Don’t forget the gloves - this is a dish you can only eat with your hands.
Chilli crab may attract most of the attention throughout Singapore’s hawker centres, but this darker, pepper - dotted variation, said to have been created at a restaurant on Singapore’s Long Beach - has plenty of passionate fans.
- 1 large live mud crab (or 4 raw blue swimmer crabs)
- vegetable oil, for deep-frying
- 60 g (½ cup) cornflour
- 50 g butter
- 2 red Asian shallots, thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp picked curry leaves
- 5 garlic cloves, finely sliced
- 4 long red chillies, seeded and thinly sliced
- 2½ tbsp ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp light soy
- 2 tsp dark soy
- 3 tsp sugar
- 250 ml (1 cup) chicken stock
- coriander leaves and thinly sliced chilli, to serve
- mantou buns and/or steamed rice, to serve
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.
Chilling time: 1 hour
- If using a live mud crab, gently put it in the freezer for 1 hour or until its movement slows completely, then kill it quickly by plunging a utility knife between its eyes. Remove the carapace, then the two front claws - cracking them with the back of a cleaver in several spots. Cut the body in half down the middle, then into halves again between the remaining legs. If using blue swimmer crabs, simply remove the carapaces and cut each crab into quarters.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a large wok until it reaches 180°C.
- Place the cornflour in a large bowl, add the crab pieces and toss until the meaty sections are well covered. Fry the dusted crab in two batches until the cornflour just starts to brown (this will encourage the meat to stay inside the crab while it simmers in the sauce later and will help thicken the sauce). Remove the crab from the wok and discard the oil safely, leaving about 1 tbsp behind.
- Add the butter, shallots, curry leaves, garlic and chillies to the remaining oil in the wok (the curry leaves may pop) and stir-fry over high heat until they release their aroma and begin to soften. Add the pepper, sugar, oyster sauce and soy sauces and stir until simmering. Add the stock, bring to a simmer again, then add the crab (including the carapace). Toss to combine well, then cover and simmer for 5 minutes, tossing once or twice during cooking until all the crab pieces have turned red.
- Transfer the crab and sauce to a platter and top with coriander leaves and sliced chilli. Serve with steamed mantou buns or rice.
Adam Liaw cooks, laughs, and explores culture with some of Australia's most beloved in The Cook Up With Adam Liaw.
Photography by Adam Liaw.