The tiny rice paddy crabs that are used in this dish can be found near the rice paddy fields and waterways surrounding Ninh Binh. This is a great dish to snack on with a cold beer.
- 500 g rice field paddy crabs or very small soft-shell crabs
- 1 litre vegetable oil, for deep-frying
- handful Asian basil leaves
- 2 egg whites, lightly beaten
- 250 g cornflour
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 lemongrass stalk, white part only, finely chopped
- 1 long red chilli, sliced
- 2 spring onions
- 6 betel leaves, roughly sliced
Salt and pepper seasoning
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp finely ground white pepper
- 1 tsp ground galangal or ginger
- ½ tsp five-spice powder
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Serves 2-4 as an appetiser
1. For the salt and pepper seasoning, place all the ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine.
2. Place the crabs on a tray and season both sides with the salt and pepper seasoning.
3. Place the oil in a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat and bring to 180°C. Fry the basil leaves very briefly until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
4. Place the egg whites and cornflour in separate large bowls. Working in two batches, add the crabs to the egg white and stir to lightly coat, then drain well and place in the bowl of cornflour. Toss to lightly coat, then dust off the excess cornflour and add straight into the oil and deep-fry for 2 minutes or until golden and crisp. Drain on paper towel. Repeat with the remaining crabs.
5. Drain all but 2 tablespoons of the oil in the wok, then add the garlic, lemongrass, chilli and spring onion and cook for 30 seconds or just until golden and fragrant. Return the crabs to the wok, add the sliced betel leaves and toss for another 30 seconds. Sprinkle with a little more salt and pepper seasoning, then transfer to a platter. Garnish with fried basil leaves and serve immediately.
Catch Luke Nguyen on the tracks dishing up Vietnamese fare in the brand-new series, Luke Nguyen's Railway Vietnam.