Rich, decadent and tasting like nothing else on earth, salted egg yolk crab has become a Singapore cult favourite over recent years, appearing in everything from desserts and fries to steamed buns and curry puffs. So what better way to showcase it than in a Singaporean cuisine classic: crab!
1 (about 1.2kg/2 lb 10 oz) mud crab
2/3 cup tapioca flour
vegetable oil, for deep-frying, plus 1½ tbsp extra
3 large shallots, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
50g (1.7 oz) butter, chopped
4 red birdseye chillies, finely sliced (or to taste)
handful fresh curry leaves, plus extra to garnish
8-10 cooked, salted egg yolks, mashed
pinch of salt
3 tsp caster (superfine) sugar
⅔ cup evaporated milk
To prepare the crabs, working with one at a time, turn each crab so the tail end of the underside is facing you. Using your fingers, lift the tail flap up and twist to remove it. Place your fingers under the edge of the top shell where the tail was, then pull up on the top shell to remove it, taking care to remove all the attached innards as you do so (these should pull away with the shell). It helps to pull it away from you on a slight angle so all those innards don’t fall out and make mess. Remove the feathery gills down each side of the crab, then very briefly rinse crab (you don’t want them sodden) and pat dry using paper towel. Using a large, heavy knife or a cleaver, cut each crab in half through the shell lengthways. Twist off the large claws, then using a meat mallet or similar, lightly crack the claws all over so the meat is easier to extract later.
Heat enough oil to one-third fill a large wok over medium-high heat to 190C/375F (at this temperature, a cube of bread will turn golden in about 10 seconds. While the oil is heating, line a large tray with several layers of kitchen towel. Place half the crab on another tray, scatter over half the tapioca flour and toss to lightly coat the crab, adding a little more flour if necessary. Shake off excess flour, then add the crab to the wok, taking care not to splash yourself with hot oil. Deep fry, turning once, for 5 minutes or until light golden and just cooked through. Remove to the lined tray. Repeat this process with the remaining crab and tapioca flour. When all the crab is cooked, very carefully remove the hot oil to a heat-proof container to cool (once safe to handle, you could even strain it and use it to flavour stir-fries, noodles dishes and so on). Wipe the wok clean.
Add the 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil to the wok, then heat over medium-high heat. Add the chopped shallot and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes or until softened. Add the butter and cook for 30-40 seconds until it melts and foams, then add the chilli and half the curry leaves and cook for another 30 seconds or until the mixture starts to smell fragrant. Reduce the heat to medium, then add the mashed salted egg yolk, salt, sugar and evaporated milk. Bring to the boil, using a wooden spoon to constantly work the yolks into the mixture, stirring and separating the lumps as you go. Cook for about 2 minutes or just until the sauce starts to thicken – you don’t want a completely smooth sauces, but you also don’t want loads of clumps.
Add remaining curry leaves to sauce. Return the crab to the wok, then cook for about 3 minutes, using tongs to keep tossing the crab in the thick sauce until all the pieces are well coated and the sauce has reduced and thickened. (Add 1 tbsp of water (or a dash more evaporated milk if you prefer) to the sauce if it reduces too much.) The sauce should be a thick, coating consistency. Transfer to a large serving dish, scatter over extra curry leaves, then serve.