Nebulous Crab

It’s a little-known fact, but meal planning is made so much easier when friends call up and offer to bring you a dozen soft-shell crabs and help you eat them.

Normally I flour and fry crabs and make tartar sauce, because that’s how Milo loves them and it’s hard to argue with the merits of that preparation. But this time around I had a hankering for Malaysian flavors, and a quick rummage in the fridge produced everything I needed to make a convincing, if utterly inauthentic, facsimile.

I cleaned the crabs and floured them, then tossed them into a screaming hot wok to brown and crunchify a bit. Once they had turned orange, with nice charred brown bits around the edges, I added my bogus yet highly flavorful sauce: ketchup, coconut milk, tamarind paste, fish sauce, smoked pork stock, sriracha, vinegar, maple syrup, ginger, and garlic. Pretty far from Malaysia, but I must say that the result actually evoked memories of Nyonya, our go-to Malaysian place when we lived in the city. There’s a culturally confluential complexity to Malaysian food that I love; it combines influences from China, Southeast Asia, and the subcontinent in marvelous ways. The genius of it is that it manages to retain this sort of in-betweeny character while asserting its own unmistakeable uniqueness. My fridgy grab-bag sauce turned out to hit some of those same notes and it was a wonderfully rich counterpoint to the crisp crab carapaces.

As satisfying as this was, the remaining few were even better the next morning after a quick toss in a pan with basil leaves and served on top of scrambled eggs with cherry tomatoes, leftover cucumber-shiso salad, and the homemade mango chutney. Freaking superb. It had all the comfort food impact of leftover ethnic takeout combined with the intense flavors and smug self-satisfaction of homemade. All days should begin so well.

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