Saturday, July 13, 2013

Five Spice Garlic Crab - on a Boat

Ever have that wok-fried, still in the shell, spicy garlic crab at a Chinese restaurant?

I have, twice.  This is not the sort of thing your average, neighborhood, week-night, take-out joint is going to have.  First of all, this doesn't take out. Second, it has to be done with fresh, live crab.  It doesn't work anywhere near as well if you just douse already cooked crab with the flavors.  And it should be eaten as soon at you can handle the crab.

What I'm trying to say is, getting this at a restaurant is kind of an event.  Just finding a restaurant that makes this specialty is an important start.  And then getting there may be an ordeal.  (The second time I got my hands on such a specialty was in Boston's China Town.  So yes, getting to the restaurant was something of an ordeal.)  And both these restaurants were well known for their food - and thus required a reservation, or an ocean of patience for a walk-in table, if that had even been available.

But if you find yourself with a decently large burner on a boat (or kitchen that is crab adjacent), a wok-ish pan, 
There's the pan on my awesome Force-10 stove
(mine's a sauce pan/sauté pan cross that kinda works like a wok), enough oil, a head of garlic, salt and some Five-Spice powder, when you pull up some crabs - well then nothing could be easier.  

Well, throwing them back is easier, and steaming them whole is easier, and so is building a small IKEA bookshelf.  But it is totally doable.

I suppose you can also round up the same ingredients at home, and pick up 2 live Dungeness crabs at the fish market/counter, but where's the sense of adventure?  OK, I will concede live crabs in the kitchen is pretty adventurous.

So how does this go down?

You need some decent crab-handling skills, though rubber-banded claws help.  For a quick video on how to clean live crabs, check out this earlier post. (crab dispatching - boat optional, a dock or deck edge or  railing actually works better.)

Once the crab is split and cleaned, Use scissors or a cleaver (or your bare hands... grrrrrrrrr!) to cut the crab legs into segments at the joints.

Discard the pointy tip toes - they have no meat - or not enough to pursue.
Though the toes make great tools for picking out meat if you don't have picks.
Try to cut the joints cleanly to minimize this:
Try to keep the meat IN the shell so it doesn't get overcooked

Chop/cut the cleaned, de-legged body into 4-6 chunks. 

The shell is pretty thin, you can snip around if
cutting it like this seems to crush the body.

Then follow this recipe:

Five Spice Garlic Wok Fried Crab

1 - 2 Dungeness Crabs* cleaned and cut up as described above.
1 head garlic
1-2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
1/2 tsp salt
several grinds black pepper
1/4 C oil

Wok or other large bowl shaped pan
Large stirring spatula
Slotted spoon
Paper towels
Serving platter
Crab cracking device (nut crackers and pliers work in an emergency)

Set the cleaned, split crab to the side.  Break up the head of garlic, and get all the big cloves (don't worry about the annoying, tiny ones in the center).  Smack each of the cloves hard enough to crack the skin (heel of your hand, bottom of a pot, etc.).
Peel them and slice them thinnish.  The garlic pieces need to be small enough to fry into garlic chips, but big enough to not burn instantly, nor drive you insane when you need to retrieve them.  6-8 slices per clove is a good guess.
Set out the paper towels, ready for draining the fried garlic.
Measure out the salt and spice and mix together.

Heat the oil in the wok over high heat.  Use a garlic slice as a temperature gauge. When it starts to get crispy, turn the heat back to med-high, pluck it out, and add the sliced garlic.  Stir to get it crispy, but still blond. 
Remove the garlic chips onto the paper towels to drain.
Turn the heat back to high, and place 1/3 - 1/2 of the crab in the oil.  There needs to be plenty or room to stir fry the crab.  After the shell turns red (this happens quickly), sprinkle on 1/3 - 1/2 of the spice-salt.  Keep stirring for about 2 minutes. 
Remove the cooked crab to the serving platter, and repeat until all the crab has been cooked.
Sprinkle the garlic chips back over and serve.

Eat with your hands.  Have a shell bowl and plenty of non-special napkins (paper towels) on hand.

Garlic noodles and a mess of sautéed spinach would go great with this. 
A crisp white wine (Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Riesling, dry Chardonnay)  or a dry Chinese Beer all go great with such a thing as well.

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