KitchenTigress: Black Pepper Crab

Black Pepper Crab

Rule number one of crab handling: make sure it's dead before cutting the string! Ask the crab politely, whilst tapping its legs with a knife or chopstick, "Hello? Hello? Are you dead?"

If the crab nods its head or says, "Yes, I'm dead," beware of the crafty crab! If there's no response and the legs aren't moving, then and only then should the string be cut.

Of course, before you check whether the crab is dead, you have to kill it first. The easiest way to do this is to chuck it in the freezer. 15-20 minutes should do the trick, or 30 for the stronger ones.

When buying crabs, choose those that are heavy for their size, and tap the legs to make sure they're alive and kicking. If you like female crabs, go for the ones that have round "aprons". The pointy ones are boys. Makes sense, right?

The bright orange roe is what eating crabs is all about for many people. Hence, "roe crabs" are treasured and more expensive than "meat crabs" and "milt crabs".

Cleaning crabs is quite easy. First, trim and discard the abdominal flap, aka apron. Next, grab the bottom end of the shell in one hand, the body in the other, and pull them apart.

If the shell seems stuck, that's a good sign that the crab had been fighting fit until it met its destiny. Or maybe it was in the freezer a bit too long. If the latter, wait for it to thaw. If the former, insert your kitchen scissors between the bottom end of the shell and the body, then lever off the shell.

Once the shell is removed, you'll see some spongy brown stuff on the body. These are the gills which should be trimmed and discarded. Next, give the crab a good scrub – don't forget the crevices inbetween the legs – followed by a thorough rinse. Turn the shell upside down so that it drains properly.

After cleaning the crab, twist off the pinchers and give 'em a few good whacks with the side of the cleaver. The shell should be cracked and the meat, ideally, intact.

I like to trim the last joint on the smaller legs to make them a bit shorter. I also like to trim the two small flaps at the top end of the body, in the middle. These are the manibles, which are part of the crab's mouth.

Finally, chop the body into four pieces.

The crab is now ready for the wok. May I suggest black pepper crab?

Don't use a non-stick wok/pan unless you want it scratched. You can skip the deep-frying step if your crabs don't have roe/milt. Or if you don't mind the roe/milt falling off during stir-frying. If deep-frying, be careful of splattering oil.

black pepper crab
  • 1.6 kg crab, cleaned, drained, and chopped (see instructions above)
  • ¼ cup cornflour, optional
  • vegetable oil for deep-frying

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil for stir-frying
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 4 shallots, finely minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1-2 tbsp black peppercorns, coarsely ground
  • 2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
  • 2 tbsp light soya sauce
  • 2 tsp dark soya sauce
  • ½ tsp salt

  1. Place crabs in freezer till immobile, 15-30 minutes. Remove strings. Loosen shells. Remove and discard lungs. Scrub crabs. Rinse. Drain. Loosen pinchers by twisting. Crack claws with side of cleaver. Chop and discard last joints of remaining claws. Chop each crab into 4 pieces.
  2. Sprinkle cornflour on crab where there's roe/milt. Rest for 5 minutes so that the flour sticks well.

  3. Heat oil in a wok till just smoking. Place crab in oil, roe/milt side down. Deep-fry over high heat till roe/milt side is set and lightly brown. Remove from oil. Drain.

  4. Remove oil from wok, leaving 1 tbsp. Stir-fry shallots in oil and butter over high heat till translucent. Add garlic and stir-fry till lightly golden. Lower heat. Add black peppercorns. Stir-fry till fragrant. Add wine. Stir through. Increase heat to high. Add crab, light soya sauce, dark soya sauce, salt and ¼ cup water. Stir to mix well.
  5. Cover wok and simmer till crab is cooked, about 10 minutes. Stir again to mix thoroughly. Sauce should be just thick enough to stick to crab. Increase heat and reduce sauce, or add a bit more water as necessary. (Poor quality crabs release a lot of liquid when they're cooked. Good ones don't.)

  6. Taste and if necessary adjust seasoning. Plate and serve immediately.