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…
- 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.
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.
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.