Cua Rang Muoi (Vietnamese Salted Crab Recipe)

Cua Rang Muoi (Vietnamese Salted Crab Recipe) Recipe

I love cooking seafood, but I don’t always get the chance because of the number of vegetarians in my house. So when I do prepare seafood, I make a point of getting the freshest ingredients I can, and today that was crab.

Cua rang muối is one of my favorite recipes for preparing crab. The Vietnamese name literally translates to "crab toasted (roasted) in salt crust". The preparation is quite messy but the cooking time is fairly fast. The main ingredients are whole crabs (of course), freshly cracked black pepper, coarse sea salt, garlic, jalapeño chile peppers, green onions and tapioca starch. When cooked properly, the strong smell of seafood shouldn't bother anyone around with a seafood phobia. And for those of you who love seafood as much as I do, you’re in for a treat!

Salted Crab Recipe with Picture
Don't they look like dentist tools?

Ingredients

Yields: 8 servings

6 whole fresh crabs
4 tablespoons canola oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 kaffir lime leaves (optional), chopped
1-½ tablespoons palm sugar (or granulated sugar)
1 teaspoon red chili powder
1 tablespoon tapioca starch (or corn starch)
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt, to taste
2 teaspoons freshly cracked pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons jalapeño green pepper (to taste), seeded and cut into small pieces
3 green onions, cut into thirds
2 limes, freshly squeezed
6 sprigs tía tô (see tips)


Directions

Clean the crabs, brush under running water and rinse thoroughly. Separate the 2 main claws from each crab. Set aside.

Remove and discard the abdominal flaps (the triangle-shaped tail). Lift and separate the back-fin with the rest of the claws by placing a large tablespoon at the bottom of the crab. Remove and discard the "lungs" (also known as Devil's fingers; they have a spongy texture); they're inedible. Gather the liquid, crab "butter" and corals from the inside of the crabs in a bowl. Discard the main shells.

Using a cleaver, cut the back-fins in half and slightly crack the claws (see tips). Gather the pieces of crab in a large mixing bowl. Add the garlic powder, chili powder, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Toss well. Marinate for at least 15 minutes.

In the same bowl containing the crab liquid, combine the kaffir lime leaves (if used) and palm sugar. Set aside.

Slightly bruise the tía tô (perilla) leaves and coarsely chop them.

In a wok, heat the oil. Add the yellow onions and cook until slightly golden and fragrant. Add the garlic and finely chopped jalapeño pepper. 

As soon as the garlic is lightly browned, dredge the crab with tapioca starch and immediately add the crab pieces to the wok. Add a teaspoon of salt, jiggle the wok to make sure the crab does not stick to the bottom of the wok and is totally coated with oil and slightly crispy. Add the content of the reserved bowl. Constantly toss the crab to ensure each piece is coated with the sauce. As soon as all the liquid evaporates, add ½ to one cup of water and the green onions. Cover and cook for about 8-10 minutes, stirring often. The crab meat should be white and opaque and the liquid should be evaporated as well. Do not over-cook the crab; otherwise the meat will be dry! Un-cover and add the tía tô leaves and the lime juice. Toss the crab and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Season with the remaining salt and cracked pepper.

Transfer to a large platter. Serve with bowls of jasmine rice on the side.

Roll up your sleeves, and dig in immediately!

Note: Don't forget to serve tall glasses of water; it gets salty after a while .


Tips

It's important to crack the claws slightly prior to cooking so that the liquid penetrates into the meat. I use a hammer but you can also use the back of a knife or a meat tenderizer mallet; just make sure to crack the shell and not crush it. You don't want to be eating bits of shell!

Dredging the crab in tapioca starch keeps the moisture in and makes a golden outer crust. Once you add the tapioca, add the crab to the wok immediately. If you wait too long, the moisture from the crab will make it glue-ey and soggy.

Tía tô are Vietnamese perilla leaves; they are green on one side and deep red-purple on the other side. They're a very common garnish in Vietnamese dishes. If you don't have any, you could replace them with Thai basil.

Crab season is between November and January. I always get it at Asian markets. Papa's (my dad's) advice on selecting crabs: First, if you don't see a lot of crabs in the tank, don't buy from that market. Second, pick up the crab you intend to buy and only take it home if it feels heavy for its size. And most important, make sure that they're alive. I never plan on buying crab; I only get it when it's fresh, and there's no way to know that until you go to the market. I paid $25 for 6 crabs, which is a nice alternative to a $30-crab at the restaurant.

I always brush the crabs, rinse thoroughly and place the crabs in the freezer (for at least 45 minutes) prior to cutting them.

It's important to always keep the temperature of the stove at the highest setting. The higher the temperature, the better. If some solids start sticking to the bottom of the wok, add a little water.

Published By: Jacqueline Pham on January 20, 2011.


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