Singapore’s two major national dishes are Black Pepper Crab and Chili Crab; the former being preferred by the locals and Chili Crab a favorite of foreign tourists.
Singapore is a blend of several cultures, Chinese, Malay and Indians (mainly Tamil) being the main three which have fused and influenced the development of ‘Singaporean’ food from the early 19th century, while still under British control.
The black pepper is a Malay specialty, and the curry leaves Indian cuisine, with oyster sauce and soy sauce being Chinese.
The chefs of Guangdong are known for their magic in cooking crab dishes. Pepper crab is a classic example of Singapore’s history, culture and ethnic background rolled into one dish, so it is no surprise it’s a national favorite.
Crabs populating tropical waters are normally quite plump, such as those found off the coasts of Sri Lanka, being in plentiful supply and very popular in Asia.
You can use any kind of crab for Black Pepper Crab, but the quality of the crab is important as it impacts on the flavor of the meat. Considering the characteristics of this dish, it is a good idea to choose a plump crab with plenty of meat on it.
Either the Black Swimmer in the Asia-Pacific region or the Dungeness crab on the west coast of North America is a good choice for Black Pepper Crab.
An energetic, fresh live crab is naturally the best choice. However live crabs are not always the freshest option especially if they have traveled a long distance and been in storage causing the crab to be nearer death than life, and a decline in the quality of the meat.
Crabs that have been snap frozen immediately after being caught are often fresher than a live one. Of course, as with all aquatic products, try not to buy them thawed from a supermarket because you don’t know how long they have been in a thawed state and therefore must be eaten immediately (they cannot be refrozen).
Black Pepper Crab Ingredients List:
- 1 x whole crab about 1 kg
- 100 g flour
- 3 cloves garlic, about 30 grams
- 2 red onions, about 45 grams
- 10 g dried shrimp, soaked in cold water for 20 minutes in advance
- 10 g tempeh, washed and dried, and then finely chopped
- 15 g freshly ground black pepper
- 4 small red peppers (Not too hot or they will overpower the black pepper.)
- 50 g butter
- 3 curry leaves. Curry leaves are delicious but can be omitted if you can’t get them. However, it will just be pepper crab, not Singapore black pepper crab.
- 20 ml light soy sauce
- 10 ml soy sauce
- 40 ml oyster sauce
- 10 g sugar
- 250 ml soup stock
- 400 ml rapeseed oil for frying the crab pieces
- Fresh coriander for garnish
How to make Singapore Black Pepper Crab
Prepare the crab. If your crab is a precooked frozen, regardless if it is cooked or raw, careful attention must be paid when thawing.
It should be placed in a sealed bag in the refrigerator at 4 degrees Celsius and thawed slowly over 24 hours. Do not use your microwave to thaw the crab.
If your crab is alive, the most humane way to kill it is to put it in the freezer for an hour which will cause it to go to sleep first and then die.
The Way To Dismantling Your Crab:
Take the top of the body and with your thumb, press down at the back and then apply a bit of force to lift the cover off.
There is not much meat in the crab’s lid, and it is used for decoration only. Clean and dry the shell and put to one side. If the crab is raw, you will need to boil it until it changes color.
When you remove the crab’s cover, you will notice its finger-like gills and intestines, which you will need to remove.
Rinse under the faucet. You will have the crab shell and muscle. Trim any loose fragments with kitchen scissors.
Turn the crab over, and pull out the tail. The tail resembles that of the shrimp, which shows their common ancestry.
With a large sharp knife, cut the crab in half vertically down the center.
One by one, pull the two front claws and each of the legs from the crab’s body.
Cut the crab’s feet off at the joints.
Because the crab shell is hard it must be cracked so that eating is made easier. Using the blunt edge of a large knife or a meat mallet, fracture the shell of the crab pieces.
The crab preparation is now complete. Dry any moisture from the crab shell with paper towels.
Next, sprinkle the flour onto a plate and gently coat the crab pieces, shaking off excess. Coating the shell with flour will produce a crisp golden coating when fried allowing the sauce to adhere to the shell.
Make the sauce! The sauce is the essence of Black Pepper Crab. The distinctive seasoning for this recipe is the curry leaves, often appearing in Indian and Sri Lankan curry dishes. Try to use fresh curry leaves, as the taste is far superior to the dried ones.
If you can’t get curry leaves they can be left out, (the dish will still be strong flavored and delicious), but it will be ordinary black pepper crab, and not Singapore’s national dish.
Take the 3 cloves of garlic and chop finely.
Slice the two red onions very thin – the thinner the better.
Wash the tempeh and pat dry. No matter what dish you are using tempeh in, it must be chopped to release and distribute the fragrance.
Soak the dried shrimp in cold water for 20 minutes,
then dice into 2-3 mm pieces.
When choosing red peppers for this recipe, choose a mild variety. Generally the larger ones are milder than the smaller ones. Cut the pepper open and remove the seeds. Trim off the white parts and dice the pepper finely.
Now to the star ingredient: black pepper. This crab dish uses 15 grams of black pepper, yes, you read that right, it is not a typo. This is the source of the flavor.
Black pepper loses fragrance after grinding so to maximize the flavor for this dish, grind the pepper yourself, fresh. Ready-ground pepper will not have the same pungency as freshly ground pepper. Grinding the pepper yourself will also produce slightly thicker particles.
Preheat a small saucepan (14 cm or 16 cm) for half a minute and add the butter.
The butter will bubble, but wait until the bubble subsides and then add the garlic, red onion, red pepper, and the three curry leaves. Stir fry 2-3 minutes until the fragrance is released.
Turn down to low heat and add the grated black pepper, chopped tempeh, dried shrimp.
Add both soy sauces, oyster sauce, and sugar.
Stir fry for 2 minutes.
Add the hot soup stock, turn to low and simmer to reduce the liquid to 1/3, thickening and to concentrate the flavors. Turn off the stove and put the lid on the saucepan.
Fry the crab! In a small soup pot heat the rapeseed oil on medium until the oil temperature reaches 180 degrees Celsius.
Gently drop the flour coated crab pieces into the pan and deep fry until the flour turns golden yellow.
Remove and drain on kitchen paper to absorb excess oil. You need to do this step for both raw and precooked crab.
Heat your wok on high and transfer the fried crab pieces into it. Pour over the sauce and stir gently until the sauce is almost dry, and the solid ingredients stick to the crab pieces. Serve and garnish with a sprinkling of fresh coriander.
Although it is a typical Southeast Asian cuisine, for a top food experience, accompnay it with northern China common bread(mantou). Eat some crab, bite a bun and mop up the sauce – truly a delicious and enjoyable way to eat Singapore Black Pepper Crab. My husband and I spent a quarter hour eating this meal without a word between us.
When we finished, we just looked at each other, looked down at our plates, looked at the last bun, and yes, we broke the bun in half and wiped our plates clean.