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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Cua Xào Me (Dungeness Crab Sautéed in Tamarind Sauce)


Sipping hot caramel macchiato - decaf mind you - with the screeching sounds of the espresso machine, the chitchats in the background and coffee house music playing overhead somehow provides the perfect ambiance for blogging.

A couple weeks ago, I had family friends from Portland, Oregon visiting for a couple of nights.  Interestingly, my guests are pescetarians, so I had the chance to cook a few seafood dishes for them and my family to enjoy.

Dungeness crab sauteed in tamarind sauce was one of the dishes. This sweet, succulent treasure of the sea - is cooked in a delicious tamarind, chili, garlic, shallots, onion, ginger, brown sugar, fish sauce with a lovely fresh kaffir lime leaf flavor imparts a wonderful fragrance to the dish. 

Tamarind is a fruit that is popular in the food of Southeast Asia, North Africa and India. Tamarind tree produces long, curved, brown hard outer pods filled with brown seeds, surrounded by a sticky, reddish brown pulp which can be very sour and citric taste with a hint of sweetness. Here in America, at least where I live, it's hard to find the fresh sour tamarind pods but tamarind paste and concentrate tamarind are available in many Asian markets, and Latin American.



The fondest memories of my childhood come flooding back as I am blogging about tamarinds. I was under 10 years old. After school, my friends and I would walk to a small snack stand on the street nearby and treated each other snacks. Back in those days, we appreciated every little thing we had, including something as simple as tamarind. Without fail, there was an insatiable yearning, lip-smacking, mouth drooling, face cringing reaction with every little bite. The green, not-fully-riped tamarinds eaten with a mixture of salt and fresh red chili pepper paste was the best. Tamarind was one of those snacks that brought us together - eating, laughing, and creating our childhood memories.


As I grow older, I am hesitant to bite into one because of the sourness.  I can't eat sour fruits anymore.  Instead, I love to incorporate the sour and citrus fruits especially tamarinds into my recipes to brighten up the flavor and naturally enhance the color in my dishes.

Kaffir lime leaf is one of the ingredients that I used in this recipe. It may be hard to find at the market but you might find a kaffir lime tree at the nursery. In my vegetable garden, I grow both yuzu and kaffir lime trees. I was lucky enough to find them both at my local Costco. It has a distinct citrusy flavor that can't easily be substituted. If the recipe calls for kaffir lime leaves and you can't find any, skip the leaves.


This tamarind dungeness crab will make a perfect finger food for any seafood fanatic. It's not a dish for dainty dining. The real way to eat crab is with your hands, squeezing the shells, snapping them in half, slurping the crab meat out of the legs. Oh yeah, licking your fingers is a part of enjoying this meal.
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RECIPE: Dungeness Crab Sauteed in Tamarind Sauce
2 live dungeness crabs, about 1 1/2 lb-2 lb each 
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic 
2 shallots, thinly sliced
6 kaffir leaves, bruised
1 tablespoon julienned ginger 
1 purple or white onion, cut into wedges 
1/2 lime, juiced
a handful of Thai basil leaves, coarsely chopped 
For Sauce:
1/4 cup fish sauce 
7 tablespoons brown sugar 
3 tablespoons tamarind paste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 - 1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce 
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DIRECTION

Preparing Crabs


To make it easy to handle crab, I put it in the sink and pour on sink hot water.  Clean the crabs (I used a toothbrush to brush the body, claws, and legs of crab) and rinse thoroughly. 

Twist off the 2 main claws from each crab. Set aside.  Flip up the apron (a triangle-shaped of shell on the bottom of the crab) and use your thumb to break it off at the back of the shell.  


After you pulled off the apron, you will see a small hole between the body and the top hard shell, at the back of the crab. Hold the crab with the head pointing upwards.  Pull off the top shell by sticking your thumb into the hole, and lift up the top hard shell firmly. You can also use an oyster knife to pierce down through the hole. Pull the handle of the oyster knife sharply towards the back of the shell to remove the shell from the body.



The liquid that will come out from the inside of the shell is called crab butter. Reserve the crab butter.  Using a small spoon to scoop out the brown and corals from the inside of the crabs into a bowl. Discard the shell if you don't want to use it for presentation. 


Pull the spongy, feathery inedible gills off from both sides of the body and discard them. The mandibles are the mouth parts at the front of the crab. Break them off and discard. 


Using a cleaver, cut the crab into quarters and slightly crack the claws.


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Preparing Tamarind Sauce


Place all of the sauce ingredients into a bowl, whisk together.

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Cooking Crabs


In a pot, heat the oil. Add the garlic, shallots, ginger, kaffir leaves, onion and cook until slightly golden and fragrant.


Stir in the crab butter.  Add crabs and mix it well. Cook for a minute and add the tamarind mixture. Constantly toss the crab to ensure crab pieces are coated with the sauce. Cover and cook at medium-low heat for about 6 minutes, stirring often. 



 Add lime juice and basil leaves, stirring well. Cook for another 2 minutes.


Adjust the seasoning if needed. It should balance the sour taste of the tamarind, the lime juice, and the sweetness from the brown sugar and onion. 
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Presentation


It's finger-lickin-good kind of food so don't be afraid to dig in. The crab sauce can be eaten with steamed rice or a loaf of French bread. Enjoy!
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Eat well.  Stay healthy.

1 comment:

  1. I LOVE how you show step by step photos on your blog! You honestly have the best viet cooking blog online!! Thank you thank you thank you!

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