The Japanese technique of deep frying foods that have been marinated in soy sauce, then dredged in cornstarch, is called tatsuta agé after Princess Tatsuta, a legendary figure said to have been fond of red maples. The burnished red color of the fried foods is thought to resemble the autumnal foliage as it begins to turn. This style of frying is particularly popular with bits of chicken and small whole fish, such as sand dabs.
I first sampled soft-shell crabs served tatsuta style at Restaurant Nippon in New York. Mr.
Rinse the crabs well under cold running water and pat dry. Cut each in half between the eyes, so that each piece has legs and body attached.
In a shallow glass or ceramic bowl, mix the soy sauce, rice wine, and ginger juice. Allow the crabs to marinate in this mixture, covered, for at least 15 minutes but no more than 2 hours. Turn the crabs several times if the marinade doesn’t cover all surfaces.
Remove the crabs from the marinade and pat dry on paper towels. The marinade can be reused within a day or two if covered and refrigerated in the interim. Toss the crabs in the cornstarch to cover each piece lightly but well. Allow the dredged crabs to sit for at least 5 and up to 20 minutes before frying. The cornstarch will change to a brown color as it absorbs some of the marinade, making it more flavorful when fried.
You’ll need a depth of at least
The Japanese present fried foods such as these on folded paper, much as Americans place cookies or candies on paper doilies. If you want to follow the Japanese example, the specially treated papers are available at most Oriental groceries and I’ve included a diagram to guide you in forming the standard simple fold. The smoother side should face down at the start. Place a folded sheet on each flat dinner plate and arrange the crabs either in a mound in the center, or aligned to re-form the crab shapes. Serve with lemon or lime wedges on the side.
© 1985 Elizabeth Andoh. All rights reserved.