SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - This is the best time of the year for Sri Lankan crabs, especially if you appreciate milt or roe.
Mr Edmond Lim, 45, owner of a seafood supplier, said the season for Sri Lankan crabs is usually from October until March.
Why not try cooking a classic - chilli crab - at home? This dish could be the showpiece of any gathering you wish to host in the upcoming festive season.
In July, the chilli crab was ranked No. 29 in CNN's re-released list of World's 50 Best Foods, which took into account votes in a Facebook poll.
But do we really need a poll to tell us how popular our chilli crab is? Even David Beckham, who was in Singapore in September, is a fan of the dish.
I am squeamish when it comes to handling and dispatching live crabs, but this is where it helps to have industry insiders dishing out sound advice.
Mr Lim shared a chef's secret with me: Submerge the crabs in ice water for 50 minutes. It is preferable to freezing the crabs as the freezing process can cause the meat to turn a little mushy.
Place the crabs in the ice water an hour before you intend to start cooking. That way, you have sufficient time to dispatch and clean the crabs.
2 medium-sized crabs (700g total)
150g peanuts (skins removed)
20g galangal, peeled and chopped
20g ginger, peeled and chopped
1 lemongrass stalk (use 5cm of white root part), sliced
3 garlic cloves, peeled
40g dried chillies, boiled and softened
10 red finger chillies (150g), cut into 3cm-pieces
3 chilli padi
220g shallots, peeled
3 Tbs cooking oil
3 Tbs sugar
1½ flat Tbs salt
3 eggs, beaten
1½ Tbs cornflour
2 Tbs water
1. To prepare the crabs: Place 1kg of ice and 5 litres of water in a pail. Gently submerge crabs in ice water for 50 minutes.
2. Ensure that the crabs are no longer moving before removing them from the ice water.
3. Remove the claw ties once you are sure the crabs are dead. Rinse and scrub them with a brush until the crabs are free of mud. Remove the carapaces and set aside.
4. Remove and discard the crab gills, which are not edible.
5. Halve the crabs. Use a pestle to gently crack the claws.
6. The crabs are ready for cooking.
7. To cook the crabs: Heat wok. Over low heat, dry fry peanuts until they are browned. This should take 10 minutes.
8. Allow peanuts to cool to room temperature then coarsely grind them. Set aside.
9. Place galangal, ginger, lemongrass stalk, candlenuts, garlic cloves, dried chilli, red finger chillies, chilli padi, shallots and 150ml of water in blender or wet grinder. Blend or grind ingredients into smooth paste.
10. Heat cooking oil in wok. Over low heat, fry spice paste for 15 to 20 minutes until oil surfaces.
11. Add 1 tablespoon of sugar and half a flat tablespoon of salt. Stir-fry for 1 minute. (Above)
12. Set aside carapaces and add rest of the crabs into wok and stir-fry for 2 minutes.
13. Pour in 800ml of water and stir.
14. Add ketchup and stir.
15. Add remaining sugar and salt and stir.
16. Allow mixture to come to a simmering boil.
17. Cover wok, lower heat to mediumlow and simmer for 10 minutes.
18. Uncover and carefully place carapaces, inner sides facing up, on top of the crab mixture. (Above)
19. Spoon some of the gravy into carapaces. Cover wok and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes, until crab shells are orange-red.
20. Once carapaces are cooked through, remove from the wok.
21. Gradually add beaten eggs into crab mixture, stirring continuously to distribute the eggs.
22. Mix cornflour with 2 tablespoons of water and pour this into the crab mixture. Stir well.
23. Add crushed peanuts and stir well.
24. Turn off heat.
25. Transfer crab into serving dish and arrange the carapaces on dish. Spoon gravy over carapaces.