When I was growing up in California, my grandmother, a fantastic cook,would prepare Saturday dinner and Sunday lunch for dozens of people every week. On public holidays, her entire family (six children, their spouses and 23 grandchildren) would gather for a feast. But when we got a phone call mid-week, it meant one thing: she’d found reasonably priced Dungeness crabs, and she’d be steaming them for dinner.
This was always a smaller group – about a dozen of us – and we’d eat our fill of crab before moving onto a few simple dishes, often congee with stir-fried vegetables.
Steamed crabs with soy and garlic dip
This was my grandmother’s way of serving crabs, although in Hong Kong, I use the easier-to-find, smaller types such as flower crabs or crucifix crabs. Mud crabs are good, too, but the shell is thick, making it difficult to crack the legs, and it’s hard to pull off the back shell. Don’t use hairy crabs, which are eaten primarily for their roe.
For smaller crabs (with shells about 12cm across) count on at least 1½ per person. One large mud crab should be sufficient for two greedy diners (I would include myself in that category) or four who are more restrained.
6 fresh crabs, with back shells about 12cm across
6-8 large garlic cloves
100ml cooking oil
80ml soy sauce
Kill the crabs by pushing the sharp, slender blade of a boning knife, or similar, through the face into the brain. Scrub the crabs with a clean kitchen brush under running water, then put them back-side-down in the sink. Lift the “apron” at the base of the bottom shell (it’s long and slender on males, wide and bell-shaped on females) and pull it off. Turn the crab over. Holding down the claws with your left hand (if you’re right-handed), grasp the side of the top shell with your right hand and pull it up and away from the body to expose the insides. Set the top shells aside, placing them upside-down so the liquid and soft parts stay inside. From the body, remove the feathery gills, the intestines (they’re white and squiggly) and other inedible bits. Cut each body into four, making sure some of the legs are attached to each piece. (Cut larger crabs into eight pieces: the two claws, then the rest of the body into six.)
Lay the body pieces in one layer on a large heat-proof platter, and the back shells on another platter. Steam them in a covered container over boiling water for 10 minutes (you may need to steam them in batches). Larger crabs should be steamed for 15 to 20 minutes.
While the crabs are steaming, make the dipping sauce. Finely mince the garlic and put it in a small pan with the cooking oil. Set the pan over a low-medium flame and cook until the garlic is pale-medium golden; do not let the garlic get too dark, or it will taste bitter. Divide the soy sauce between four individual dipping bowls and pour the oil into each dish, making sure to distribute the garlic evenly. Serve the steamed crabs with the dipping sauce. Serves four.
Roast duck congee
Buy the duck from a siu mei shop, and don’t let the vendor chop it into pieces.
½ a roast duck, in one piece
100 grams long-grain rice
1 section (one-third of a whole piece) chun pei (dried tangerine peel)
2 thin slices of ginger, peeled
For the meatballs:
250 grams minced pork
6-8 medium-sized fresh shrimp, with bodies about 5cm long
10ml soy sauce
5ml rice wine
½ tsp sesame oil
1/8 tsp fine sea salt
1/8 tsp granulated sugar
A pinch of finely ground white pepper
½ tsp cornstarch
1 spring onion, minced
Finely julienned ginger
Minced spring onion
Fresh coriander sprigs
Finely ground white pepper
Take the meat and skin from the duck carcass. Put the bones into a pan and add 1.5 litres of water. Bring to the boil over a high flame, then lower the heat, cover the pan with the lid and simmer for 45 minutes. Pour the liquid through a strainer set over a bowl; discard the bones.
Pour 1.2 litres of the duck stock back into the pan (no need to wash it). Rinse the rice with water then drain; repeat until the water is almost clear. Put the rice into the pan and add the tangerine peel and sliced ginger. Bring to the boil over a medium-high flame then lower the heat, cover the pan with the lid and cook at a low simmer, stirring occasionally, until the grains of rice are breaking apart and the congee is fairly thick. If needed, thin out the congee by stirring in more of the duck stock, or use boiling water.
While the congee is simmering, make the meatballs. Mince the shrimp meat and add it to the minced pork. Mix in the soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, salt, sugar, white pepper, cornstarch and spring onion. Shape the mixture into meatballs about 1.5cm in diameter. Cut the reserved duck meat/skin into bite-sized pieces.
When the congee is ready, add the duck meat and meatballs and simmer gently until the meat is cooked through. Ladle into bowls and let your guests add the ginger, spring onion, coriander, sesame oil and white pepper to taste.