Experiment: Singapore Chili Crab

Chili Crab is one of the signature dishes of Singapore and, indeed, although a Chinese influence seems apparent, it is claimed to have been invented in Singapore sometime during the middle of the last century. My wife was actually lucky enough to sample the dish in Singapore itself a year or two ago but, so far, my experiences have only been with the output of my own kitchen.

Basically, the dish is composed of unshelled crab cooked in a sweet, tomato based chili sauce that is then thickened with egg. Curry powder or other spices are sometimes added, but this is not terribly common. Despite the name, the chili component is secondary to the tangy, sweetness and most versions are usually quite mild. Sometimes the sauce is quite copious and ‘soupy’ but, in other cases, it is fairly thick and clings to the crab pieces like a glaze. I prefer the latter and I also like it fairly spicy hot…

The Ingredients

  • 2 lbs. Crab pieces
  • 2 Eggs
  • 3 Scallions, green sections only
  • 1 540ml can of diced Tomatoes
  • 5 tbsp. Sugar
  • ¼ cup of White Vinegar
  • 3 – 4 tbsp. red Chili Paste
  • 1 tbsp. minced Garlic
  • 1 tbsp. minced Ginger
  • Ground Black Pepper
  • Salt to taste

Ideally, fresh whole Crab should be used for this dish but that is unavailable to me so I am using some large frozen cooked Crab legs. I would normally use a plain tomato sauce bit, on this occasion, all I could lay my hands on was canned diced tomatoes so I will use these and then blend them with a submersion blender when I prepare the sauce. As for the Chili paste, I am using a commercial variety from a tube that contains nothing but red chili with a little salt and vinegar. Use whatever chili sauce or paste you like but try and select one that doesn’t have too many additional flavorings and make sure that you adjust for the salt content.

The Method

Heat a little oil in a small saucepan and then add the ginger, garlic and chili paste. Cook for a minute or two until the aromas are give off and then add the tomatoes. If you are using canned tomatoes (whole or in pieces) rather than sauce, then use a hand blender to ‘whiz’ it smooth. Add the vinegar and sugar and then cook everything over medium heat until the sauce reduces and takes the consistency of bottled ketchup. Season it with salt and pepper to taste.

Slice the scallion greens into sections about three inches long and then cut any wide pieces in half-lengthwise. Chop the crab pieces into small, handy-sized pieces and then, if you like, smash them slightly so that they will be easier to eat and so that some of the sauce will penetrate to the meat. Next, Heat a few tablespoons of oil in your wok and then add the crab, tossing and stirring until the chunks are heated through. Add the scallions and continue to stir until they wilt.

Next, beat the eggs in a small bowl and then add the tomato sauce to the wok. When the sauce is bubbling, stir the crab to coat and then move the pieces up the sides of the wok leaving a pool of sauce at the bottom. Now add the beaten egg by pouring it slowly in a thin stream; first drizzling it lightly over the crab pieces and then into the sauce. Stir the sauce so that the egg gets incorporated and then push the crab pieces back down and stir them in as well. The idea here is that you get a creamy egg thickened sauce but also get ‘strings’ and flecks of cooked egg clinging to the pieces of crab. When all is hot, transfer to separate bowls and serve.

The Verdict

Singapore style Chili Crab is often served with steamed Chinese bread, rice or crusty French bread to sop up the sauce. I chose French bread to go with our meal and I just grilled it lightly and didn’t bother with butter. The sauce turned out more nicely than other times I have attempted this and I really enjoyed it. My wife said it was not quite a spicy hot as when she had it in Singapore (and I think she would have preferred that way), but I was quite happy with it the way it was. It was messy to eat, but delicious.

 

26 thoughts on “Experiment: Singapore Chili Crab”

  1. If you’re ever in northern Australia in our Summer months I think you would like chilli mud crab. These are large fleshy crabs with an exquisite flavour. They grow in the mangroves in tropical and subequatorial coast lines.

    1. I’ve heard of those! Here we get Snow Crab (not great)… Alaskan King Crab (the kind I used here) and, occasionally Dungeness Crab. The Dungeness varierty is from the Pacific Coast and is the only large Crab I have ever cooked fresh from the water… y wife and I have had it on a vacation to BC some years ago. It is the only time I have had it it but it is terrific. Now… if only I could get down to Northern Australia one of these days 🙂

      1. Now that we have Costco I can get Alaskan and Russian (same sea) King crab. They are delicious. I love them thawed with aioli as an entrée before a beefy main.

  2. Looks good! If you can get fresh crabs, I am sure it will even be better. Ask your wife to see if it was better in Singapore because of its freshness? At any rate, you really did a very good job…at least from how it looks! And also from the way it is cut!

    1. As I mentioned in a comment above… I have only been able to cook with fresh Crab once and it certainly does make a world of difference.. for texture as well as taste. My wife wasn’t sure if what she had was fresh or not (although I imagine it would have been)… it’s been almost two years since she was in Singapore… but she did say that the Singapore version was WAY more chili hot than mine was.

    2. From “the Wife” – The version I had in Singapore was likely made from fresh crab but also a variety of crab that I’ve never seen before – it was served whole. The shell was much harder than Alaskan King Crab. So, its a little bit difficult to contrast the two on just the “freshness”. I must say that the way that John made it above came out VERY close to what I had in Singapore in both taste and consistancy. It was VERY good! 🙂

      Darlene

      1. Hi John and dariene: what an honor to have the husband and wife team replying my question. I am sure John did a good job! The crabs in Sungapore are ‘hot’ for sure. Thank you for sharing your experiments with us. You two may be able to open an Asian restaurant in future….just for fun!

  3. Well done! I was lucky to have chili crab here in Singapore a few times before I had to give it up (food allergies). The original version of the dish was just steamed mud crabs with tomato sauce and chilis. Egg was added later to thicken the sauce. It is surprisingly more sweet than spicy. If you want to add more flavor, you can add crab roe, sambal (shrimp paste), or a little bit of dark soy sauce.

  4. Looks good! I’ve never attempted cooking this dish simply because I’m still quite a newbie in the kitchen, cooking only when I really have nothing better to do 😛 We usually use mud crab and restaurants sometimes use Sri Lanka crab because it’s much bigger. My mum’s chili crab will have you in tears because we love spicy food, and Singaporeans love their chili LOL

    I will stop here before I start talking crap 😛

  5. this dish is very famous in here.. 🙂 it will taste better when you add some preserved soya bean paste or dark miso paste .. ! I am drooling now..

    1. That is a great idea! I have miso… just the light kind, but that should be nice too 🙂 Someone else suggested shrimp paste… I have that too. Maybe just a little of both?

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