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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sweet-Sour Chilli Dungeness Crab

Sweet-Sour Chilli Dungeness Crab

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

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

 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

 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

Sweet-Sour Chilli Dungeness Crab


Cheers, Annie

Hungry for more crab? Click below:

Steamed Dungeness Crab with Old Bay Seasoning

Bun Rieu Cua

Crab Cake with Salad


Food For Tots said...

My hubby n I luv creamy butter crab but I have never cooked one before. Really dun have the courage to kill the live crab. Your dish looks so appetizing, make me craving for one now. :P

mysimplefood said...

Yummy!!! Nice nice! I love the sauce but then I don't think I will ever be brave enough to kill a crab by myself... :)

Bob said...

You guys are killing me, I can't wait until Dec 1st and I can get some Humboldt crab. That fridge trick works if you can't imagine killing them.

Diana said...

What a gorgeous picture! It makes me crave crab. I haven't cooked my own before. Well as a kid I caught some in Hawaii Kai and boil them and ate them. My mom freaked! But that was on a dare, I haven't tried to really cook one, maybe it's time. Thanks for the great instructions.

Single Guy Ben said...

Hmmm, I never heard of this preparation but sounds yummy. I love crab because it is really easy to prepare, especially dungeness. (I think frying is more for smaller crabs.) BTW, ouch with the chopsticks! I think the best way is to quickly remove the top shell and chop right down the middle for an instant death. Put those chopsticks away! ;-)

Jenster said...

It never occured to me to kill them first before cooking them. Now I feel like such a meanie.

gaga said...

Yum! I'm usually too lazy to dig for the crab meat, but love the sauce and the crab flavor that gets into the sauce.

This looks wonderful!

Jescel said...

Back in the Philippines, we just put the live crabs immediately to the wok.. we're such torturers! your recipe sounds so good...definitely a keeper.

Giff said...

neat dish, and I love the background. I've never made crab myself.

You might find Haphaz. Girls' post on killing lobster interesting - that post stuck out in my head from the summer:

Lan Hoang said...

It's harry crab season here, but we heard it's too much work for not very much meat, so we are giving it a pass.

Make sure you save some yummy food for us when we come back.


Ramya Vijaykumar said...

Wow simply tempting...

Bob said...

On the subject of pre-killing, it is considered best practice (at least on the Humboldt docks) to throw em in the pot alive, something about enzymes and better flesh quality.

Anonymous said...

Sounds delicious, and since we live in Maryland, we LOVE crabs (although we will probably be using Cheasapeake Blues).

GREAT photos, too. Good job.

Anonymous said...

Wow that is I know when crab come back alive I am still just a sreamin. I appreciate y'all saring this method. My boyfriend enjoys a little more spice as I do not. I think this could be one that we both enjoy. Your photograhy is incredible!

jesse said...

MY GOODNESS chili crab is one of my all-time favourite dishes!! I need to find a fishmonger here in Oxford pronto. Thank you for the recipe and the tips on how to kill a crab... eeps!

Chef E said...

My son was so gung ho when he started working for my catering company and helping with events, and could not wait to cook a lobster or a crab, but when it came down to it, I am the one that had to be the mean cook...heads first!

Jo said...

Oh yummy crabs ... my favourite crustacaen. This looks delicious and the photo is fabulous as well.

Anonymous said...

My first experience with chilli crab was in Malaysia, and since then I've always wanted to try making it at home, but here it is 10 years later and I haven't done it! Now I'm motivated...

Angie Tee said...

Couldn't agree more on dungeness crab, very meaty indeed! Gee, I know what I'm having for dinner today. Thanks for sharing the recipe:)

Nate @ House of Annie said...

@all - thanks for your comments! Freezing the crabs doesn't kill the crabs - just makes them sleepy enough to handle easily and get them into the pot. Ever try to stick a feisty crab into a steamer basket? Or worse, rip a live crab's body out of the shell? *shudder*

@Giff - Thanks for the link. Freezing the crabs (or lobsters) to sleep isn't more "humane" since the crabs are still cooked alive. It's just less of a hassle for the home cook.

@Lan - definitely want to have you guys over when you come back. Let's set a dinner date!

@Robert - yeah, a quick death is probably the best way to go for all involved. ;-)

@Lydia - I hope you get to try our recipe soon!

@seasaltwithfood - and I see that you've done the chilli crab recipe. Good on ya!

Anonymous said...

hi, thanks for the add on FoodBuzz. Your blog is awesome and I just couldn't pass up the crab without saying anything :) yummmmmmmm!

eatingclubvancouver_js said...

Another crab post and I'm insanely jealous. It's been so long since I've had crabs so definitely it's time.

I have to try the sweet sour chili sauce soon.

Nate @ House of Annie said...

@JMom - thanks for the compliment!

@JS - You should be getting some fresh crabs now, right?

gourmetpigs said...

This reminds me of the crab I used to eat back home in Indonesia!
I don't know if it's the same sweet & sour chili sauce but it sure seems similar ... Makes me homesick!

Have you been to Indonesia? Maybe you'll know if they're the same kind of sauce?

Nate @ House of Annie said...

@burumun - I haven't been to Indonesia yet, but hope to get there one day.

Anonymous said...