Singapore’s unofficial “national dish” originated in the early 1950′s on a seaside hawker stall. This spicy saucy crab dish also has many variations, some are packed with fresh aromatics like galangal, ginger and turmeric, others are sweet and sour tomato laced with chili.Although quite messy to eat, it is so very worth the work, even down to sopping up the sauce with Mantou, steamed Chinese rice buns.

2 lbs (1 large or 2 small) live Dungeness or local crabs

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/4 cup canola oil

Chili paste

1/4 minced shallots

1 tablespoons minced ginger

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 red Fresno chiles, seeded and minced

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon fermented black beans, rinsed

1/2 teaspoon shrimp paste

Seasoning sauce

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon light soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons minced cilantro

Clean the crabs by removing the carapace. Pull away and discard the spongy gills and cut the body in half and then cut the halves in 4 pieces with the legs attached to the body. Crack the claws with a mallet, rinse the pieces of crab and pat very dry.

To make the chili paste, use a mortar and pestle or mini-food processor to grind the chili paste ingredients into a thick paste.

To make the seasoning sauce, in a small bowl combine the 3 tablespoons of water with tomato paste, fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar.

Heat a wok or large saute pan over high heat. Once the pan is very hot, coat the crab pieces in corn starch and shake off the excess. Add 3 tablespoons of oil to the pan and stir-fry the crab until the shell begins to turn orange and brown on the edges, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the crab to a bowl and reheat the same wok over high heat. When the pan is hot, add 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan and stir in the chili paste sauteing until fragrant, several seconds. Quickly return the crab to the wok and toss well with the chili paste until the crab is well coated. Pour the seasoning sauce over the crab and continue to stir-fry until most of the liquid evaporate and the crab is cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the fresh cilantro and transfer the crab to a warmed platter. Serve right away.

Make 4 to 6 servings