The other day I was giving an interview to a magazine about freediving, and they asked what got me in to freediving. To be honest it comes down to food! I started freediving in the Caribbean, after asking local guys how they could dive down so deep to grab crayfish. It was this ability to sustainably and ethically gather your own food that laid the groundwork for my freediving addiction! Living and working and freediving in Cornwall, means that I can continue gathering food in this exciting and rewarding way. Its so much more satisfying than dropping in to Sainsburys!
One of my favorite ways of preparing my catch is a Singaporean dish called Black Pepper Crab. If you have ever been to Singapore you may well have had this, as its sold everywhere, from market stalls to fancy restaurants.
Here in the UK it can be a tad difficult to find Mud crabs (the traditional crab used in the dish), so I like to use spider crabs. They have softer shells than Brown crabs and a more delicate flavour which I actually prefer generally. You can buy spider crabs from good fishmongers, or of course you can dive for them. You can normally find them grabbing on to deep reef walls on headlands and outcrops. The best time to find them is late spring when the big male crabs come closer in to shore to mate with the smaller females. You can easily tell the difference between the sexes as the claws of the male are FAR bigger than the females. They also have a small triangle shaped flap on the abdomen whilst the females have what could almost be described as a pouch (for the eggs). Spider crabs are best when cooked fresh, as freezing them can make the flesh a bit chewy. The most humane way to kill the crabs is to turn them over on to their back, lift the little flap up and drive a big knife in to the little hole that you will expose. This kills them instantly, and doesn’t cause any suffering. Once the knife penetrates i like to drag it toward the eyes to ensure a total kill. It may sound brutal but its painless and a damn sight better than being boiled alive!
Here is the recipe I follow.
This is a real Malaysian dish, and should look kinda “rough around the edges” when finished. Its messy and delicious. You may need to buy a big wok and a big pan.
2 fresh spider crabs (about 3 lb each)
2 tablespoons butter
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon soya beans, mashed
2 tablespoons dried prawns, roasted and ground (you can get these online or from a chinese supermarket)
2 tablespoons black pepper, ground coarsely
1/2 cup curry leaves
10 red or green bird’s-eye chilies, chopped
2 tablespoons black soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
Boil the crabs in salted water for about 15- 20 minutes (I like to add some curry leaves in to the water for flavour) . Clean the crabs and cut in half, discarding the spongy “dead man’s fingers” and in the case of the spider crab the main body of the shell (there isn’t much in it). Smash the claws with a cleaver to allow the seasonings in.
Heat a wok, melt butter and put in shallots, garlic, soy beans, dried prawns, black pepper, curry leaves and chilies. Saute till fragrant, then add crab and the remaining ingredients. Cook for 5-10 minutes until the crab is done.
TRUST ME this is amazing and well worth the effort! Its best served as a sharing platter so get some mates around and enjoy!