Two ways with crab (and then some)

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I love crab. Almost as much as I love other shellfish like lobsters and mussels, but as a Singaporean, crabs have a certain sentimentality borne out of endless meals of finger-licking goodness.

I was well-trained in the art of crab degustation as a child, a skill honed over the course of many crab feasts at home. Sri Lankan Mud Crabs were our species of choice, with their thick, blood-red pincers and juicy flesh forming the essential building blocks for local favorites: Singapore Chili Crab and Black Pepper Crab. While it was common practice to gather around a celebratory meal featuring a variety of seafood dishes, those with Crabs headlining the menu elevated the meal to a new level. Telling someone that you were going for a seafood dinner by the beach wasn’t the same as informing others of said dinner with crab, which would almost immediately elicit an envious acknowledgement. Yes, Crab is king and proud of it.

Crab is also intrinsically social, if the piles of shells and post-meal satiation are any indication. Beyond nutrition, it is the sense of achievement from diligently working through the crustacean’s complex structure, patiently, to be rewarded with a tender morsel of crabmeat. And ten sticky fingers to boot.

Although Chili Crab has languished on my list of ‘must-have’ dishes from home in the 18 months we’ve been here, I’ve been getting my crustacean fix from the fish vendors at the Mountain View Farmer’s Market every Sunday. Saving me the hassle (and horror) of killing a live crab at home, I can sleep peacefully knowing that choice pieces of crabmeat fastidiously picked, cooked and packaged in a clear plastic container are waiting for me each Sunday for all of $12.50. Needless to say, this has opened up a new frontier of recipes that I’ve hesitated to try, partly due to a lack of courage on my part!

My recipe of choice for this small luxury is a Lovely Crab Linguine from Jamie Oliver’s Cook with Jamie with thin fresh shreds of asparagus and fennel making cameo appearances.

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This time, however, I was determined to put the crab to new uses and flavors. I contemplated Damien Pignolet’s Crab Souffle for a moment before chancing upon a recipe for Crab Croquettes from one of my favorite food blogs (recipe copied below with my notes). Adapted from Mark Robinson’s Izakaya cookbook, the croquettes turned out to be lusciously tender with just the right amount of bite and comfortingly rich. Definitely a recipe to keep and another cookbook to add to the collection!

Creamy Crab Croquettes

Adapted from Mark Robinson’s Izakaya, the Japanese pub cookbook
Makes 10 small croquettes (I had slightly more meat than called for in this recipe and made a total of 12 croquettes)

130g/4.5oz fresh crabmeat
110g/4oz onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large hard-boiled egg, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Flour, one egg and panko for battering the croquettes

Vegetable oil for deep frying

30g/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
45g/0.5 cup flour (The original recipe calls for 30g/1oz of flour but I added more flour to achieve the desired texture for the bechamel)
360ml/12fl oz whole milk, warmed

In a large frying pan, heat the oil and sauté the onion until lightly browned. Set aside.

In a small to medium saucepan, melt the butter. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the flour. When the flour and butter are combined, place back over a low fire and cook, stirring constantly for 1-2 minutes. Then pour the milk in, a little at a time, stirring in order to eliminate lumps and to make a smooth, thick bechamel. Keep stirring over low heat for 5-10 minutes until the sauce achieves the consistency of thick mustard. Set aside.

In the large frying pan with the onion, add the crabmeat and cook over medium heat for a few minutes. The goal is to cook off as much moisture as possible. Add the boiled egg and the bechamel. Season with salt and pepper. Stir well. Take off the heat and allow to cool.

Spread the mixture on the bottom of a flat rectangular pan. Cover with plastic wrap and pop into the fridge for at least an hour. You want the mixture quite cold when you make the croquettes.

When chilled, prepare three bowls, one with flour, one with a beaten egg, and one with panko (Japanese bread crumbs). Using a spoon, quickly divide the mixture into 10 equal portions. Then scoop each portion out one at a time, quickly pat into a small, round cake, dredge in the flour, dip into the egg and then coat with panko. Repeat this with all the croquettes, placing them in a container lined with grease-proof paper. Cover with plastic wrap and pop back into the fridge until ready to use.

To prepare, preheat the oil to approximately 180 C/350 F. Slip the croquettes into the oil and deep fry, without disturbing, until golden brown. Gently transfer the croquettes onto a wire rack and serve immediately.

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