Over twenty years ago, when I gave one of my first cooking classes, I prepared a live crab for the wok. My students were rather taken aback as I went through the process of dismembering the crab. But I was only doing as I had been taught.
Like my many Chinese-American friends, I grew up knowing that the only crab worth eating was one that was alive up to the point of cooking. We were taught, correctly, that crab deteriorates as soon as it dies, to the detriment of its flavour and texture. In Chinese cookery, only the freshest of ingredients are to be used, and this applies especially to fish and shellfish.
Thus, it made sense only to prepare live crabs, dispatching them quickly and, as my uncles would have said, ‘with merciful mercilessness’. And once you’ve tasted fresh crab so prepared, the unique taste, texture and silkiness of the crabmeat are incomparable. Freshness will have a new meaning – as we Chinese—Americans were taught.
This simple dish is easy to make once the crabs have been cut up. A simple stir-fry accented by bracing ginger and sharp spring onions, it is a crab lover’s gustatorial heaven.
If you are using live crabs, hold each crab on its back. With a thick towel, immediately twist off the large claws. Then twist off the small legs. Scrub the shells under cold running water. Now separate the top shell from the crab body. Remove the feathery lungs, the mouth and the tail. Scrub the shell and the crab body under cold running water. Remove the stomach sac. Quarter the crab body with a large knife or cleaver. Then crack the claws and legs with the flat of the cleaver.
If you are using cooked crabs, simply clean and quarter them and crack as described above.
Heat a wok or large frying pan over a high heat until it is hot. Swirl in the oil and, when it is very hot and slightly smoking, toss in the garlic, ginger and spring onions and stir-fry for 20 seconds. Then chuck in the crab pieces, salt, pepper and rice wine. Stir-fry everything over a high heat for about 15 minutes (if using cooked crab, 5 minutes will be enough). Turn it onto a large, warm serving platter and serve at once.
© 1998 Ken Hom. All rights reserved.