Black Pepper Crab

Sunday, 17 April 2011

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 it 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. I never forget the rule so no, I wasn't bitten. I was just kidding!

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 you and 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. Looks like a car, doesn't it? (I'm thinking along the lines of the Batmobile.) Hey, that must be why its proper name is 'caraspace'!
After cleaning the crab, twist off the pinchers and give 'em a few good whacks with the back of the cleaver. The shell should be cracked and the meat, ideally, intact. Lastly, chop the body into four or six pieces, depending on the size.

And that's all – done! Easy peasy lemon squeezy. I like to trim the last joint on the smaller legs to make them a bit shorter, but that's optional. 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. But it's no big deal if you leave 'em.

The crab is ready for the wok; all you have to do now is cook it. May I suggest Black Pepper Crab?

(Recipe for 4 persons)

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

1 tbsp vegetable oil for stir-frying
1 tbsp butter
4 shallots, finely minced
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tbsp black peppercorns, or 1 tbsp if you like it mild, coarsely ground/pounded
2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
2 tbsp light soya sauce
2 tsp dark soya sauce
½ tsp salt

🌹 Deep-frying helps the roe/milt stick to the crab and not fall off during the stir-fry step, but the oil splatters because of moisture under the shell. If the crab doesn't have much roe/milt, or you don't mind picking up the roe/milt in the sauce, skip the deep-frying. Or deep-fry only the parts with roe/milt, leaving out the legs.

If deep-frying, sprinkle cornflour on crab where there's roe/milt. Rest for 5 minutes so that the flour sticks well.

Drop crab into just smoking vegetable oil, roe/milt side down. Fry just that side of the crab till set and lightly brown. Remove from oil and drain.

In a clean wok, stir-fry shallots in oil and butter over high heat till translucent. Add garlic and stir-fry till lightly golden. Add black peppercorns (which burn easily, so lower the heat if necessary) and stir-fry till fragrant. Add wine and stir through. Add crab, light soya sauce, dark soya sauce, salt and ¼ cup water. Stir to mix well. Cover and simmer till cooked, about 10 minutes depending on size and whether crab has been deep-fried. Stir again to mix thoroughly. Sauce should be just thick enough to stick to the crab. Poor quality crabs release a lot of liquid when they're cooked but good ones don't. Increase heat and reduce sauce, or add a bit more water as necessary. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Plate and serve.

🌹 Adding water together with the crab deglazes the wok, i.e. loosen the peppercorns that are stuck to the bottom and sides. This is done to prevent the peppercorns from burning. It's different from a classic stir-fry which has water added (if any) at a later stage so that the cooking temperature is kept at the highest possible when the main ingredient is added to the wok.


Creating Objectives said...

Your pepper crab looks yummy! And it sure doesn't sound as difficult as I've always think. Will definitely try woking this one of these days.

Blur Ting said...

Thanks for the tip. Pointy ones = male. Why didn't I think of that?!

KT said...


Thanks for the vote of confidence.

BTW, the spiciness depends on the amount of peppercorns used, obviously, and also how fine the grind is. A coarse grind is more spicy than a fine one because you're more likely to bite into a big bit of peppercorn and get a burst of the peppery heat.

KT said...


Uh-oh, was that a Freudian slip?

PapaCheong's 拿手好菜 said...

Impressive! You make it look so easy.


KT said...

Thanks, Papacheong. Cooking crabs isn't difficult, and you get three minutes of eating pleasure for every minute of work. That's an excellent rate of return.

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