Tatsuta Deep-Fried Soft-Shell Crabs with Ginger

Kani no Tatsuta Agé

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Serves

    4

Appears in

An American Taste of Japan

An American Taste of Japan

By Elizabeth Andoh

Published 1985

  • About

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. Kuraoka, manager of the restaurant, is a firm believer in using regional American ingredients in cooking Japanese food. I’ve added ginger to my marinade, which I think helps bring out the sweetness of the crab. These crunchy crustaceans are culinary bliss!

Ingredients

  • 8 small soft-shell crabs
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons saké (Japanese rice wine)
  • 1 tablespoon ginger juice (extracted from freshly grated ginger)
  • ½–⅔ cup cornstarch
  • vegetable oil, for deep frying
  • 1 lemon or lime, cut in wedges

Method

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 inches for your oil when deep frying; 2–3 inches would be even better. Heat the oil to about 375 degrees. Test the oil by dropping a pinch of the cornstarch into it; it’s preferable to use a sample that has marinade clinging to it. Ideally the sample will drop ever so slightly beneath the surface of the oil and rise immediately to sizzle gently. Start by frying two or three pieces of crab at a time. Using tongs or long cooking chopsticks, gently slide the crabs into the oil, top down. They may splatter a bit as the oil bubbles around the crabs—all the more reason for using the longest chopsticks you can comfortably control. Fry for 1 minute, then flip the crabs and fry for another 30 seconds. As the frying proceeds, the oil will become less bubbly and active. Remove the crabs to paper towels to absorb excess oil. Fry the rest of the crabs in the same way, two or three pieces at a time, until all are done. If you wish to keep the already fried crab pieces warm in a preheated 200-degree oven, tha’ts fine for up to 10 minutes. After that they’ll dry out.

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.