When I was way too young a kiddo to start appreciating anything spicy, having the crabs steamed was exactly how I had my crabs. Each time we had these Crustaceans as part of our meal, there would be two versions of them - mom's renowned chili crab, and another plainly steamed. That steamed version? That would be exclusively mine lol. And the best part of all - dad would be patiently doing all the cracking and meat picking for me, have them nicely incorporated into my plate of rice and tadaaa! A plate of steamed rice loaded with crab meat all ready for his baby princess by her dinner time. No, I wasn't spoilt! But yea, that's pampering perfectly defined lol.
This must be how the affinity for these steamed crabs has sprouted in me. And a couple of years later, I officially joined the rest of the family and became a big fan of mom's chili crab. That "Steamed Crab and I" story had since been stowed away, nice and secure. Right until sometime last year on our vacation to San Francisco; an evening spent at the Fisherman's Wharf had brought me traveling back in time.
Along the sidewalk stand was where whole Dungeness crabs were boiled in cauldrons and sold by the pound, readily served in minutes. And that was truly an eating experience on its own with the sight of seagulls roaming freely close by and the salty smell of the sea breeze as you enjoy the open-air food dining. Probably not for the faint of heart, but we loved it! lol. Here's a photo of me and the crab that stirred the "Steamed Crab and I" memory in me. Looking kinda familiar? Yea, I have this as my profile picture (on the right!) even lol.
That's where the idea of recreating these steamed crabs at home came from. But instead of having them boiled just like those that we had at the Fisherman's Wharf, I opted for the classic way that I am more familiar with - steaming them. I do think that it actually does a much better job at retaining their flavor at its best; plus they stand much lesser a risk at losing their precious fat and juices to the water (as opposed to boiling). And with them so fresh to begin with, even simple seasonings like the salt has become somewhat unnecessary.
The dipping sauce featured here was one adapted from Yi at YiReservation. Tangy and salty with a tad of spiciness coming from the hot chili oil, this dipping sauce brings a whole new dimension to this seafood fare on the whole. A very pleasant match indeed!
But all in all, whether you have it plain with or without the dipping sauce in the end, it's just hard to miss the sweetness and the old-fashioned charm these freshly steamed crabs have.
Steamed Crab 清蒸蟹
2 Dungeness crabs (~1½ lbs each)
Adapted from YiReservation
1 tbsp hot chili oil
1 tsp sesame oil
2½ tbsps light soy sauce
1½ tbsps black vinegar (Chinkiang black vinegar)
2 tsps sugar
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 stalk spring onion, chopped
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
1. Separate the top shell (the carapace) and set aside. Remove and discard the soft, sponge-like pointy gills from the body. Clean the crabs with some light scrubbing and gentle rinsing. Drain and set aside.
2. Set the steamer ready with a rack and enough boiling water. Cap the carapace back in place. Transfer the crabs onto a steaming plate. Place them carapace side down. Let steam on rapid boiling water for 15 minutes.
3. Get the dipping sauce ready by mixing all the ingredients in a small bowl meanwhile.
4. Carefully remove the crabs from the steamer. Transfer to individual serving plates. Serve whole with the dipping sauce on the side, and a seafood cracker or a small hammer ready on the dining table.