So as of yesterday, winter has officially begun.
Of course, nobody living at my latitude cares much about the ‘official’ start of winter, as it has already been cold and snowing for about a month and a half.
The wind bites at you when you walk outside, and any exposed appendages sting, and then quickly become numb. The sun rises at 9 and sets at roughly 4, leaving precious few hours of daylight.
But as miserable as it may seem, it’s not all bad.
For those of you contemplating your spirituality or practising meditation; try a solitary winter walk.
Bundle up. Find someplace deserted and snow covered, pick a direction and just walk.
With the cold comes an almost preternatural stillness. It’s hard to describe, but with the blue skies and coldly brilliant sun and still air, everything seems.. clean.
Quickly, your entire world shrinks to the little bubble of warmth that you carry around yourself. The stinging of the cold gives something tangible for your thoughts to crystallize around, and previously hazy thoughts suddenly become clear.
The cold weather also permits for traditional, greasy and hearty winter recipes, or in my case, spicy things.
A Singaporean/Malaysian dish dating back to the 50’s, chilli crab is perfect for when you want to spend an hour and a half picking through fiery, saucy bits of carapace and licking your fingers.
Here’s how I make it.
- 2 large mud crabs (or Dungeness if you don’t live in South-east Asia)
- 1 egg
- 5 Thai chilies
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 250 ml tomato puree
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 large onion (or two small ones…)
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tbsp white vinegar
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- half inch of sliced ginger
- 1 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp salt (to taste)
- 3 tbsp neutral cooking oil
- Cilantro to garnish
1. Roughly chop the onion(s), de-seed chilies, peel garlic and ginger.
2. Toss the onion, chilies, garlic and ginger into the food processor and puree. When you open the lid on the food processor, stick your face/eyes right in there and see how much it burns. If you’re getting tears, it’s probably hot enough. Or you could just taste it, but that’s no fun.
3. Slay your crabs and chop each crab into 6-7 bits. Discard the shell and the little frond-like bits. For more depth of flavor, try cracking open the claws/legs so the sauce can seep in. This is very messy, and you will get crab bits everywhere.
4. Heat your oil in a wok/deep frying pan and add your puree’d aromatics. Cook for 6-8 minutes on medium heat, or until the the mixture is noticeably drier and takes on a light golden colour.
5. Add fish sauce, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, salt, tomato paste, and tomato sauce. Cook down the mixture for an additional 5 minutes to remove the raw tomato taste from the paste/puree.
6. Combine the cornstarch with a quarter cup of water and add to mixture.
7. Toss in crab and cook, covered for 8-12 minutes on medium-high heat. Stir occasionally.
8. Right before the crab is cooked, break an egg into the wok and combine to coat the crab. This thickens the sauce and tempers the spice.
9. Roughly chop cilantro and garnish. Rule of thumb: more is better, especially if you can’t handle spice. The cilantro cools down the dish significantly.
- Dig in and make a giant fucking mess.
From my experience, this tastes pretty damn authentic. Feel free to tweak the amount of spice/aromatics. Some even prefer ketchup as opposed to tomato paste/puree and sugar.
I prefer my spicy dishes to be nearly-painful, so this may be a bit spicy for non-masochists. Ideally the dish should have people flushed, sweating, inhaling sharply, yet unable to stop eating.
If you have significant experience cooking chilli crab and I’m missing something, please let me know.
I wish everyone Happy Holidays, filled with family, friends, good food and better memories.
See you all next year!