On Crabs of Christmas Past (and Killing Them)
A few days ago I killed my first crab.
I needed to for cooking a new recipe I learned from my grandma for a few friends. Though it’s not like slaughtering a cow or anything, it was the biggest animal I’ve ever killed and I must admit I was a wimp about it (I had to call Danny over for some moral support). It took 5 minutes to get the feisty crabs out of the grocery bag and a good amount of shrieking and hesitation till I finally mustered up the courage kill them with a swift stab to the abdomen and dump into a pot of boiling water. Done like a pescatarian amateur, who for the first time had to confront the consequences of her dietary preferences, but alas, one has to start somewhere.
On the other hand, my grandma does it like it ain’t no thing. It’s because she’s had years of practice, since crab is how my family celebrates. Instead of a Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas ham, the main star at our holiday meals is crab. This Christmas, my grandma presented us with a new crab dish: Vietnamese Glass Noodles with Fresh Dungeness Crab. It’s simple in presentation: thin translucent noodles, topped with plump chunks of freshly cooked crab, sautéed shallots, green onions, with cilantro to garnish. People go ga-ga for The Slanted Door’s version and it’s insanely easy to make.
On their own, glass noodles almost have no taste, which makes them a perfect blank canvas since the noodles absorb whatever you add to them. There are many ingredients, sauces and garnishes that can be added to make each dish unique and to your liking. My grandma prefers to keep it simple by cooking the noodles in chicken broth and finishing it off with a splash of fish sauce, while my Chinese stepdad likes topping it with oyster sauce and red vinegar. You can also add shallots, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and chili for even more variation. There are also Singaporean and Chinese versions of this dish (though they use rice noodles as opposed to bean noodles), which include curry powder, pork, shrimp, chicken, bell pepper, and bean sprouts.
A few nights ago I made my grandma’s recipe for a few friends (who unbeknownst to them, where going to be guest judges). I wanted to play around with the sauces, so I made three different variations: one finished with a hint of lime juice; a spicy one with Thai chilis; one with oyster sauce, fish sauce and red vinegar and lastly, a vegetarian version with black trumpet mushrooms. Iso cooked up a side of broccoli raab doused with fish sauce and red chili paste, and off it went to our five judges, which included a spicy Chinese food lover (“I can’t eat food that isn’t spicy,” he claimed), former Chow.com staffer, a non-seafood eater (she got the mushroom version) and other food enthusiasts. We sat around my living room with chopsticks, forks and tongs to sample all the dishes. Pretty much everyone concurred that combination of all the dishes would be most delicious, myself included. Come to the Underground Market on January 15th to try my version. I’ll probably be a professional crab butcher by then.