Crab is generally not a part of my culinary vocabulary. Neither are shrimp, lobster, oyster, mussel, or scallop. Though I won’t necessarily seek a shellfish dish at a restaurant, I’m always open to trying it if its on a tasting menu. Usually, however, I leave thinking to myself, why the heck do people love shellfish?
So you’ll understand why when I tell you I actually like my mother’s ginger and scallion crab dish, the walls begin the shake, the ground begins to crumble, and the ceiling begins to collapse. Me and shellfish simply do not get along very well together except in exceptional cases, ie. this.
Today was my last day in PA and I took a little walk along the side roads. I love staring at the vast rolling hills with the tractor just plowing away through the fields. In a way, I feel more humbled whenever I see this, even though just miles away sprawls a city large enough to make me feel at home. I think that as one gets older, one starts to appreciate nature more and more by recognizing the inherent beauty mother nature has to offer.
But enough of that. My mother made this dish last weekend when they came back to NJ for the weekend. At the Chinese market, crabs were on sale for $10/dozen. They bought a dozen, and I could tell that my dad was excited with anticipation for dinner.
You generally won’t be able to find this dish unless if you’re at an authentic Chinese restaurant. The crabs are cooked through a simple deep frying process and then tossed with the with the sauce like a stir fry. The end result is a salty harmony of flavors, enhanced by the crunch of the shell and the tender crab meet. It’s best to section off the crab into pieces (especially if the crabs are big) so that every possible surface area of the crab can soak up all the intense flavors. Surprisingly, there aren’t even that many ingredients!
Below is a step by step guide. And yes, you must buy the crabs when they’re still alive to ensure freshness. Don’t worry, we’ve provided pictures on how to kill them.
And just a warning. This recipe isn’t for the delicate and fragile. You’ll see what I mean.
Ginger & Scallion Crab
- Six crabs, alive and kicking*
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup chicken stock (water can also suffice, though chicken stock is better)
- 2 inches ginger, sliced into thin strips
- Handful of sliced scallions (lengthwise 2 inches)
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- Drizzle of cooking wine (we use Chinese rice wine)
- Drizzle of sesame oil
- 1 egg (optional)
*Here’s an interesting fact- Chinese markets only sell female crabs whereas Western markets only sell male crabs. The difference is the orange roe that’s present in the female crabs. You need this roe to get all the flavor that this dish requires. In other words, if you can’t get female crabs, don’t bother with this dish.
Assuming that your crabs have arrived in a brown bag, dump all of them into your sink. If you have an old oven mitt that you’re willing to sacrifice, wear it because you’ll need it. You want to “de-claw” the crab of its big legs. Not doing so runs the risk that you’ll end up with some very bloody fingers. So essentially, break off the large legs off of each crab (each crab has two). After, rinse the crabs under cold, running water.
At this stage, you want to “de-shell” the crab, as in, break the crab in half. Holding the legs down with your weak hand, take your dominant hand and rip off the top shell, exposing the innards. See below. Like I said, not a dish for you delicate people out there.
DO NOT rinse the stuff out in the shell. For the time being, leave the shells with the orangy stuff on the side. Now, you want to take out the crab gills. We do this while washing the body under running water and pulling them out. Now it’s time to section off the crab into half pieces.
Before cutting the crab in half, you want to remove the “head.” More specifically, remove the eyes with a knife. After wards, make sure that the crab is free of sand. Cut across symmetrically so that you get equal halves. Lay them all on a plate.
You didn’t think we’d let the big legs go to waste, now did you? We like to pound them with a mallet so that the flavors soak through. Plus, who has the teeth to chomp through the shell when eating anyway? So place the legs on your cutting board and slam away. A couple of slams will suffice. Sometimes they’ll fly up so do be wary.
Now, onto the shell. Empty everything in from the shell into a small bowl with a spoon. I know it looks disgusting, but this is where you get alot that crab flavor that you’re looking for in this dish. That orange stuff is actually roe, and only female crabs have it. Empty that all out, liquid and all, into the bowl. Then add the 1 cup soy sauce and sugar. Stir to mix.
Next, take a plastic bag and add the 1/4 cup cornstarch. Throw in all of the crab sections and the legs. Toss in the bag until everything part is coated.
Since the crab should still be a bit damp from the washing, the cornstarch should stick on the surface. Look below!
Next, in a large pan, preferably in a wok, fill it with enough canola oil to deep fry the shells. You don’t need to use canola oil- any oil that can withstand high temperatures (corn or vegetable oil) will work too. Carefully place the segmented pieces in the the hot oil and deep fry until it cooks through. This should take about 2 minutes per side. After, take out the crab and place it on a plate.
Empty the wok of the fried oil. Add a couple of tablespoons of sesame oil. When hot, add in the ginger and the scallions. Add in the now fried crabs and toss lightly. Add a drizzle cooking wine to that soy sauce mixture, roughly two tablespoons. Then, empty the sauce into the wok and toss the crabs in it. Add in the chicken stock (or water if you don’t have stock).
Keep tossing until everything is fully integrated, for an additional two minutes. As an option, scramble an egg in a separate bowl and then pour over whole thing and toss again. The egg not only provides extra flavor, but also helps thicken up the sauce. Cover the wok for about 8-10 minutes to let everything simmer and to let the sauce reduce.
The sauce should reduce to the point there is just enough to coat the crabs and an extra few tablespoons.