Recipe: Coconut Crab Curry

My favorite restaurant in NYC is still Fish Cheeks, an authentic Thai restaurant that focuses on seafood in NoHo. For the first year in the restaurant, they had a sign that read “A No Pad Thai Zone”. I’m there basically every week. If I’m eating alone, I always start with the grilled pork cheeks (those taste better than bacon by a million times!) and then finish with their coconut crab curry! Other favorites on their menu: zabb wings, tiger prawn/lobster karee, and po tak! They also have happy hour everyday, twice a day, which is #awesomesauce because people who also work in the industry usually work during “normal” happy hour times.

Anyway, six months ago, I stumbled onto Fish Cheeks‘ coconut crab curry recipe on Vice. I immediately bookmarked it and have been trying to get the energy to do it at home. Fall season has hit NYC and my work life has been overwhelmingly exhaustive. I’ve been working 6-7 days a week since Labor Day. Last Saturday, I finally had the time to make curry paste from scratch. I have a new appreciation for what goes into the work of making the curry paste. I wonder how big their mortal & pestle is…? Or maybe Fish Cheeks has an assembly line of cooks making curry paste at the same time?

There were three ingredients that I couldn’t find though; betel leaves, prik ban chang, and shrimp paste. I was told by the Thai grocer that a close substitute to betel leaves were the leaves of Chinese broccoli (gai lan, 芥蓝). Prik, which is chili in Thai, is a red chili pepper that is not spicy but is used to make curries red/orange in color. The Thai market was out of shrimp paste so I bought dried Japanese shrimp from Chinatown.

So here is my adaptation from Vice’s published Fish Cheeks‘ recipe.

For the Curry Paste:

  • ¼ oz. sea salt
  • ¾ oz. dried Thai bird’s eye red chili
  • ½ oz. fresh Thai bird’s eye chili
  • ¼ oz. garlic
  • ½ oz. fresh galangal
  • 1 oz. lemongrass
  • 1 oz. wild ginger
  • ½ oz. fresh turmeric
  • 1 oz. dried shrimp

For the Curry:

  • Two 14 oz. cans of coconut milk
  • 2 shallots, sliced
  • 1 oz. fish sauce
  • 1 oz. palm sugar
  • 1 oz. lemongrass
  • 1 oz. tamarind concentrate
  • ½ oz. fresh galangal
  • 4 fresh makrut lime leaves, plus 2 finely chopped as garnish
  • 4 Chinese broccoli leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 8 oz. crab meat

Make the curry paste by mashing everything together with a mortar and pestle. I have a 6-inch one and the volume was perfect. Start with the top listed ingredient and then work your way down. Do not move onto the next ingredient until the previous one has become a paste.

In a medium saucepan over low-medium heat, bring the coconut milk, shallot, fish sauce, palm sugar, lemongrass, tamarind, galangal, 4 makrut lime leaves, Chinese broccoli leaves, and the curry paste to a simmer. Be sure to break the tamarind concentrate thoroughly with a whisk. Stirring constantly to prevent scorching, cook for 15 minutes, then take off heat and let it cool for another 15 minutes. Remove the Chinese broccoli leaves, put everything into a VitaMix and blend until smooth, strain, then discard solids.

Add in the crab and the rest of the finely chopped makrut lime leaves on low heat, until the crab is heated through. Pour into a serving bowl and serve with lots of steamed white rice!

Soft Shell Crab with an Orange Emulsion

Soft shell crab season is almost over. It only tastes good fried. I haven’t found any other way to cook it. Please tell me, if you find a healthier alternative.

This deep fried Soft Shell Crab is served over sautéed Pea Leaves with an Orange Emulsion and Sesame Seeds.

*Side note: whenever I prepare soft shell crab, i.e. cutting off its face and removing its lungs/filters, I will immediately start singing “Les Poissons” from The Little Mermaid.

Dungeness Crab with Ginger & Scallions

This is probably one of my favorite dishes in Chinese cuisine. My mom used to make this for us once every few weeks when I was growing up in Hong Kong but with different crabs (since there were thousands of different varieties of crab). We only had Dungeness crab in Canada and the U.S.

Along with two simple and quintessential Chinese ingredients, ginger and scallions, and rice wine, brown sugar plus soy sauces, you can have this often very expensive dish in the comfort of your own home.

Personal tidbit: save the sauce to dress noodles for lunch the next day. Delicious.