It has been a while since I last chanced upon mud crabs or “alimango” in the Philippine language, from the roadside kiosks we are regularly visiting along the coastal towns of southern Sri Lanka to obtain our group’s weekly supply of fish and other seafood. It seems the nearby vast mangrove forest that has always been lush and green (how I wish this could happen in the Philippines) was quite generous that day that it provided the local fisherman with a truly fine catch; a mixed bag composed of the tasty decapods crustaceans along with some pretty large prawns, pan-sized mangrove snapper, delectable eels and other exciting brackish water fishes.
Being a passionate outdoorsman and a perennial angler, the sight of the catch was simply awesome to me. It represents an abundance of nature and existence of a very healthy mangrove environment. From the looks of the catch, I could assume that it was harvested from a sustainable level of stock in a well flourishing ecosystem where marine water and freshwater collide. While I am also excited about the other fishes, the mud crabs instantaneously transported me into the realm of dish concoction moments. :-)
Mud crab or mangrove crab and sometimes called black crab is an economically important crab species found in the estuaries and mangroves of Asia, Australia and Africa. In the key cities of the Philippines, most Southeast Asian countries, and Northern states of Australia, it is generally priced above other seafood within the general public. Lucky for us Filipinos living here in southern Sri Lanka for it is reasonably priced around here although not widely available.
Commonly, the shell colour of mud crabs varies from a deep, mottled green to very dark brown to almost black. They are generally cooked with their hard shells on, usually steamed, stewed, fried and in soups. However, when they moult their shells, they can be served as soft shell crab seafood delicacy. Many Asian people, including myself, consider them to be among the tastiest of all crab species. The Philippines and other South Asian countries have a huge appetite and thus a very high demand of the said crab species.
Despite the strong demand in the market, high flesh content, rapid growth rate even in captivity and the natural ability of females to give birth to about 1 million offspring, aquaculture of this wonderful mud dwelling creature has not been very easy due to limited and often low and unpredictable larvae survival. It is a seemingly natural condition that could be attributed to disease, inadequate nutrition and the excessive death rate during the moulting season.
You see, mud crabs are notorious for its cannibalistic nature or behaviour during the moulting stage when crabs with still hard shells will usually attack and devour those with already soft shells (moulting crabs). This fact could well qualify to give supplementary meaning to the popular phrase “crab mentality” which could now includes “eating”, literally that’s it, to “pulling” or “stepping on” others ……… just to survive.
Steamed ……… fried ……… cooked with coconut milk ……… curried ……… etc. ……… there seems to be a lot of ways to prepare the mud crabs (and some prawns) we purchased from the seaside for our dinner. Crabs and prawns are both naturally delicious and therefore preparing it into a sumptuous meal is considered foolproof. To suffice to a rather huge group with big hunger, I decided to sauté it with spices and cook with glass noodles in the same way I prepared my earlier post called “Alimasag con Sotanghon”. In lieu of blue swimming crabs though, I will be using the even tastier mud crabs with bonus prawns.
For this preparation I used several pieces of large prawns (optional), trimmed of antennae and chelate (leg pairs) and cleaned, and about 5 pieces mud crabs, shell, chelae (claws) and legs thoroughly scraped of dirt and washed under running water. The crabs were then cut in half and claws were cracked. Be careful in cutting so as not to waste the yellow to orange-coloured crab fat or eggs or “aligi” found inside the body. The dish needs that seriously. :-)
Other major ingredient is about 250 grams “sotanghon” or glass noodles. Soak the noodles in warm water for about 5 minutes to soften. Take out from water and set aside.
We also need about 4 – 5 cups crab or shrimp broth but you can substitute it with chicken broth. We are just so lucky to have a handful of shrimp heads (from the tempura dish we had the other day) which I used to make a really tasty broth I kept barely boiling.
The other ingredients are: 3 tbsp vegetable oil, 1 thumb-sized ginger, peeled and cut to match sticks, ½ head garlic, peeled and minced, 1 small leek, diagonally chopped, 3 tbsp oyster sauce, 3 tbsp soy sauce, ½ tsp ground pepper, 2 tsp white sugar and 3 stalks flat leaf parsley (or 1 small stalk celery), minced. Additionally, some sea salt might be needed to adjust/finish of the taste.
Cooking involves a simple procedure. In a heavy pan or wok heat the oil on medium setting. Add the ginger and stir fry, then add in garlic followed by the leek and continue stir frying.
Increase the heat to high and add the crab pieces and prawns, if using. Continue sautéing until the crab and prawns turn to gorgeous bright orange color.
In the meantime, strain the shrimp broth. Pour the broth to the pan, let it boil and continue simmering on medium heat. Add in ground pepper, followed by oyster sauce, soy sauce and sugar. Continue simmering with occasional stirring. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Add some salt if still necessary. I added about ½ teaspoon to mine.
Add the softened glass noodles and stir to combine properly. Continue cooking with light stirring until the noodles is fully cooked through and broth is reduced. Sprinkle minced parsley on top and cook for a couple of minutes more.
Transfer in large platter and serve with steamed rice or eat on its own. A few drops of “calamansi” or lemon extract won’t hurt but for us, it is already amazing as is.
The dish was served as our dinner and yes, the big hunger was easily satisfied …… delightfully, that is! Enjoy! c“,)