Here’s a popular, easy-to-make hawker-stall favorite from Singapore: stir-fried crab encrusted with a paste made of crushed peppercorns, garlic, turmeric, and ginger. It’s a spicy, rustic dish, best eaten with lots of cold beer or iced tea to cool the piquancy of the peppercorns. Whole live crabs are typically used in Singapore, but I’ve found that this dish is easier to make with precooked crab in its shell, such as quartered and cleaned Dungeness crabs or king or snow crab legs.
Yield: Makes 4 servings
For the flavoring paste:
4 tablespoons black peppercorns
8 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 piece fresh or thawed, frozen turmeric, 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) long, peeled and coarsely chopped (about 1 tablespoon), or 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 piece fresh ginger, 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) long, peeled and thinly sliced against the grain (about 3 tablespoons)
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons peanut oil
¾ cup (6 fluid ounces/175 milliliters) water
3 pounds (1.4 kilograms) cooked king crab or snow crab legs and claws, thawed, if frozen, and cracked or halved, or cooked Dungeness crabs, thawed, if frozen, and cleaned and quartered
1. Place the peppercorns in a small food processor and pulse until coarsely ground, about 30 seconds. Add the garlic, turmeric, and ginger and pulse until you have a relatively smooth paste. Don’t worry if each peppercorn isn’t fully ground; bits and pieces of pepper are fine. If the paste doesn’t purée properly and repeatedly creeps up the side of the food processor instead of grinding, add up to 2 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon at a time, periodically turning the processor off and scraping the unground portions down toward the blade as you go.
2. Heat the oil in a wok, Dutch oven, or 12-inch (30-centimeter) skillet (nonstick works best) over medium-low heat. Test to see if the oil is the right temperature by adding a pinch of the ground paste. The paste should sizzle slightly around the edges, not fry aggressively or sit motionless. When the oil is ready, add all the paste and sauté, stirring as needed to prevent scorching, until the garlic no longer smells raw and the paste begins to separate from the oil, 5 to 7 minutes.
3. Add the water and crab pieces and raise the heat to medium-high. Stir-fry the crab pieces, stirring them constantly with the spatula to combine them with the flavoring paste and to prevent scorching, until the crab pieces are hot and their surface is evenly coated with the flavoring paste, about 5 minutes.
4. Transfer the crab pieces to a large serving platter and serve immediately. Eat this delightfully messy dish with small hammers or nutcrackers and nut picks to remove the meat from the shells.