For me, food is an exploration. As a child the world is full of new sights and sounds lose their intrigue and drama as we age. I miss that. I miss not knowing what to expect, that glee when you finally try a long-anticipated treat, to find it irresistible to the senses.
So as an adult, I do my utmost to keep that child alive, trying anything and everything that can titillate my senses. True, its hit and miss, some I love and some I don’t, but the joy is in the innocence.
One such dish is soft shell crab. For years it was an enigma, for so many an irresistible treat, yet the idea of eating a whole crab, and finding it delicious seemed mutually exclusive.
But try it I did, In Kerala, an experience ill never forget. Crisp, sweet and beautifully soft in the most irresistible of ways.
This is my homage to that moment.
100ml Whole Milk
2 tbsp Rapeseed Oil
1 ½ tsp Fast Action Yeast
350g Plain Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
2 tbsp Caster Sugar
Soft Shell Crab
4 Frozen Soft-Shell Crab, defrosted
2 tbsp Plain Flour
2 Eggs, Beaten
100g Panko Breadcrumbs
2 tsp Shichimi Togarashi
100g Gooseberries, the sweet, not cooking variety
2 tbsp Sambal Oelek
Cooked Samphire, Pickled Carrot, Onion & Roast Peanuts to serve
1. Begin with the Bao Dough. Add the milk, water and oil to a small pan and heat until only just warm, around body temperature. Add the yeast and allow to stand for 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, add the remaining ingredients to a large bowl or the base of a stand mixer. Mix to combine on a low speed.
3. Gradually drizzle in the yeast mixture which should have now formed small bubbles. Knead on a low speed for 10 minutes, or by hand for 15, until you have a smooth, pliable dough.
4. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover and allow to rise for an hour.
5. Meanwhile mix the ingredients for the sambal together and set aside.
6. Once the dough has risen, knock back and weigh the dough. Divide into 12 pieces (extra bao can be cooked and frozen then reheated in a steamer from frozen) and roll into tight balls.
7. Cut 12 squares of non-stick baking paper about 10cm x 10cm. roll each ball into and oval and brush the surface with oil. Lay a chopstick across the centre and fold over in half. Remove the chopstick and set on a piece of baking paper.
8. Repeat with the remaining dough balls and lay on a baking sheet, lightly cover and allow to rise for another hour.
9. Heat a pan of water and place a steamer over the top. Steam the bao, in batches for 8 minutes or until puffy and firm.
10. Meanwhile mix the flour with the spice and set aside in a bowl. Add the panko to another bowl.
11. Dip the crab in the flour, then into the egg, then the panko. Pop back into the egg, then the panko and lay on a tray. This ensures a nice, crisp crust.
12. Heat an air fryer to 200C. Spray the crab with oil and cook for 10 minutes, flipping over after 5 minutes. Alternatively, you can deep or shallow fry until cooked through, about 7-10 minutes.
13. Serve the crab in the bao with the sambal, pickles and nuts. Sensory heaven!