Salt and pepper crab, scallop and calamari

by Forager on September 19, 2009

On a recent grocery trip to Cabramatta, I came across some cute little scuttling crabs I’d not seen before. The sign said shore crabs – but they certainly looked different and appreciably larger than any crab I’d ever found on any sea shore I’d explored – and believe me, I’m always on the lookout for an elusive meaty crab that is happily sitting plumb atop a rock waiting for me to pick it up and carry it home. So, being as obsessed with crabs as I am, I had to buy them and try them for myself.

My mother helped me pick out 4 of the largest and most nimble crabs – a sure sign of a healthy crab and you definitely want to avoid any sick, sluggish crabs. You can tell the gender of a crab from it’s tail flap on it’s underside. Males have thin pointed tail flaps and tend to have larger, fleshier claw pincers; whereas females have broader, rounder tail flaps and may be hiding precious rich crab roe within (a delicacy for most Asians).


My parents suggested I cook them in a salt and pepper mix. As I’d never made any salt and pepper dishes myself I innocently asked them whether it was as simple as the name suggested and I only needed salt and pepper. From the scoffing, chiding and “tsk tsks” I received, I deduced the answer was no. Back home my parents showed me how to make a fresh batch of salt and pepper mix – it’s the one my dad used when he had his own restaurant and the same basic recipe used by most Chinese restaurants. Oh, and this one is best attempted when you have a well aerated kitchen as the spicy pepper aromas have a sneaky way of violently assaulting your nostrils and lungs.

Chinese salt and pepper mix

Ingredients:
* 1 cup salt
* 30g or about 7 tblsp five spice powder
* 1 teasp white pepper
* 2 tblsp Szechuan peppercorn powder
(note: the five spice powder and Szechuan peppercorn powder are both available from Asian groceries)

Method:

  1. Heat a wok over low heat and add in all the ingredients.
  2. Cook over very low heat, stirring continuously for 5 minutes to avoid the dry ingredients from burning
  3. When done, transfer to plate lined with a paper towel and allow to cool (the paper towel will help you transfer the mix to an appropriate storage vessel by simply shaping it into a funnel for pouring). When cool, transfer to a dry, airtight jar. This will keep well for 2 – 3 years without losing it’s aroma.
Cooking the salt and pepper mix

The finished salt and pepper mix

The salt and pepper mix – which my dad insists on calling “Special salt” – contributes the primary familiar flavour you’ll recognise in most salt and pepper style dishes. Add a few additional seafood ingredients and you’ll turn it into an excellent salt and pepper fritto misto di mare dish or salt and pepper fried mixed seafood – doesn’t it sound so much more appetising and exotic in Italian? Now the first thing I need is crab. Hello my little friend. Have you met my cleaver?
Ok, not everyone needs to be as bloodthirsty as I am. You can use pre-cooked crabs like the oft found cooked blue swimmers if you like, or if you have an un-squeamish partner or willing friend or family member they can do the dirty work for you. I didn’t. At this point I was flying solo. If you’re interested some instructions on how to prepare crab are below, and in the interests of reader squeamishness, I omitted the photos in this section.

Cleaning and preparing crabs:

  1. The most humane method of preparing crabs is by anaesthetising the crabs in the freezer – but, remember to clean them thoroughly beforehand first. If you wash them after their freezer session, unsurprisingly, they wake up. Depending on the size of the crabs, freeze for 15 – 30 mins. Check periodically – you don’t want to freeze the crab solid as that would affect thecrab flesh, just anaesthetise it. When the crab is unresponsive, it’s anaesthetised.
  2. Act quickly and using a large sharp knife, turn the crab onto it’s back (i.e. legs facing up) and split the crab cleanly down the middle. Don’t pierce the shell or carapace if you want to keep the shell for presentation later.
  3. Lift up the tail flap and pull off the shell – it should come off easily.
  4. Remove the intestines, the gills – also known rather graphically as dead man’s fingers, and anything else that looks like gunk and not flesh. If you’re trying to identify roe – it tends to be a deep, rich burnt orange colour and will be easily identified from the internal organs (unfortunately mine didn’t have any so I didn’t take photos of the carnage or crab dissection).
  5. Cleave the crab into smaller manageable portions. I tend to split the crab into quarters and if the pincer is impressive, cleave that off separately. If the pincers are large, consider using crab claw crackers to give them a preliminary crack before cooking to allow the flavours to get inside the pincer to the flesh.
  6. Place crab pieces onto layers of paper towels to remove excess moisture

With crabs prepared, I was ready to finally tackle the compiling and cooking of the other seafood ingredients I bought – fresh plump scallop and calamari. This recipe requires the seafood pieces to be coated in a light batter of corn flour which gives everything an exterior coating that’s slightly translucent and delightfully crispy and chewy.

Salt and pepper crab, scallop and calamari
(Serves 2 hungry people)

Ingredients:
Seafood & batter

* 4 shore crabs (or about 2 blue swimmer crabs or 1 mud crab)
* 10 large scallops
* 2-3 calamari tubes (cleaned and cut into rings)
* 1 whole egg (beaten)
* corn flour to coat
* oil for frying (peanut oil or corn oil is recommended as it provides better flavour)

Seasoning:
* 2 heaped tblsp of Chinese salt and pepper mix
* 2 tblsp dried onion flakes (available from Asian groceries)
* 1 tsp minced garlic
* 1 tsp chicken powder
* 2 Chinese shallots or spring onions (chopped, reserve some for garnish)
* fresh chilli (to taste)
* chopped coriander to garnish
* oil


Method:

  1. Heat up oil in a wok or a deep frying pan
  2. Coat crab, scallop and calamari pieces in egg wash then coat in the corn flour. Shake off excess then drop gently into the oil. Take care not to overcrowd the pan and reduce the temperature too much.
  3. When golden brown, transfer from oil to a plate with plenty of paper towels to soak up the excess oil.
  4. In another wok, heat up a small amount of oil and fry the garlic and fried onion pieces (only a small amount is needed as the fried seafood will be oily enough)
  5. Toss in all the remaining seasoning ingredients and stir fry to mix.
  6. When mixed through, add in the fried seafood and mix well to coat
  7. Garnish with fresh shallots and coriander and serve immediately
Salt and pepper fritto misto di mare (aka salt and pepper fried mixed seafood)


Salt and pepper crab

The result was better than I’d expected. The batter was light, crisp and chewy and didn’t drown the flavour of the scallops and calamari. We were worried that the crab was too small and the legs too fiddly to warrant trying to extract the succulent meat from within, but surprisingly they were generously fleshy. Being small and thin shelled the frying help crisp up the shells and allowed us to eat them like crunchy soft shell crabs – a little bit of chitosan is good for you anyway! And the flavour? It was salty, spicy, peppery, pungent with the fragrant wafting aromas of five spice and szechuan pepper nicely contrasted with the fresh crunch of shallots and coriander. It was delicious, moreish and we ate more than our fair share of tasty deep fried goodness.

Just as well it’s easy to make as now I have a hefty jar of Chinese salt and pepper mix which I estimate to last me… oh… a few lifetimes. I’m forecasting a few more salt and pepper dishes in my near future.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Simon Food Favourites September 19, 2009 at 1:39 pm

looks really good. well done. i never knew how to cook something like this so thanks for the recipe. sounds really yummy and looks so professional :-)

2 Guest September 19, 2009 at 6:11 pm

Wow, well done on this. Looks like a tasty dish for the warmer months. My mum used to make crab quite often and I always stayed far far away during the 'killing' phase. Can't bear to watch!

3 Jackie at PhamFatale.com September 19, 2009 at 10:15 pm

I usually make this dish with tamarind and Thai basil. This version sounds to die for!

Jackie at PhamFatale.com

4 Belle@OohLook September 20, 2009 at 1:23 am

It's very cool that your parents could show you the salt and pepper recipe. And thanks for sharing it with us – the crab looks sensational.

5 Guest September 20, 2009 at 11:39 am

That looks so good! I love salt and pepper anything, especially when it's proper salt and pepper :)

6 Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella September 20, 2009 at 11:03 pm

hehe good to know that you're always on "crab patrol" as am I 😛 Thanks to your dad for sharing his recipe! For as much as I love eating S&P crab/prawns/calamari, I have only made it once in my life and it wasn't particularly brilliant so I'll give this a go :)

7 Leona @ Pigged-out September 21, 2009 at 5:55 pm

Good lord Trina this is pro! this looks like something I would buy from a restaurant!!!! Im so traumatised by killing live animals that I have to get someone else to do it for me it makes me sad but so worth it in the end!

8 billy@ATFT September 21, 2009 at 11:30 pm

Yumm, this look really really good! I love the version where they really cook the crab in the salty sand dune, until a nice caramelised salty shell, love sucking on them.

9 Howard September 22, 2009 at 12:44 am

Great way to cook them! I think the size is just right like you said, otherwise the shell would be too hard.

10 Forager September 22, 2009 at 11:15 am

Hey Simon – Thanks! It did taste just like restaurant standard so I think the recipe is pretty robust

Hey Guest – Personally, I think crab is an all-year-round dish. But that may be the crab lover in me speaking! I wasn't so lucky with avoiding the killing phase. My parents seemed intent on showing me where my food came from.. Thanks for dropping by too.

Hey Jackie – Tamarind & Thai basil?? Oh boy that sounds good! Please can you post that recipe on your blog?

Hey Belle – When it comes to food my parents are always willing to impart knowledge. Hey – aren't you allergic to crab? Poor thing :(

Hey Guest – Absolutely agree – a good salt & pepper dish goes a long way. It's hard to get the mix right too – enough to be tasty, not so much that it's too salty. So many restaurants still get the mix wrong.

Hey Lorraine – Hehe – yep definitely on permanent crab patrol! Actually, I extend it to permanent crustacean patrol!

Hey Leona – I think my upbringing has made me a bit desensitised to the animal preparation. Have I mentioned that my parents made me eat my pet duck?

Hey Billy – Salty sand dunes? What are you talking about? Pray do tell!

Hey Howard – Yep, I think the size was just perfect! Although doing it was real soft shell crabs would also have been a winner!

11 Raymond L September 22, 2009 at 10:03 pm

Hi Trina! Looks greeeeeaaaat! I love a well cooked salt-and-pepper dish! Can't get enough of the spices and salty crunchy goodness. Were you lucky enough to get any roe in these?

12 Von September 22, 2009 at 11:57 pm

I like playing with crabs…..haha but I've never cooked one before. When I do, I'll definitely use this recipe. This looks so good!

13 FFichiban September 23, 2009 at 1:53 am

This is the way to eat crab! Shell and all hee hee I am wayyy too lazy to pick at the meat so this is perfect for me ^^! Yuummm

14 Betty September 23, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Lol I would've probably asked the same thing about making the salt & pepper mix!! I never really knew/questioned it, but very interesting to know and it seems to easy to make as well…. Love your detailed description of the whole process, I don't know if I'd be able to slaughter the crab though, so I might just get someone to do it for me and enjoy the rewards 😀

15 Forager September 23, 2009 at 10:24 pm

Hey Raymond – No, unfortunately no roe in these ones, but one can always hope! I love those dishes like snow pea shoots with crab roe.. mmm.. Thanks for visiting by the way!

Hey Von – It's a very easy & fool proof recipe so please give it a go. Thanks for dropping by!

Hey Betty – You don't know what you're capable of until you give it a go – and then, you'd be surprised how quickly you become ..er.. "used to it". Or is that just me?

16 Megan@Feasting on Art September 24, 2009 at 11:44 pm

Oh my! I would be too intimidated to cook crab myself. I figured Chinese 5 Spice went into the Salt and Pepper sauce but I think I would have just assumed it was salt and pepper too. Looks delish!

17 Guest September 25, 2009 at 6:18 am

Trina I wish I was in Sydney to eat some of the amazing dishes you post here. Love, Sophia

18 Obesbaby September 13, 2010 at 10:30 am

Great recipe, I think i will do that with prawn

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