Vietnamese crab with tamarind sauce

I love reading cookery books, mainly to inspire rather than follow slavishly. Except when it’s a style of cooking that’s new to me or a cake recipe which generally needs the proportions of ingredients to be reproduced in balance with each other to achieve a good rise.

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I’ve had time recently to catch up on some tv watching and have been enjoying a series from about 2009, Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey. Coincidentally, I was also given a copy of the book which a pal passed on to me. Serendipity or what? I was particularly interested in the first two chapters, Cambodia and Vietnam. They are not countries I’ve ever visited, and apart from an amazing vegetarian Vietnamese meal many years ago eaten with some friends on a trip to Melbourne,  I don’t know very much at all about the food.

I was surprised by the simplicity of some of the recipes,  using few spices or flavourings, but all looking like they would really pack a punch in terms of flavour.  My mum and I decided to cook together and after buying a huge cooked crab from the local fishmonger, we made this beautiful crab with tamarind sauce. When I make it again (and it won’t be long) I’ll use 2 or 3 large crab claws per person rather than whole crab as the type we get here was perhaps not the best suited to this dish. Much as I love eating with my hands and slurping, a lot of the meat in the body cavity was lost in the sauce during the brief cooking and the spindly legs were fun but don’t have a lot of meat. The flavour however was incredible and I’d imagine it would be great too made with large prawns or even scallops.

Ingredients (serves 2 generously)

  • 1kg raw or cooked whole crab, broken up into pieces
  • Vegetable oil for shallow frying
  • 1 tbsp tamarind concentrate
  • 2 tbsp Chinese rice wine
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped finely
  • 1 hot red chilli, finely chopped (or to taste)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of jaggery  (use soft brown sugar if you can’t get hold of it)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of fish sauce
  • Some crushed or ground white pepper
  • About three spring onions cut into 2.5cm lengths

If your crab is raw you’ll need to shallow or deep fry it for a minute or so until the flesh changes colour. Drain on kitchen towel.

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We’re still picking the last few runner beans from our little garden

Mix the tamarind, rice wine and about 6 tablespoons of water together and set aside.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a wok or large pan. Add the chili and garlic and9 stir fry for about 30 seconds then add the crab, the tamarind mixture, the sugar, the fish sauce and the white pepper. Stir well,  cover and simmer for about 4 or 5 minutes.  Add the spring onions, cover and cook gently for another minute then put it all onto a large serving platter (we served straight from the wok garnished with more spring onion) and get ready to get messy and enjoy!

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Arroz Caldoso con Cangrejo – or Holidays, Romance and Crabs

Any of you who have followed my blog since way back when may recall a trip we made a few years back to the north of Spain. To Galicia and Asturias more precisely. An insanely beautiful part of the country, lush and green. Lush and green because, like in Scotland or the English Lake District, it rains a lot. And rain (and rain) it did. Which left us plenty of time for eating and drinking. Always look on the bright side, I say.

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I don’t know why it surprised us that it rained, even though it was only the tail end of summer, as holidays and special occasions are generally a complete disaster for Big Man and me.

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Our anniversary falls on 11th November so aside from the fact a lot of folk are quite rightly marking a very solemn memorial to all those who lost their lives in conflict, it’s a dreadful time of year for good weather in the Northern Hemisphere. Christmas and Birthdays generally involve some sort of disaster or a member of the extended family falling ill so we’ve now accepted that we’ll not get ourselves too worked up over celebrations and holidays and just enjoy the everyday joys.

There is a point to all this reminiscing. Today I bought two cooked and dressed crabs at the local fishmonger intending to boil some potatoes, make a salad and call it lunch. Big Man began to talk about an amazing meal we’d had on our trip to the north of Spain. The rain poured down, the wind howled and the first hotel we stayed in was nice but miles out of town. After a long, long drive we decided to do something we rarely do and EAT IN THE HOTEL RESTAURANT. What a good decision that was. The food was incredible and we made the most of it, ordering their speciality of Arroz Caldoso con Bogavante (which translates as brothy rice with lobster) for our last night there. Why didn’t I make “brothy” rice with crab he asked? Why not indeed, so I did, and absolutely wonderful it was too.

If you have an earthenware cazuela to make and serve this in, use it (Celia, I’m talking about you!). It really makes a difference to the flavour and is more authentic.

Ingredients (to serve 4)

  • The meat from 2 cooked crabs (white and brown) which will weigh about 260g – although you can use raw too but will need to cook them first
  • About 1.2l of fish stock made from the crab shells and any other bits of fish you can beg from your fishmonger and with a few strands of saffron added
  • 400g paella rice
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 200g chopped, peeled tomatoes (if using tinned, and why wouldn’t you, make sure to drain them first)
  • A splash of brandy
  • Salt & Pepper
  • A lemon, quartered
  • Some finely chopped parsley to serve
  • Olive oil

Gently fry the onion in a little olive oil until it is softened but not browned then add the garlic and cook for a minute. Add the tomatoes and cook gently for about 10 minutes and add the splash of brandy. Next add the rice and stock.

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(A little reminder, if you’re making paella you’ll need 100g of rice per person approximately and for every 100g of rice you need about 210ml of liquid. For brothy rice you need the same amount of rice but 3 times the amount of liquid, so approx 300ml to every 100g of rice.)

Cook gently, half covered until the rice is almost done, add more stock if it’s drying out too much, then add the cooked crab meat, stir and taste and add seasoning if necessary at this point. Turn the heat off, cover the pan and let the rice rest for at least 5 minutes and to let the rice finish cooking. Serve with a little parsley sprinkled over and wedges of lemon to squeeze over the food.

This is a dish made with a few ingredients but which lets them shine, it tastes luxurious and decadent. Which made me think it would be good for a Valentines meal – very romantic. Unless you happen to be us and also have Valentine’s Disasters…but more of that in a few days.

If you want to see more of the North of Spain, do check out the links at the start of the post, which I hope you’ll enjoy.

Cooking Under Fire – Creamy Crab and Brandy Soup

This so very nearly wasn´t a recipe. I treated us to two Dressed Crabs which we had planned to eat with a crispy salad and some beautiful new potatoes dripping with butter.

In my flustered and tired state I left them in the fridge in the house we are renovating and we got home to face an entirely different supper. I rescued the crabs the next day, but as they weren´t as super fresh as on the day they had been dressed, I decided to turn them into a luxurious soup. This wasn´t really Cooking Under Fire either as I used my parents´ kitchen in their holiday home, but I did still have to rummage around to find the Brandy…so there was some small element of hardship involved in the process…

Serves 2 as a hearty main course or 4-6 as a starter

  • 2 dressed crabs (white and dark meat)
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks
  • 2 tablespoons of brandy
  • About 150ml of single cream
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 dried chili
  • Half an onion
  • A thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 2 or 3 pieces
  • Water

Remove the meat from the crab shells and reserve. Break up the shells a little with a rolling pin and put into a saucepan then cover with about 1 litre of water. Add the onion, ginger, bay leaf and dried chili. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 10 mins, drain and reserve the stock.

Add the crab meat and potato to the stock and simmer (uncovered) until the potatoes are tender and the stock has reduced a little. Stir in the cream and brandy, taste and season with salt if necessary and pepper (I used white pepper). Mash the mixture gently so that the soup thickens but there are still chunks of crab meat and potatoes. If you prefer a smoother, silky texture, blitz in the blender or with an immersion blender stick. Warm through gently before serving and remind yourself that sometimes being forgetful can be a good thing.