Citizens, I was enthralled with this dish when I was introduced to it during my first trip to Singapore, even preferring it to the famed Chili Crab, to be honest (even though Chili Crab is the more renowned recipe).
Thought to have been created in the 1950s at the Long Beach Seafood restaurant, black pepper crab has since become a staple of Singapore’s street food stalls and is one of the country’s most iconic dishes. The crab is fried first and then smothered in a thick, rich oyster sauce spiced liberally with plenty of peppercorns, garlic, chilies and ginger.
Try my recreated version and be equally swayed – it can also be made with chicken or cubed fish if you want an alternative recipe (but my favorite version outside of crab is with prawns). Very Shiok (delicious) and very much a personal favorite enjoyed here in my secret underground lair as I plot world domination for the 8000-member strong TFD NATION! 🙂
Battle on – The Generalissimo
2 live Dungeness crabs (or whatever local crab is alive and/or freshest), about 2 pounds each
Scant ½ cup peanut oil
4 tablespoons butter
2 shallots, minced
7 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp good-quality taucheo 豆瓣酱 (aka Fermented Bean Paste), mashed. Taucheo is very fragrant and adds great umami flavor
1 ½ tablespoons ginger paste
1 sprig fresh curry leaves (available in Asian and Indian grocery stores – this is an optional ingredient)
1 tablespoon Serrano chile, chopped fine
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon chicken stock (use low-salt if canned)
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine (or use medium-dry Sherry)
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce (note this is not standard soy sauce, it is darker and richer – buy it from Asian supermarkets or on Amazon)
¼ cup oyster sauce (I prefer Lee Kum Kee Premium brand)
¼ cup black pepper, coarsely ground (or to taste) (see note)
1. Have your fishmonger kill and clean the crabs, cut them into quarters and crack the claws.
2. In a large wok, preferably cast iron, heat the oil over a high flame until very hot, but not smoking. Stir-fry the crab pieces in two batches, 4 to 5 minutes each, until they turn bright red. Remove from the wok and set aside.
3. Lower the heat to medium high and add the butter to the wok, with the existing oil. As soon as it begins to sizzle, add the rest of the ingredients. Stir-fry briefly. Then return the crab to the wok and stirfry for 4 to 5 minutes more. Make sure that the crab is well-coated with the peppercorn mixture.
4. Remove from the wok, garnish with chopped Cilantro and serve at once with ice cold beer, some buns or bread to soak up that delicious sauce and a very large stack of napkins, you’ll need them!
Note: If at all possible, try using Penzey’s Special Extra Bold Indian Black Peppercorns. The berries are left on the vine to ripen even longer than top-tier Tellicherry peppercorns and are plucked when they begin to turn pink.
As a result, the flavor is more complex and unusually robust, with a surprisingly mellow burn. (In industry terms, “special” means best flavor and “extra bold” refers to extra-large size; only 10 pounds out of each ton make the grade.)