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Crab, Cuttlefish, and Conch

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Fish and Seafood

Summer Volume: 2016 Issue: 23(2)

Sea creatures were featured in several previous issues. Volume 22 (1) began with a bit about nine of them with a single recipe for each. More in-depth articles followed. Volume 22 (3) was next featuring shrimp, lobsters, and scallops; and Volume 22(4) discussed abalone, clams, mussels, and oysters. Most had five recipes each. Volume 23 (1) did repeat shrimp, lobsters and scallops because hard copy was exhausted, and there was more to say. In this issue, as the title of this article indicates, the topic is crabs, cuttlefish, and conch.

CRABS have been written about for centuries; we wonder why they were the only sea creatures written about often and earlier than others? The earliest item we found about crabs was titled: Monograph About Crab; and published in 1060 CE. Another on the same topic was published twenty years later and titled: Discourse on Crabs. We read about both and initially were unable to locate either. However, we did know they had no recipes. They were simply an author experiences with crabs.

Our early article did garner many positive comments with requests for more information and more recipes about sea creatures, land ones, too. Current cookbooks have dozens of recipes with few for unusual ones such as fish lips, fish cheeks, and fish maw; so they are on a list for the future. Readers tell us “continue more comprehensive material,” “more recipes,” and “more varied articles about sea creatures and other foods.” We thank them for their compliments and suggestions, and will do as many as time and space permit. We invite continued points of view, and in the meantime, suggest the use of the index for articles done and recipes given that interest them.

Excavations have turned up many crab shells, but not many words were found about these most fascinating fellows. Early culinary suggestions, particularly from folks in coastal provinces, eventually did write about preparing crabs lightly and delicately, some did say with eggs; and many suggested very few seasonings. Many readers wanted early recipes, at least those from one hundred or more years ago. We believe the early partnering of crabs and eggs is probably because both were easy to come by, their shells easily found in excavations. We wonder if the finders assume they were prepared together. Later writings do not always confirm this to be the case.

The Chinese have been preoccupied with food for generations. In the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279 CE) there was an early cookbook, the first by a woman, and titled Records of Home Cooking. This Mrs. Wu lived in Pujiang in the Zhejiang Province; her volume has three crab recipes among its seventy-six. A 17th century playwright, Li Yu, highlighted crabs in his writings, and he had no recipes. Another book, a eulogy to the crab, had no recipes either. Many did write admiringly about this eulogy but few even wrote their own eulogies to a single favorite food. Of those that did, none was to the crab; and none had recipes.

Most crabs are in the Decapoda order with short appendages some say look like tails, but they really are their abdomens. These stomachs help them get around, and they walk sideways or backwards. Crabs live on land, and/or in fresh or salt water. True crabs do exist if they have a pair of claws. Horseshoe and hermit crabs do not qualify and are not among the some eight hundred true crab species.

Some can discern the sex of a crab by its taste; we are not among them. We know that males have an elongated triangular abdomen, females a more oval one; and that females are broader and somewhat rounder in that area. They also can have orange roe while males have transparent or white roe that are not their eggs and are their sperm. Some males also have yellowish oil that some have called roe, but these, too, are their sperm.

Crabs are attracted to the opposite sex by chemical, visual, acoustic, and other vibrations. Female crabs store male sperm for a long time and until ready to have their eggs fertilized. Then they release their eggs with the tide. Many of the young eat on their own or they eat the yolk of other crabs before they molt. Until then, they seem smart enough to hide, that is until their shells harden.

For those who cook crabs, we recommend purchasing live ones. To know if a crab is alive, touch the area around the eyes and they will quickly respond by moving something, usually an appendage. Also, do check that pincers and claws are attached, and that the crabs you choose are heavier than their neighbors.

There are those who say crabs feel no pain when killed before cooking. We are not so sure about that. Our reasoning includes that when we chopped some crabs into sections for cooking, two claws did jump up and bite us. Maybe they did not feel any pain, but we surely did, lots of it, and for a long time.

The Chinese adore many, perhaps all kinds of crabs; and they make them many different ways. They like hairy crabs in late summer, mitten crabs in season, and crab dishes all year. They like those from fresh crabs more than they like frozen ones; and they like them slightly undercooked as then they are juicier. They also like crabs made with different kinds of sauces and crabs with many kinds of accompaniments. They like drunken crabs, crab roe, Crab Fu Yung, and crabs made in many other ways. No matter how they make them or they are made for them, they find crabs a favorite food.

Below are some crab preparations for you to make and enjoy. Look for others in the recipe index of this magazine, in other magazines, and in Chinese and other cookbooks.

CUTTLEFISH are marine animals in the order Sepiida, as are squid, octopus, and their relatives. They are appreciated by the Chinese, and they know they are not fish as their name implies. In Chinese, conch are called hai luo, and they have a single shell. Most are molluscs, gastropods in the genus Strombus. All are herbivorous, and the Chinese, like the Romans, cultivate them for food by feeding them wine and some grains.

These animals have large eyes, most with curving w-shaped pupils, and they have no blind spot. They do have eight arms with suckers used to catch their prey, and one of the largest brain-to-body size ratios of all invertebrates. In addition, they can be recognized because they release a brown pigment when frightened.

Most cuttlefish swim in shallow water, but some can be found down one or two thousand feet. They have a porous cuttlebone that gives them buoyancy, and it controls the gas to liquid ratio in their bone chamber. This is unique to the species and does distinguish them from their squid relatives. Their blood is blue-green because of copper-containing proteins, and they have three heart chambers two heart pumps, a pair of gills with one for each heart pump, and they use their ink, as do squid and octopus, to frighten predators and to help them evade them.

The males in this species fight for dominance during the mating season, larger ones beating out smaller ones as they grab the females with their tentacles. They can and often do put their sperm in an opening near the female’s mouth, and then they swim facing each other. Cuttlefish change their skin color at will, also their skin patterns. This they do to camouflage themselves and to confuse their predators.

There are about one hundred and twenty different species, either Sepiidae or Sepiadariidae, and both eat crabs, fish, and very young shrimp. Found mostly in China, East Asia, the Mediterranean, and the English Channel, those in Asia like them fresh or dried, elsewhere they eat them fresh, frozen, and/or dried. Cuttlefish roe is a sought-after delicacy but not used often because it is difficult to find and more difficult to prepare.

Cuttlefish are more popular in China and the rest of Asia than they are elsewhere. When used dried, a long soaking period is needed, when fresh they can be prepared quickly. All parts are eaten, except for their bone, and no matter where the meat comes from, cooking times are the same.

Crabs, Cuttlefish, and ConchThe recipes below and those for conch and snails, chefs tell us, can be used interchangeably. Main differences relate to how they are cut; and bigger ones only need seconds longer when fresh and small than when dried.

CONCH are pronounced ‘konk,’ and this is their common name. They are large sea snails and their many species can be in the family Stromdidae. Some are in the family Melongena; and the large horse conch can be in the family Fasciolariidae or in the family Turbinella.

Many of them and some molluscs do produce pearls which can be white, brown, or orange, though most are pink and simply called ‘pink pearls.’ Conch shells are often used as decoration and used to make cameos, beads, and other kinds of jewelry. Some are used for land fill because their shells are very hard and they do not decompose easily.

Hindu priests use them for rituals, and for trumpet-like instruments to announce upcoming battles. Their noise is very loud, and they say they drive away evil spirits. There are people of many ethnicities that claim they help keep the lungs clear, but we are not sure this is always so.

Snail, conch, and salamander recipes, chefs also tell us, can be used one for the other. Therefore, the recipes below can be substituted that way; and while Westerners use their shells for decoration, the Chinese prefer to eat them for their meat. If they are large, they slice them thin, marinate them in something acidic, and serve them with other hot or cold foods.

Buddhists incorporate their shells and call them one of their eight auspicious symbols. They believe the meat is mild and sweet, and that they drive away evil spirits making them most auspicious. The Chinese and other Asians pound their meat before eating it raw or cooked; and they like them, they tell us, because they live for twenty-five or thirty years. So they think that if they eat them they can extend their own life expectancy transferring their longevity to themselves.

Before cooking, some grind the flesh of the conch in a meat grinder set on medium to tenderizes them. Others serve them raw after keeping them on ice and in a mild acidic solution overnight. Either way or any other way, they have a huge following, the Chinese and most Asians loving them.

After the recipes for the three seafood items in this article are two for mussels. They were shortchanged due to limited space in the article about them, so we are including them here.
Crab Fu Yung
˝ pound fresh crab meat, cartilage removed and discarded
2 Tablespoons Shao Xing wine
2 Tablespoons chicken broth
˝ teaspoon coarse salt
2 Tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 scallion, minced
2 Tablespoons chicken fat
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
5 eggs, well beaten
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1. Mix the first seven ingredients, crab meat through chicken fat, then add the cornstarch, and finally the eggs, one at a time.
2. Heat a wok or fry pan, half the oil and pour in half the egg mixture stirring until it just starts to set. Wait one minute, then carefully turn it over and after one more minute, put it on a pre-heated platter and cut it in wedges. Do the same with the rest of the egg mixture, and after cutting that into wedges put it on the same platter. Then serve.
Drunken Crabs
1 pound fresh crab meat, cartilage and shells removed and discarded
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon peeled fresh ginger, minced
2 scallions, minced
˝ cup Shao Xing wine
1. Put crab meat in a heat-proof bowl and sprinkle with the salt, sugar, and ginger, then mix it with the minced scallions. Set this aside for ten minutes, then stir once or twice.
2. Steam the crab mixture over boiling water for seven minutes, then remove it from the steamer and transfer it to a bowl. Now pour the wine over it and stir slowly and carefully before putting a cover on it and refrigerate overnight.
3. Serve cold or at room temperature the next day.
Crab Meat and Cabbage
˝ pound fresh crab meat, shell and cartilage removed and discarded
1 cup chicken broth
2 egg whites
2 cups Napa cabbage, chopped coarsely
1. Boil the crab meat in the chicken broth for three minutes, then remove and cut it into medium-size pieces. Discard the broth or use it for another purpose, and mix the crab meat with the cabbage.
2. Beat the egg whites until frothy, team them for one minute, then pour them over the cabbage and crab meat, stir gently, then serve.
Crab, Shrimp, and Pork Balls
5 Tablespoons minced onion
˝ pound ground pork
1 cup fresh crab meat, cartilage and shells removed and discarded
˝ cup fresh peeled shrimp, peeled, veins discarded, the shrimp coarsely chopped
2 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
1 teaspoon coarse salt
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups Napa cabbage, cut into small pieces
1 cup bok cai, cut into one-inch pieces
1 Tablespoon Chinese white vinegar
˝ cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1. Mix first seven ingredients, onion through cornstarch, and gently roll this mixture into one-inch balls. Cut each one in half and set them aside in the refrigerator.
2. Heat a wok or deep pan, then add the oil and fry the half-balls until lightly browned, then remove them to paper towels, and put them around the outside of a pre-heated platter, round side up.
3. Add the cabbage and the bok cai to the remaining oil, then the vinegar, chicken stock, and sesame oil, and stir-fry for one minute until the cabbage wilts. Put this into the center of the platter, and serve.
Crab and Vegetable Cakes
1 pound fresh crab meat, cartilage removed and discarded
˝ cup canned bamboo shoots, rinsed, then thinly sliced
2 Chinese black mushrooms, soaked for twenty minutes, stems discarded, then thinly sliced
1 small carrot, peeled, then thinly sliced
1 small green pepper, seeded, then thinly sliced
1 celery rib, thinly angle sliced
3 eggs, beaten until light
3 Tablespoons water chestnut flour
˝ teaspoon ground back pepper
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 teaspoon thin soy sauce
1 teaspoon hot oil
˝ cup vegetable oil
1. Cut crab meat into thin strips, then mix with the bamboo shoots, mushrooms, carrot, preen pepper, and the celery slices.
2. Add the beaten eggs, water chestnut flour, ground pepper, rice wine, soy sauce, and piquant oil and stir gently.
3. Heat a wok or fry pan, add the oil, then the crab meat mixture and stir-fry for one minute. Next add the vegetables and eggs, and when this partially sets, turn it over, heating it for two minutes, then remove it from the wok or pan and cut it into wedges. Put them on paper towels, then discard them and put it on a pre-heated platter and serve.
Cuttlefish, Fujian Style
1 three-pound cuttlefish, boned and cleaned, then cut the body into 1 x 2 inch pieces, the tentacles minced
6 ounces pork sliced thinly
5 slices ginger, peeled and minced
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
5 scallions, separated green and white parts, and cut into one- to two-inch pieces
2 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
2 squares red bean cheese, mashed
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon dry sherry or Chinese rice wine
1/8 teaspoon mixed salt ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 Tablespoon dark soy sauce
1. Mix pork slices with the last four ingredients and set aside for half an hour.
2. Blanch the cuttlefish pieces with half the minced ginger for two minutes, then rinse with tepid water and then with cold water, and drain well; and mince the tentacles.
3. Heat a wok or fry pan, add the oil, then add the rest of the ginger and the pork, the white parts of the scallions, rice wine, and red bean curd, and the sugar, and stir well. Next add the stock and bring all to the boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the wok or pan, and simmer for half an hour, then remove the cuttlefish and the pork.
4. Raise the heat and stir reducing the liquid until only a few tablespoons remain and it is getting thicker, then add the last five ingredients, the pork, and the cuttlefish, and stir until thickened, then put all in a serving dish, serving it when it is very hot.
Cuttlefish with XO Sauce
4 small cuttlefish. Steamed for three minutes. Then put into ice water for two minutes, then drained, and cut into one inch pieces
1 ounce glass vermicelli, soaked until soft, then steamed for three minutes over boiling water
1 Tablespoon XO Sauce
1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
1 scallion, cut on an angle
1. Put vermicelli on heat-proof plate, and put the cuttlefish on top of them.
2. Mix the XO sauce and the oyster sauces and pour over the cuttlefish. Then cover and steam the vermicelli and cuttlefish for three minutes, stir, then sprinkle with the scallion and serve.
Spicy Cuttlefish
1 small fresh chili pepper, seeded and minced
1 small fresh garlic, peeled and minced
1 Tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
2 fresh cuttlefish, cut into one-inch pieces
1 Tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1/23 teaspoon coarse salt
1 Tablespoon chili paste with garlic
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
1. Mix chili pepper, garlic, and ginger.
2. Heat a wok or fry pan, add the oil, and in half minute, add the oil and the chili pepper mixture and stir-fry for one minute, the add the cuttlefish, soy sauce, sugar, salt, chili paste, and the vinegar, and stir-fry for three minutes, then put into a pre-heated bowl and serve.
Stir-fried Cuttlefish
1 cuttlefish, tentacles removed and cut into one-inch pieces, body cross-cut, then blanched in boiling water for two minutes, and put in ice water for two minutes, then drained
1 four-inch piece bamboo shoot, peeled then sliced, and boiled for two minutes
1 carrot, angle-sliced and blanched for two minutes, then put in ice water, and in two minutes, drained
12 sugar-snap peas, strings removed, each angle cut in half
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 scallion, angle cut and set aside
3 Tablespoons chicken stock
1 Tablespoon fish sauce
˝ teaspoon salt and black pepper mixture
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon black vinegar
1. Prepare all ingredients except the oil, as indicated above.
2. Mix the garlic and scallion and set aside, and mix the bamboo shoot slices, carrot pieces, and the scallions and set them aside. Then mix the stock, fish sauce, salt and pepper mixture, and the sesame oil and black vinegar and set them aside, as well.
3. Heat a wok or fry pan, add the oil, then the cuttlefish pieces, and stir-fry for one minute, then add the vegetables and stir-fry for two minute, then toss in the oil and vinegar, stir well, then serve.
Cuttlefish, Salted Eggs, and Bitter Gourd
1 bitter gourd, cut in half, seeds removed and discarded
2 salted eggs, cooked for five minutes, then shells removed and discarded
1 fresh cuttlefish, bone removed, then ground
4 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 red chili pepper, seeded and sliced thinly
˝ teaspoon mixed salt, pepper, and sugar
1. Cut bitter gourd in thin slices, and blanch them for two minutes, then drain and set aside.
2. Cut one of the egg whites and the two yolks into small pieces.
3. Heat a wok or fry pan, add the oil, and stir-fry the garlic and chili pepper pieces, stirring them two or thee times, then add the cuttlefish and stir together for one minute before adding the bitter gourd slices, and stir-fry for two minutes.
4. Next, stir in the salt, pepper, and sugar mixture and 1 tablespoon of warm water, and stir well. Serve on a pre-heated platter or in a small bowl.
Conch Pancakes
˝ pound conch or snail meat, sliced and pounded
2 stalks celery, slice thinly on an angle
1 onion, minced
1 red chili pepper, seeded and minced
1 egg, beaten
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
˝ cup vegetable oil
hot sauce or oyster sauce for dipping
1. Finely mince the conch or snail meat, or grind it in a meat grinder using the medium blade; then stir with the celery, onion, and red pepper.
2. Add the beaten egg, flour, and salt making a medium-thick batter.
3. Heat oil in a wok or fry pan and using a small ladle, make a pancake with the egg mixture and allow it to set before turning it over. Repeat until all is cooked removing them one at a time to paper towels until all the batter is used. Keep the pancakes in a warm oven until all are finished, then serve.
Conch, Cantonese Style
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
1 teaspoon fermented black beans, coarsely chopped
1/4 pound ground pork
1 cup tenderized, minced, or ground conch
3 Tablespoons chicken stock
5 slices fresh ginger, peeled and slivered
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with one tablespoon cold water
1 egg, beaten
1. Heat wok or fry pan, add the oil, garlic, and the fermented beans, and stir for on minute or until pork is no longer pink.
2. Now add the conch and stir once or twice before adding the chicken stock, ginger, and the soy sauce, and bring to the boil; then add the cornstarch mixture and stir until this thickens somewhat.
4. Put in a pre-heated bowl, put the egg on top, and stir, then cover for one minute before uncovering and serving.
Conch with Vegetables
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 conch, finely diced
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 Tablespoons water chestnut flour
2 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 cup mixed root vegetables (I.e.: Carrots, parley, or potatoes), peeled and diced
3 cups spinach, coarsely chopped
1. Heat wok or fry pan, add the oil, and then the conch and stir-fry for two minutes before adding the cornstarch and water chestnut flour, then stir-fry for two minutes.
2. Add one cup cold water and the vegetables, and stir-fry for three minutes or until the root vegetable begin to soften. Then serve.
Conch in Black Bean Sauce
˝ pound dry wheat noodles, cooked just until they are tender
2 Tablespoons sesame oil, divided
1 cup chicken broth
2 Tablespoons Shao Xing wine
1 Tablespoon dark soy sauce
2 Tablespoons oyster sauce
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and minced
3 Tablespoons fermented black bean sauce, mashed
˝ sweet red pepper, seeded and diced
1 dried hot red pepper, seeded and diced
1˝ pounds conch, sliced and then pounded
2 cups bok cai
1. Heat wok or a large fry pan, add the noodles and half the sesame oil, and stir well for one minute, then transfer this to a pre-heated bowl.
2. Mix broth, wine, soy and oyster sauces, and set this aside.
3. Heat the rest of the sesame and vegetable oils, add the garlic and black beans, and the hot peppers., and stir-fry for one minute, then add red peppers, and stir-fry until the clams open, about three minutes. Discard any that do not open. Add those that do to the serving bowl.
4. Add the bok cai to the wok and stir for two minutes, then pour this over the clams; and serve.
Conch Omelet
˝ medium-size conch, ground coarsely
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
6 eggs, beaten
2 scallions, angle-sliced
1. Heat wok or fry pan, add the oil, then the ground conch, and stir for one minute.
2. Add the eggs and the scallion pieces and when they starts to set, gently turn them over and leave them in the pan another minute. Now move them to a pre-heated platter, cut in this omelet in six wedges, and serve. Keep in mind they are still setting when being cut and served.
Mussels, Fuzhou-style
2 pounds fresh mussels, scrubbed well, beards removed
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and chopped
6 slices fresh ginger, peeled and slivered
2 teaspoons chili paste with garlic
1 teaspoon fermented black beans, mashed well
1 scallion, sliced at an angle
2 Tablespoons cornstarch mixed with a like amount of cold water
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1. Rinse the mussels, and put them and the oil into a pre-heated wok or fry pan. Add the garlic and ginger, chili paste, and fermented black beans and stir-fry for four minutes; they should be open.
2. Next, add the scallion and the cornstarch mixture and stir-fry for two minutes. Discard any clams that do not open, then add sesame oil, stir two or three times, transfer the mussels to a heated bowl, and serve.

Mussels, spinach, and mushrooms Ingredients: ˝ cup spinach leaves, sliced thinly ˝ cup diced fresh Chinese black mushroom caps 4 eggs, beaten well ˝ cup unsweetened soy milk ˝ cup vegetable oil 1 Tablespoon dark soy sauce 1 Tablespoon oyster sauce 1 teaspoon granulated sugar ˝ teaspoon salt ˝ tablespoon cornstarch mixed with one tablespoon of cold water Preparation: 1. Mix spinach leaves, mushrooms, eggs, and soy milk and put this into a plastic-wrap-lines square heat-proof dish and steam over boiling water for eight minutes, then remove and allow to cool before cutting its contents into one-inch squares, discarding the plastic wrap. 2. Heat a wok or fry pan, add the oil, and fry the tofu squares on both sides until they are golden in color, then remove from the oil and dry on paper towels, and set into a pre-heated serving dish. 3. Add the soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, and salt, and one tablespoon of water to the wok, stir, then add the cornstarch mixture and stir until somewhat thickened before pouring this over the tofu squares, and serving.

Mussels, Spinach, and Mushrooms Squares
˝ cup spinach leaves, sliced thinly
˝ cup diced fresh Chinese black mushroom caps
4 eggs, beaten well
˝ cup unsweetened soy milk
˝ cup vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
˝ teaspoon salt
˝ tablespoon cornstarch mixed with one tablespoon of cold water
1. Mix spinach leaves, mushrooms, eggs, and soy milk and put this into a plastic-wrap lined square heat-proof dish, then steam over boiling water for eight minutes. Remove and allow to cool, and discard the plastic wrap.
2. Now cut the contents into one-inch squares.
3. Heat a wok or fry pan, add the oil, and fry the squares on both sides until they are golden in color, then remove them from the oil and dry them on paper towels. Then put them into a pre-heated serving dish.
4. Mix soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, and salt, and one tablespoon of water, put this into the wok, stir, add the cornstarch mixture and simmer until somewhat thickened, then pour this over the squares, and serve.

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