With my ITP thesis ready to go, I finally got a chance to do some creative cooking again. Tonight I made a fried soft shell crab salad with a curry aïoli dressing. I improvised through this one (like most things I cook), so no exact measurements. I got the soft shell crabs (which are currently in season) from FreshDirect, and they were already cleaned, which saved me the scary task of cutting off the eyes of live crabs as demonstrated here by Mark Bittman of the NY Times.
Start with the aïoli dressing. Put in a blender:
1 raw egg (without the shell, silly!)
1 clove of garlic
2 chopped up cornichons
1 generous spoonful of Dijon mustard
1 shake of curry powder
1 dash of soy sauce
1 dash of Tabasco
1 heaping teaspoon of apricot jam (the sweetness offsets the intensity of the other flavors)
2-3 teaspoons of vinegar (I used a combo apple cider and rice wine vinegar that has been infused with jalapeños. I like to live a little on the wild side, so I chucked in a couple slices of the pickled jalapeños too
2-3 generous glugs (I know, this is hardly scientific) of grapeseed or other neutral oil
Blend everything together and season to taste. It should come out more like a thick salad dressing and less like a mayonnaise. If it’s too thick, add some water or more vinegar to taste. This makes a lot of dressing, so these measurements would be enough for 4-6 servings.
Now for the crab. Clean the crab if it didn’t come cleaned already. Rinse in some cold water and pat dry with some paper towels. Make a tempura-style batter by mixing flour, ice cold water, freshly ground black pepper, Tabasco, and fish sauce (plain old salt would work here too). The batter should be really cold and rather thin. Don’t over mix. Dip the crab in the batter and deep fry. It takes 2-3 minutes per side. When done, drain on some paper towels.
Tonight I served the crab on some heirloom tomatoes and Boston lettuce with the dressing drizzled on top. I had a glass of vinho verde to go with my delicious dinner, but an off-dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer would also probably work well with the curry flavor.
I served this curry as the main course at my dinner party last night. It’s based on Jamie Oliver’s Southern Indian Crab Curry from his book Cook with Jamie. I kicked it up a notch (to borrow a term from another TV chef) by adding some fresh prawns and some Southeast Asian flavors like shrimp paste and lime leaves. That’s why I call it an “Indian Ocean” curry, because it’s food from an imaginary sunny island between India and South East Asia transported to a dreary, rainy island between the Hudson and East Rivers.
- olive oil
- 3 teaspoons fennel seeds
- 2 heaped teaspoons black mustard seeds
- 5 green cardamom pods, crushed and husks removed
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced
- 4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
- 2 fresh jalapeños, seeded and finely sliced (2 jalapeños turned out pretty mild, I would put in 3 or 4 next time, but I’m evil)
- 1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon of shrimp paste (get it at Bangkok Center Grocery or Kalustyan’s)
- 2 heaped teaspoons turmeric
- 1 teaspoon of tamarind concentrate (Kalustyan’s again)
- 1 large pat of butter
- one 14-ounce can of coconut milk
- juice of 2 lemons or limes (I used 1 lemon and 2 limes)
- 2 lime leaves, stem removed and thinly sliced (Bangkok Center Grocery again)
- 1 pound of uncooked prawns, shelled and cut into bite-sized pieces
- one 1-pound can of crab meat
- fresh cilantro (coriander leaves)
- 1 teaspoon of brown sugar or palm sugar (Or to taste. Bangkok Center Grocery and Kalustyan’s carry palm sugar)
- a few splashes of fish sauce
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat three splashes of olive oil in a large pan and add the fennel seeds, mustard seeds, cardamom, cumin seeds, ginger, garlic, onion, jalapeños, and shrimp paste. Season with salt and pepper. Fry on medium heat for 4-5 minutes until lightly golden, then add the turmeric, butter, and tamarind.
After about 2 or 3 minutes, pour in the coconut milk and a can-full of water. Bring to a light boil and turn to low heat and simmer away for 5 minutes so. Then add the lemon/lime juice and lime leaves and simmer for another 10-15 minutes.
Add the prawns and crab meat simmer for 4 minutes or until the prawns cook through, and taste. Season with salt and pepper and a little more lemon juice if you think it needs it. I also added a few splashes of fish sauce and a bit of sugar at this point.
Garnish with plenty of fresh cilantro and lemon or lime wedges if you like. Serve with some fluffy white rice (jasmine or basmati).