Introducing two friends to the street market behind our apartment towers led to an unexpected dinner. As we slowly moved from stand to stand a conical hat wearing woman selling live crabs by the side of the road got their attention, and she began waiving one right at us. Even though rope bound its claws, that thing was squirming and nipping at me too much to hold. A bunch of ladies laughed at us like we were a bunch of novices. OK. Yes, so we are, but we have to start somewhere, right?
For a little over three bucks I soon had a giant specimen writhing around in a plastic bag. My entire experience cooking live crab consisted of one blue crab I hesitatingly hacked in half for a seafood gumbo, and live seafood still bothers me somewhat. I began brainstorming how to cook this thing and steaming it seemed the least painful way to go, for me at least.
I soon discovered this crab was too large for my one pot so to the rescue came my trusty, scratched up wok. I don’t know if using a wok to steam crab is even a proper technique, but this is Vietnam. You make do with whatever is on hand. I filled the black metal with beer and tossed in garlic, chili peppers, limes, along with a handful of assorted fresh herbs. Once the liquid was properly rolling, I dropped in the crab and watched its armor shell turn bright red.
If trying to find a way to steam this sucker was a dilemma, eating it became an even bigger problem. Out in the street market I had looked for a seafood or nut cracker to no avail. The grocery store in my building failed me as well. Now what I am supposed to do? I’ve got this cooked crab and no way to eat it. I looked around my apartment and realized I had nothing suitable. No hammer, no chisel, no nothing at all.
It all came down to this. I laid my wooden cutting board on the counter. I then took my one metal cooking pot and smashed the hell out of the crab claws with the bottom of it. Crab shrapnel shot all over the joint and leftover beer juices left my counter and floor a mess. I spent the next ten minutes mopping up and collecting shell bits that took a trajectory straight into the living room.
I then pulled apart the body and lungs and a yellow pasty mess stared me down. I said no thank you and tossed that junk. I know. I know. I wasted a good part of the crab, but I just don’t have it in me to pick through nastiness to harvest a tiny piece of meat. The claws and legs were big enough and already this project was trashing my kitchen.
The sweet soft meat tasting faintly of butter and spice was cooked to perfection. I mixed together some sesame oil, sugar, rice wine vinegar, soy and gochujang paste and enjoyed a tiny feast. Even if the crab did little to fill me up, its journey from street market bucket to a ceramic plate atop my coffee table was a delicious trip.