Thursday, December 09, 2004

Home Cooking - Feeling Crabby?

It's crab season, and a particularly fruitful one, at that. Alas for the fishermen, the high amounts of clawed-crustaceans means a market glut that doesn't pay off for their efforts very well. But for us Dungeness crab lovers, it's a frenzied free-for-all, at prices as low as $2.27/lb. for live specimens.

I battled the weekend dim-sum nibblers and holiday-shopping families for my own dinner that would shuffle around in a lumpy paper and plastic bag package. I use my feminine charms to smile at the hispanic fishmongers, in hopes that they really will spend the extra time to find me a 'large one, please'. It works sometimes; one time I ended up with a monster of a crab over 3 and 1/4 pounds! This time however, I was matched up with an average-sized female (females have 'bibs' on their undersides) around 2.75 lbs. No worries, I can't eat an entire crab by myself in one sitting anyway.

I happily carted 'Celeste' home, and plopped her into my stainless steel sink, where she blew frothy bubbles and obligingly clamped onto a chopstick that I waved in her vicinity. I whole-heartedly subscribe to the philosophy of playing with your food. ;)

In my short span cooking years, I've limited myself to boiling my crabs, which is a lovely, loudly sucking, hands-in-face affair when you're by yourself. Sweet flesh that flakes off onto your tongue, accompanied with perfectly-sea-salt-enhanced crab juice (thus the sucking) is one of the best seasonal fall delights. However, you never know what you're missing out on, if you never try anything new, so this time around, I decided to expand my horizons, per se.

My mom has this old, unassuming-looking cookbook called 'Stella Chan's Secrets in the Art of Chinese Cooking'. A year or so ago, I snagged my own copy of it at a used book store, and it is FAR more valuable than the $2.75 that I spent on it. The recipes are remarkably simple, and yet they offer results that are far better than the more-complicated 40-ingredient fusion recipe with just as many steps.

A quick boil in water for about eight minutes, and then I carefully pried the underside 'bib' off, as well as the top shell, being quite careful not to spill any of the cholesterol-rich greenish fluids. Yes, Chinese eat everything, and I've been indoctrinated into that as well. I used my brand-spanking new cleaver to chop up the body into four segments after I had twisted each of the legs off and partly cracked them open (to let the seasonings seep in!) and then set it aside.

After heating a skillet, I poured in about two teaspoons of oil, and then stir-fried peeled ginger 'coin' slices in it until they were brownish. In went three-inch length green onions and cilantro for a few quick stirs, and then the crab followed suit. I then drizzled in a mixture of 3 tablespoons of wine, 1 teaspoon of sugar, and 1 teaspoon of salt, and stir-fried the mixture for about three minutes. The time is important, to let the wine-goodness seep into the crabmeat. The original recipe was for two crabs, but I only had one, and I was being lazy about vegetables, so I added a generous pile of pea sprout leaves to the now-full frying pan. Lastly, I made a mixture of water (~ 1/3 cup), a tablespoon or so of soy sauce, and twice that amount of cornstarch. Poured that in, cooked it until the gravy nicely glazed the crab and vegetables, and mounded a tantalizingly-scented pile onto hot, steamed rice.

Oh, the bliss... It smelled, looked, and tasted just like the restaurant's. I couldn't have asked for a better first try!


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