There’s a vicious rumour circulating about the traps that I’m sure all of us have been caught up in – that making tempura soft shell crab is prohibitively difficult. So difficult that it’s one of those dishes that you can only order in restaurants, or unless you are in with some serious Japanese culinary crowd. It’s too exotic, too delicate, and if it’s that hard, who has the time to even give it a go.
Well here’s the secret – it’s not. In fact, almost the opposite is true. It’s easy to cook, and the crabs are easy to find. Soft shell crab is readily available from most fishmongers or Asian grocery stores. They’re sold frozen and only cost around $20-25 for 8-10 crabs. And if I can squash another rumour – soft shell crabs are not a different type of crabs, they are just normal crabs who have shed their tough outer shell so they can grow. Or in our case – so that we can eat them in much more enjoyable ways.
A light jalapeno ponzu dressing and a bowl of rice with some seasoning made for the perfect snack you’ll definitely be making again and again. So as they say in Japan and in every sushi train you ever walk into – itadakimasu!
Tempura Soft Shell Crab with Jalapeno Ponzu dressing
Ingredients (serves 8)
Frozen soft shell crab (normally packets of 8-10)
Vegetable oil for frying
1 cup of ice cold water
¾ cup of plain flour (plus extra to coat the crabs)
pinch of bicarb soda
Jalapeno Ponzu dressing:
2 Jalapenos (one if you don’t want it too spicy)
½ cup of sake (available at most bottle shops)
¼ cup soy sauce
juice of 2 lemons
3 tbs of minced ginger
1 ½ tbs of sugar
Place the soft shell crabs on a wire rack above a plate and let them thaw till soft.
While the crabs defrost, cut the jalapenos lengthways, scrape out and discard the seeds. Place them under the grill for a few minutes, until they’re charred and roasted (about 5 minutes). Chop the jalapenos roughly (removing any over-charred skin) and put into a blender or food processor with all the other dressing ingredients. Whiz up until the mixture is a nice smooth consistency and then pour through a fine sieve, reserving the liquid into a bowl. Set aside until ready to serve.
Once the crabs have been completely thawed, handle them very carefully, as they are extremely delicate at this point. Pat them dry with a paper towel to extract all the liquid – you can apply a bit of pressure at this point to gently squeeze out the water. If the crabs aren’t cleaned (some will come already clean, check the packet), my best hint is to look on YouTube for quick how-to cleaning instructions.
Heat the oil in a pot suitable for deep-frying.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg with the iced water (make sure it’s cold) until light in colour and then mix in the flour and bicarb soda until the mixture is smooth.
Coat the crab in the extra plain flour until it’s completely covered, and then dip it into the tempura batter. Place the coated crab into the hot oil and let it deep fry for 4-5 minutes. Remove from the oil and place on a paper towel to dry and repeat the process with the other crabs. You can probably cook two to three crabs at a time depending on the size of your pot. The cooking time actually doesn’t take long and the crabs remain crispy for a short time so it is best to make this dish immediately before serving.
Serve the crabs with the dressing, either drizzling it on or using it as a dipping sauce. Enjoy!