I first encountered this dish years ago on the back of a boat in Sydney. It made use of their native mud crab, and it was a real treat. It’s the kind of dish you can cook at home with our native brown crabs, either chopped up whole or just using the claws, which make easier eating.
If you take a glance at the recipe, you may think I’m using an awful lot of chilli and oil, but in traditional Sichuan cuisine you don’t actually eat them all, they just bob around in the dish giving it heaps of flavour. Last weekend in Dorset my friend Paddy brought home some crab claws rescued from his friend’s net – it’s classed as “bycatch” and sadly a lot of it gets returned to the sea dead instead of ending up in the kitchen.
What a shame; if we were encouraged to eat non-targeted species it would take the pressure off the more common species that everyone automatically opts for.
At the Fish House in Lyme, I flag on the menu the dishes that use by-catch and rather than put people off, it creates a lot of interest.
WOK-FRIED CRAB (SERVES 4)
- 8-12 good sized crab claws
- 120ml vegetable or corn oil
- 50ml sesame oil
- 20g small, dried whole red chillies
- 10g Sichuan peppercorns
- 1/2 tbs sea salt flakes
- 1/2 tbs coarsely ground black pepper
- A handful of dried curry leaves
- 4-5 spring onions, trimmed and sliced on the angle
- A handful of coriander, chopped
- Place the crab in a pan of salted water, bring to the boil and simmer for 4-5 minutes then drain in a colander.
- With the back of a heavy knife crack the three joints of the claw to make easy eating and allow the flavours to get into the flesh of the crab.
- Heat both the oils in a large wok with the Sichuan peppercorns, chillies, salt, pepper and curry leaves. Add the crab claws and cook them in the oil for 6-7 minutes, turning as they are cooking to get all of the flavours into the crab.
- Serve straight from the wok or in a serving dish with the spring onions and coriander scattered over.