Fiery crus­taceans best ad­dressed with a pinch of spice

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - Susan Kuro­sawa

RAY­MOND Yin is a big fan of chilli crabs. The ex­ec­u­tive sous chef of Sin­ga­pore’s Shangri-la Ho­tel is demon­strat­ing how to cook the crus­taceans in an open kitchen at Line, the ho­tel’s groovy and award-win­ning interactive restau­rant.

At Line, din­ers get to choose their meals — from noo­dles and pasta to cur­ries and stir-fries — at a se­ries of food sta­tions and in most cases the hot dishes, even at break­fast, are pre­pared to or­der. There are 70 chefs on hand, in­clud­ing one who su­per­vises a 1m-tall choco­late foun­tain.

But I am even closer to the be­spoke: Yin is start­ing the process from near-zero, hack­ing the crabs to bits with the sharpest square-bladed chop­per I’ve seen out­side that used by Chi­nese ex­pert Chen Kenichi on SBS’s IronChef.

Yin, in his early 60s, is an ex­pert in such mat­ters: he has been a pro­fes­sional chef for 36 years and joined the Shangri-la Sin­ga­pore in 1987; his daugh­ter is also a chef in Sin­ga­pore. ‘‘ But for fine din­ing,’’ he smiles.

Smash goes the chop­per: ‘‘ One, two, smacko,’’ he laughs. He ex­plains that the fe­males carry the roe but the males have more meat. Th­ese are mud crabs from the South China Sea, brought in daily from In­done­sia, and cost­ing about $S18 ($14) a kilo­gram, de­pend­ing on vol­ume of sup­ply.

Yin heats about 10ml of Chi­nese cook­ing wine in an in­dus­trial-sized wok; the gas burner is much more pow­er­ful than its do­mes­tic coun­ter­part and I watch its leap­ing flames with envy. With a wok such as this, any home cook could jug­gle a stir­fry in sec­onds.

He browns an onion in the oil and adds the crab pieces. Af­ter about two min­utes of wok and roll, he pours in a ta­ble­spoon each of Chi­nese wine and se­same oil. Then in go two ta­ble­spoons each of sugar and oys­ter sauce, half a ta­ble­spoon of soy sauce and a gen­er­ous dol­lop of chilli sauce. Then comes the se­cret in­gre­di­ent. It is not eye of newt or toe of frog, or even one of those mys­te­ri­ous ori­en­tal roots that look like shrunken ba­bies’ hands. Yin pro­duces it with a ma­gi­cian’s flour­ish: tomato ketchup. He up-ends about a quar­ter of the con­tents of what looks like a 350g bot­tle. (Things are mov­ing at too crack­ing a pace for specifics.)

Yin makes no apol­ogy for us­ing masspro­duced in­gre­di­ents (the chilli sauce is from a bot­tle, too) and sim­ply says Chi­nese chefs in Sin­ga­pore use tomato ketchup ‘‘ all the time’’.

Next, in go 50ml of cala­mansi lime juice, 150g of fresh red chilli (rough-chopped and blended), 50g of blended gar­lic and 30g of pressed ginger. Things are steam­ing so mer­rily that the glass pan­els around his fiery cook­ing sta­tion have misted up. A 500ml splodge of chicken stock is added and the wok is cov­ered and left to bur­ble mer­rily for about seven min­utes.

The crab has turned from grey-green to sun­set orange; time to add a dash of corn starch to thicken the sauce, and an egg. Quick as a whisk, the crab is trans­ferred from the wok to a white serv­ing plate and gar­nished with co­rian­der leaves, curls of spring onion and strips of bird’s-eye chilli.

Yin says if you visit Sin­ga­pore and don’t eat chilli crab, then you can’t re­ally say you have ex­pe­ri­enced Sin­ga­pore.

He also rec­om­mends sauces such as black pep­per, oys­ter or, for a lighter flavour, spring onion with ginger.

Chilli crab is a sig­na­ture dish at the Shangri-la’s Shang Palace restau­rant, which spe­cialises in Can­tonese and Sichuan cui­sine, and also ap­pears from time to time on the seafood plat­ters of Line’s din­ner buf­fet.

The cafes at the Seafood Cen­tre on the East Coast Park­way are good venues, too, to try chilli crab.

This is no-frills style but great fun, with pa­per bibs sup­plied and plain buns ( man tau ) to mop up the rich sauce. Last visit to Sin­ga­pore, I tried the cen­tre’s Red House Seafood, which serves Sri Lankan crabs in chilli or black pep­per and boasts fa­mous past din­ers of the ilk of mem­bers of U2. The fare was ex­cel­lent, al­though there are cheaper al­ter­na­tives in the cen­tre. (Crabs are at a fixed price per kilo but you’ll pay more for air-con­di­tioned sur­rounds.)

Mean­while, be­hind the scenes at Line, Yin is pleased with the progress I am mak­ing crack­ing the crabs and goug­ing the meat. Then he looks at his watch. It’s only 11am but there’s prepa­ra­tion to be done for the lunch ser­vice. I take my leave as he bus­tles to­wards the bench, no doubt to sharpen that lethal cleaver.

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