Singapore Chilli Crab
Updated: Apr 6, 2022
"Nobody in Singapore drinks Singapore Slings. It's one of the first things you find out there. What you do in Singapore is eat. It's a really food-crazy culture, where all of this great food is available in a kind of hawker-stand environment."
Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018)
An iconic crab dish of the world, I cannot imagine any Seafoodie who has visited Singapore and not tried it's national plate, Singapore Chilli Crab. Although I think I first tasted this dish long before I first made it, I first made it about 20 years ago and I that was quite some time before I first went to Singapore. You'd be forgiven for thinking that is one very well-muddled-up timeline.
I wanted to buy some brown crab meat in the market today, to continue my endeavours in developing recipes for the less popular member of the crab meat family. But apparently the crab picker had gone AWOL so there weren't any tubs of picked crab meat on the stall. I bought a whole crab instead and extracted the brown meat myself and, not wanting to pick the white meat just for the sake of it, I needed a dish to enjoy with chunks of crab, and there isn't a more rewarding dish than this. I haven't made it for years but I will not be leaving it that long before I next make it again - I'd forgotten how much I like it!
Quite honestly it's hard not to like a sauce made with garlic, soy sauce and tomato ketchup really. And the thing about a dish of crab bits in sauce is that probably most of the flavour is coming off your hands and fingers as you navigate your messy way through the various chunks. It's actually a rare case of a dish that's easier to make than it is to eat - not an obvious dish for a first date I wouldn't say. But it is a dish that can only be eaten at a leisurely pace so, along with a bowl of Jasmine rice, I'd suggest serving it up with lots of Tiger beer and even more napkins!
Trying to determine what weight of crab to put in this recipe is quite a difficult task but for a very pleasing reason: it is so delicious that whatever quantity I suggest is at risk of being too little. I have, in the past, made this recipe for what I thought would be two servings and eaten the lot on my own. So I think the safest option is to put quite a broad range of weight in the recipe and leave it to the cook to decide what size of appetite he or she is attending to.
The recipe comes from "Rick Stein's Seafood Odyssey" and in it he encourages the reader to use raw, recently-dispatched crab(s). You can, of course do this and, without a shadow of a doubt, it is what would be done in the kitchen of your Singaporean restaurant. I have opted for the (marginally) second best option of using an already-cooked crab (or just the claws, which can be bought frozen from suppliers like Bradley's Fish) but, either way, the brown meat from the crab is not of any use in this recipe. Perhaps, if preparing a full Asian meal you might like to make use of the brown meat in Brown Crab Meat Gyoza to get the meal started?
When it comes to the chilli I feel that the flavour of the chilli is far more important than the heat it contributes. Of course in a dish like this you ideally want to feel some fire but it would be a great shame if fear of heat were to be a deterrent from making it at all. I would therefore encourage the use of only as hot a chilli variety as befits your tolerance, deseeded if you like, so that a good quantity of chilli can be included for its flavour even if not for its heat. I would also urge a hearty grinding of black pepper into the sauce as this also introduces its own tingly touch.
Singapore Chilli Crab
Ingredients (Serves 2)
1-1¼ kg cooked Brown crab, or about 750g cooked crab claws
2 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger
2-3 medium-hot red chillies, deseeded if preferred (see recipe intro), finely chopped
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
Freshly ground black pepper, a good amount
2-4 tbsp water
2 spring onions, finely shredded
If using whole crabs, first remove and discard the tail flap and then detach the claws. Break them into sections and use a rolling pin or meat hammer or similar to crack each section Next detach the body from the main back shell - you may need to use a (blunt) knife to help achieve this. If there is any juice in the back shell pour this into a bowl. Cut the body section in half so that you have two pieces each with 4 legs attached, and then, if you like, cut each piece in half again so that you end up with 4 pieces each with 2 legs attached. Scrape away any brown meat which can be reserved for another dish along with the brown meat in the back shell. If using just claws then break them up and crack them as just described.
To the juice from the back shell mix in the chillies, tomato ketchup, soy sauce, black pepper and some water to create the sauce. Depending how much (if any) juice you have, you may need more or less water to create enough sauce. Use your judgement, but you can always add a little more water later if the dish looks too dry.
Heat the oil in a wok and once hot put in the crab pieces, stir fry for a minute over a medium-high heat, then add the garlic and ginger and continue to stir fry for a further minute.
Add the sauce, bring to the boil and then simmer (covered if you like) for about 2 more minutes.
Transfer to a serving dish or to individual plates and garnish with the shredded spring onion.
"Rick Stein's Seafood Odyssey", Rick Stein (1999), pp. 60: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Rick-Steins-Seafood-Odyssey-Stein/dp/0563551860