crabs. Remove the shell. Save the shell (throw out the innards but save all the yummy tomalley). Remove the gills and other inedible bits from around the body. Cut the body into four parts leaving legs attached (about 3 legs, or 1 claw and two legs, to each body part).
Chopped up Dungeness Crab
2. Make the sauce: Mix the ketchup, chilli sauce, sugar, cornstarch and water together in a bowl.
3. In a large fry pan or wok, add the oil and fry the garlic, ginger and shallots over med-high heat until lightly browned.
4. Add in the crab.
Frying Chopped Dungeness Crab
5. Add in the tomato wedges and Thai bird's eye chillies, and toss for 30 seconds.
Chopped Dungeness Crab with Tomato and Chillies
6. Add in the tomato-chilli sauce and stir to coat the crab pieces. Cover and cook about 10-15 minutes until the shell turns bright orange.
7. Pour in the beaten eggs and stir and cook for another two minutes.
8. Plate up and garnish with green onions.
Sweet-Sour Chilli Dungeness Crab