Fried Soft-Shelled Crabs in a Spicy Sauce

Kani Kara Agé no Momiji Oroshi

Although all species of crabs molt and, theoretically at least, could be a soft-shelled delicacy, the commercial catch in the United States comes primarily from the Chesapeake Bay area. There, tasty tiny blue crabs are harvested before their shells harden and are brought to market. Soft-shelled crabs are not part of traditional Japanese cuisine, but here in the United States in the early summer, nearly every Japanese restaurant serves them deep-fried, crispy, and crunchy!

Ingredients

  • 4 small soft-shelled crabs

Marinade

  • ¼ cup saké (Japanese rice wine)
  • tablespoons soy sauce

Dipping Sauce

  • cup dashi (basic sea stock)
  • 1 tablespoon mirin (syrupy rice wine)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 packet (3-5 grams) katsuo bushi (dried bonito flakes)
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • oil for deep-frying

Condiments

  • 3 tablespoons grated daikon (Japanese white radish)
  • ¼ teaspoon powdered ichimi tōgarashi (chili pepper)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions (green part only) or chives

Method

  1. Have your fish store clean the crabs for you. Cut each crab in half, between the eyes and through the center of the body, with a sharp knife. Combine the rice wine and soy sauce, and marinate the crabs in the mixture while you make the sauce.
  2. Combine the sea stock, syrupy rice wine, soy sauce, and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Simmer the sauce for 1 minute, then remove the pan from the heat and sprinkle in the fish flakes. Let the sauce sit for 2 minutes, then stir, and strain through a cloth- or paper-lined colander. Keep the sauce warm.
  3. Remove the crabs from the marinade and pat them with paper towels to absorb the excess moisture; they will still be moist. Dust the crabs with the cornstarch and allow them to sit for 5 minutes, or until the cornstarch becomes slightly reddish brown in color.
  4. Heat the oil in a deep-fryer or wok to about 370 degrees. Test with a pinch of cornstarch moistened with soy sauce: The cornstarch will sink ever so slightly, then rise immediately to sizzle on the surface but not color rapidly. Fry the crab pieces, two at a time, for 1½ minutes or until crisp and nicely colored. Drain the fried crabs on paper towels.
  5. To serve, reassemble the crabs (four half-pieces for each portion) on plates lined with doilies or other decorative paper liners. Divide the dipping sauce between two shallow bowls or deeply rimmed plates.
  6. With your fingers, gently press the grated radish to the side of the bowl in which it sits and pour off excess accumulated liquid. Stir in the powdered chili pepper. Coax this red-flecked radish mixture into two mounds. Divide the scallions into two portions, and use one to crown each of the radish mountains. Place these condiments on the plate next to the crabs. To eat, each person adds condiments to his or her liking to the dipping sauce before dunking the fried crabs in it.

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