Cooking any shellfish in its shell improves it because the flavor of the shell permeates the meat. Here from the grill you get the three irresistible flavors of salt, smoke, and cooked chilies.
Although I use prawns, crabs, and scallops in this recipe, you can easily substitute lobster, mussels (which you can cook in a deep-fry basket on top of the grill), razor clams, oysters, or any other shellfish. Cooking shellfish in the shell preserves all the juices, and as they cook, the smoke from the wood or charcoal gives the shellfish a wonderful taste. Use the leftover shells to make stock for a gumbo that is unbelievable.
You will need
Divide the crab in half by holding the claw and legs on each side of the crab in one hand and smashing the underside of the crab against the edge of a table or sink. Then twist the two sides in alternate directions, pulling the body away from the top shell. Clean out the body parts, removing the gills and other debris. Scoop out and save the white crab fat and green liver from the shell, wash the shells, and put the liver and fat back in.
Crack the crab claws and legs with a cracker or the flat side of a heavy knife, being careful to keep the pieces intact.
Kill the lobsters, remove the tails, and put skewers through them lengthwise to straighten them out. Take off the claws and legs.
Thread 4 skewers with 4 shrimp each.
Mix the garlic, chilies, thyme, fennel, saffron, oil, salt, and pepper together. Put the marinade in a big bowl and gently toss all the shellfish in the marinade. Marinate for 1 hour, turning the shellfish several times.
Meanwhile, mix the cumin and mayonnaise together and let sit for 1 hour, allowing the flavors to develop.
Start the fire in the grill (or preheat the broiler).
Add the butter to the crab fat and liver in the crab shell. Put the shells on the grill until the butter is hot and bubbling, at which point the liver and fat will be cooked. Put on a warm part of the fire or in a low oven to keep warm.
Put the crabs and lobsters on the grill and cook 3 minutes. Turn them over and put on the shrimp and scallops. Grill everything until just cooked through, about 2 minutes on each side for the shrimp, 4 minutes for the scallops, and 8 to 10 minutes total for the crabs and lobsters.
Add the lemon juice to the hot butter-filled crab shells, passing them with the rest of the sauces; spoon the cumin mayonnaise and the tomatillo salsa into little ramekins and put one of each on 4 warm plates. Put the shellfish on the plates and serve immediately. Pass lemon wedges and hot, damp napkins.
At the Peak Café in 1990 and then again later in Singapore, I used my ketjap manis marinade:
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