One of the most beautiful and evocative cookbooks to cross my path of late is the recent issue 7,000 Islands – A Food Portrait of the Philippines by Australian-Filipino food and travel writer Yasmin Newman. A lavishly photographed and comprehensive collection of recipes from around the islands of Southeast Asia, it is especially relevant as we see more and more restaurants opening that feature Asian cuisine. In it Newman takes us to exotic locales to offer up dishes that can be prepared in our own kitchens. Of all the 323 pages of recipes I chose this one, which is a unique way of preparing our Maryland Blue Crabs.
Crab and Young Coconut Ginataan:
One of the most resounding memories I have of the Philippines is of regularly eating crab; the expensive crustacean is a rare treat in Australia. My cousins occasionally enjoy it for breakfast when an affordable batch of live crabs arrives home from the morning market or is received as a gift. The bright orange shells splash colour across the table and we prise the sweet crabmeat from within. Dinner or dinner-party dish, it depends on the price of crab near you. Either way, it’s special. It’s also incredibly quick to prepare. If you prefer, ask your fishmonger to clean the crab for you.
4 raw blue swimmer crabs (about 1 kg /2 lb 3 oz)
80 ml (2 ½ fl oz /1/3 cup) vegetable oil
10 cm (4 inch) piece ginger, peeled and very finely chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 small vine-ripened tomato, roughly chopped
3 lemongrass stems, white part only, bruised
2 long green chiles, halved lengthwise and seeded
250 ml (8 ½ fl oz /1 cup) vegetable stock
250 ml (8 ½ fl oz /1 cup) coconut milk
250 ml (9 fl oz /1 cup) coconut cream
2 young cocounts (buko), opened and meat scraped (see method, page 326)
Steamed rice, to serve
To prepare each crab, lift the triangular tail flap on the underside of the body and gently but firmly pull down to release the top shell. Remove and discard the flap, reserving the top shell. Remove and discard the spongy, finger-like gills, then replace the shell. Cut the body in half. Using a nutcracker or the blunt edge of a large knife, crack the large claws.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large, deep saucepan over medium heat. Add the ginger and cook for 1 minute, stirring until fragrant. Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes, then add the tomato and cook for a further 3 minutes, stirring and pressing until the tomato starts to break down.
Add the lemongrass, chillies, stock, and coconut milk to the pan, season with freshley cracked black pepper, then bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the crab, reduce the heat oto medium, and continue to cook for a further 8-10 minutes, turning over the crab pieces halfway – the crab is cooked when the shell changes colour and the meat turns white. Using tongs, remove the crab pieces to a serving bowl.
Add the coconut cream and young coconut meat to the pan, increase the heat to medium-high , and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring often, until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat, discard the lemongrass and chillies, if desires, and pour over the crab. Serve with steamed rice.