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Friday, July 29, 2005

Softshell crab pong kari


I spoke many times of the summers of my youth spent in a small beach town called Hua Hin, in the south of Thailand. Back then, sleepy little Hua Hin was the antithesis of the more internationally known beach destination Pattaya. Whereas Pattaya was full of tourists, weekenders, beer bars, and a night life of somewhat unsavory nature, Hua Hin was steadfastly low key, full of vacation homes and very few small hotels.

Far from the glitters of Pattaya, the most vibrant Hua Hin night life was the night food market, selling everything from the ubiquitous Pad Thai, to Pa-tong-go, the sinfully delicious Chinese fried-dough which -as though being deep fried was simply not enough- was eaten with sweet condensed milk. I loved munching on crispy Roti, a Thai subversion of the indian fried bread, adapted to the Thai sweet tooth by a generous dousing of -yes- condensed milk over the top. I also loved to visit a Nam-keng Sai stall, the name of which derived from the block of ice sitting atop a Mandoline of sort, ready to be shaved over a variety of jellies and fruits and topped with multi-colored syrups and perhaps a dash of coconut milk. Nam-Keng Sai means, simply, shaved ice.

One of the most popular dishes at that market was always Pu Pad Pong Kari. Every little shop selling fresh, made-to-order foods made a version. The crabs were always so fresh they were in fact alive and kicking, waiting to be picked out of the bucket, cut up, and thrown into a searing hot wok to be stir-fried with a little curry powder and some onions and garlic. Such a simple dish, but it was always delicious, the slight heat and spice from the curry powder perfectly complimented the sweet flesh of the crabs. The roes and fatty bits from the crab bodies added to the intense sauce.

I have a basic recipe for that dish that I wrote up a long time ago, in fact it was one of the first recipes posted on Chez Pim. You could find that original recipe here. This time, I used a slightly adapted version for the 12 softshell crabs that furtune had been kind enough to grant me. They were just as delicious as the original version, or at least I thought so, with an added benefit of not having to pick crab meat off the shells. Yum.

Softshell Crab Pong Kari

12 medium softshell crabs
1 medium onion, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 green oinions, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 heaping tbsp Madras curry powder
oil for cooking crab and stir-frying the onions
salt, pepper, fish sauce to taste
1 tbsp of flour to coat the crabs

1. Lay out all the softshell crabs on a large plate, sprinkle with salt and a little pepper, and also a little bit of flour.
2. Heat up a large pan (10-12 inch), fill with enough oil to cover about 1 cm from the bottom of the pan. When the oil is hot, add the softshell crabs and cook until done on each side, about 3 minutes. After the crabs are done, take them out of the pan and let rest on a plate.
3. Add sliced onions in the pan, and a bit of water to dislodge all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan, add the curry powder and cook for a minute then add the garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent. Add fish sauce to taste, begin with about 1 tbsp and add more if needed.
4. When the onions are ready, add the cooked crabs and the green onion pieces, give it a good stir to coat the crab pieces with the onion-curry mixture.
5. Serve immediately, with steamed jasmine rice, and perhaps a little bowl of fish sauce with chopped Thai chillies on the side.

Aroy dee ja.


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