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29 Mar 2021

Cornish chilli crab

Cornish chilli crab
Extract taken from Jack Stein’s World on a Plate (Bloomsbury Absolute, £26). Photography © Paul Winch-Furness

This recipe is taken from Jack’s debut cookbook Jack Stein’s World on a Plate, published by Bloomsbury.

“Singapore, in many ways, is where it all really began for me. Our family had travelled in Europe and eaten oysters and other fruits de mer in Brittany and beyond, but in 1985, on a trip to Australia when I was five, my love of seafood really took off. On a stopover in Singapore, we went, as usual, to a night market and that’s where I first saw and tasted chilli crab. Maybe it was the jet lag, maybe the unbelievable humidity, but something in the experience opened my senses. I knew crabs, but not like these. Those watching me in the market might have been confused to see a small, pale, ginger-haired kid looking perplexed by his sensory overload, but in fact I was being seduced by the wonderful flavours that the crab dish had to offer. Ever since, I’ve found the combination of eating Asian food at 11pm while jet-lagged to be paradise – and I owe it all to this dish!

My father’s version of chilli crab uses brown crab, which is far fuller-flavoured than the mud crabs used in Singapore. My own recipe is similar to his, but with a few tweaks — a classic with just a little twist.”

Takes: 30 mins

2kg boiled brown crab 
4 tbsp groundnut or sunflower oil 
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped 
2.5cm fresh root ginger, finely chopped 
3 medium-hot, finely chopped 
4 tbsp tomato ketchup
2 tbsp dark soy sauce 
1 tsp Marmite 
2 spring onions, cut into 5cm pieces and finely shredded lengthways 
a handful of coriander, chopped

  1. Put the crab on its back on the chopping board, so the claws and softer body section face upwards, then twist off the main claws, leaving the legs attached to the body. Put your thumbs against the hard shell, close to the crab’s tail, and push and prise the body section out and away from the shell.  The legs should still be attached to the body. Remove the small stomach sac situated just behind the crab’s mouth, pull away the feather-like gills (‘dead man’s fingers’) that are attached along the edges of the centre part and discard. 
  2. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the brown meat from inside the shell, then set it aside. Chop the body into quarters and cut the main claws in half at the joint. Crack the shells of each piece with a hammer or the blunt edge of a large knife. 
  3. Heat the oil, garlic, ginger and chilli in a wok set over a medium heat for 1 min to release their aromas. Turn up the heat and fry off the brown crab meat, then add the ketchup, soy sauce, Marmite and 150ml water. Add the remaining crab in its shell and stir-fry for 2 mins. Remove from the heat and finish with the spring onions and coriander. 
  4. Serve immediately, with lots of napkins and finger bowls.

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