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Fish and Shellfish, Mains

Singaporean chili crab

Singaporean chili crab
Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times

By his latest count, Nguyen Tran figures he probably has 15 costumes. The face behind the restaurant and brand Starry Kitchen just deposited two large bags worth of clothing on the counter at the Los Angeles Times Test Kitchen. Nguyen’s ... Read more

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes | Serves 2 to 4

Chili crab sauce

  • 3 cups hot chicken broth
  • 1 cup ketchup, preferably Hunt’s brand
  • ¼ cup light soy sauce
  • ¼ cup chili garlic sauce, preferably Lee Kum Kee brand
  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • ¼ cup sugar

Step 1In a mixing bowl, whisk together the stock, ketchup, soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, rice vinegar and sugar until they become one unified homogenous mixture of red chili sauce. It should taste spicy, sweet and savory and not too ketchup-y.

Chili crab

  • 1 live Dungeness crab, or equally large and meaty crab
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • Cooking or frying oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 5 Thai chile peppers, chopped
  • 1 green onion, cut diagonally, plus more for garnish
  • Prepared chili crab sauce
  • 2 eggs
  • Cilantro sprigs, for garnish

Step 1Shortly before cleaning and cutting the crab, place it in the freezer to slow it down and make it sleepy. Clean and cut the crab: Grab the crab from the tail end and flip it over so it’s belly-side up, claws and eyes facing away from you. Lift the triangular lip in the center of the abdomen over carefully, as the crab will be agitated (lifting the lip exposes the crab’s most vulnerable spot).

Step 2Quickly stab the crab downward through the exposed spot until you reach the shell. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds; the crab should die almost instantly.

Step 3Cut the crab through the abdomen in half, snapping the crab in two. Turn each half over and remove and dispose of the white gills. Dispose of the lip and any other loose appendages from the front and back of the crab, along with the white film and any black matter inside of the shell itself. Do not clean out the rest of the shell (particularly the orange part, or coral).

Step 4Depending on how large your crab is, the two halves can be cut into 2 or 3 sections (there should be a minimum of 2 legs per section). Clean the crab legs again and pat dry with paper towels.

Step 5Place the crab in a big bowl with the cornstarch. Dredge the exposed crab parts of each of the pieces, including the coral and head, inside and out with starch. Shake off the excess starch.

Step 6Fill a wok or pot with enough cooking oil to easily submerge the crab pieces, including the head. Heat the oil to 350 degrees over high heat.

Step 7Carefully fry the crab in batches until they are red all over and the battered parts are golden. Remove, shaking any excess oil over the pot. Set aside on a rack set over a baking sheet until all of the crab is fried. Cover and refrigerate the crab, up to 24 hours.

Step 8Heat a wok or large pan over high heat, adding 1 tablespoon of cooking oil. Saute the garlic, shallots, ginger, chile and green onion until aromatic (enough to make you cough — that’s how you know you got the GOOD stuff). Add the crab, stirring quickly for 10 to 15 seconds, then add the chili crab sauce. Cover and cook over high heat for several minutes to marry the flavors.

Step 9Reduce the heat to low and remove just the crab, placing it on a serving dish. While reconstructing the crab on the platter, crack the eggs in the sauce and quickly mix to fully incorporate, thickening the sauce. Increase to high heat and reduce the sauce to desired thickness.

Step 10Remove the sauce from heat, and pour the sauce all over the crab. Garnish with green onion and cilantro.

Note: Adapted from a recipe in “Adventures in Starry Kitchen” by Nguyen Tran. He recommends serving the crab with buttermilk beer beignets.


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