Living on a tropical island, seafood to us is second nature. Especially for those of us who love our seafood excessively, dishes like crab become everyday food.
Not so much now. Choosing a good, fleshy crab is sometimes a challenge even for us island dwelling folk due to the mass exporting of crab from our island nation. Even if you head to the fish market early on in the day, the best ones are reserved to be taken out to restaurants or to be shipped abroad.
How to choose the best crabs? Here are a few tips.
- Look for the dull, scratchy shells. This means that crab is ready to moult (shed its shell) and is well fed and is therefore fleshy.
- Look out for the smell. Fresh crustaceans are odorless. If it gives off a strong ammonia smell, steer clear.
- A full grown crab has well grown, well used claws. If the claws have worn out, flattened out tooth, you’ve got a good one.
- Go for a live crab. As much as I personally avoid this, live crabs are evidently the freshest and the fleshiest. This is also due to the fact that when crustaceans die, they release a chemical that dissolves the flesh and starts the decomposition process.
- The underside of the crab, the light-colored triangular flap when pressed will be firm and bulging with a yellow tinge on a fleshy crab. Males have narrow bellies while the females’ are wide and rounded. A soft belly, often with a blue tinge, indicates that the crab is losing its flesh.
Eating crab is messy business which I like to do on a holiday when I am at home in this delicious crab curry that my mother makes. Otherwise I do the hard work and clean the flesh off the crab so that the crab meat can be enjoyed as is without the hassle of biting into shells.
This baked crab dish is something I like to make with the crab meat out of the shell. We have this as a dinner option with some crusty homemade bread and even by itself, it is rather filling. Baked crab also feels very fancy when you have some friends over when in reality, it is a rather simple dish.
- Crab meat - 300g
- Olive oil - 1 tblsp
- Onion - 1, chopped
- Green pepper - 1, chopped
- Butter - 4 tblsps
- Milk - 1 cup
- Chili flakes - 2 tsps
- Flour - ¼ cup
- Bread - 8 slices, toasted, crushed
- Salt and pepper - To taste
- Crab shells - 6 – 8, cleaned
- In a pan, heat the olive oil. Add in the onions and fry till golden.
- Add in the chili flakes. Fry until toasty.
- Add the crab meat. Season with salt and pepper. Stir-fry for 3 minutes and transfer the mixture to a different bowl.
- In the same pan, heat the butter. Add flour and salt and cook while stirring constantly. Gradually add the milk and cook while stirring constantly until thick and bubbly. Remove the sauce from heat.
- Mix the crab meat mixture into the sauce. Add in half the bread crumbs. Fill the crab shells with the mixture. Sprinkle the tops with the bread crumbs and bake at 400° for 20 minutes. Serve while hot.
Alternately, you can top the crab meat with your choice of cheese for a superbly indulgent treat.
The sweetness of the crab meat goes well with the creamy white sauce with the piquant chili flakes, titillating the tongue with its loud bursts of flavor. The crab meat itself is so flavorsome and the breadcrumbs come in handy in order to bring all those beautiful flavors together. The tops are nice and crunchy while when you dig in, the insides of the shell are soft and moist, the crab meat retaining all its beautiful juices that mingle so freely with the milkiness of the white sauce. Need I say more?
Some baking tips
- Make sure you wash and clean the crab shell properly prior to use. After all, your meal will be served on these.
- If you don’t have enough crab shells, feel free to use ramekins or other small oven-safe vessels.