Healthy and Sane

PFB C#2: Taste of Singapore in my Boston home

September 25th, 2010 · 39 Comments · Project Food Blog

Thanks to all of your votes on my first challenge post for Project Food Blog, I got to advance to the next round. Thank you so much again – I definitely could not have done it without you!! 😀

As expected, this competition is forcing me to grow as a cook and a blogger and the second challenge already forced me to step out of my comfort zone. That was literally the requirement! What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? … Or maybe at least gets you brownie points with the judges? 😉

The challenge was simple – cook a classic dish from a foreign cuisine that takes you completely outside of your comfort zone, and make it as authentic as possible. I’d like to think that I’m not too afraid to try new things and have been quite adventurous in my little kitchen and while dining out. And yet, I knew exactly what I’ve been avoiding to make at home. For those of you who’ve seen the Julie and Julia movie, remember when Julie tries to boil lobsters and her husband starts singing “lobster killah, lobster killah”? Yeah, that’s what immediately came to mind. I love lobster but leave it up to Adam to do the cooking part. There is just something about a live creature being dunked in hot water that doesn’t sit well with me. And then there are those recipes that have you chop them cross wise with a giant knife while still alive. Yikes. Definitely outside of my comfort zone… way outside of my comfort zone. 😯

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All right, so now we know my limits, but what did I want to make? Chilli crab. Chilli crab is Singapore’s national dish – it was literally created because Singapore didn’t have one. And it’s quite simple (at least in theory) – crabs are stir-fried in a semi-thick, sweet and savory tomato and chilli based sauce and are often served with rolls or French bread. The dish has been in the forefront of my mind for the past few weeks given Top Chef’s finale was filmed in Singapore. I couldn’t help but reminisce of our amazing trip there last winter. The meal at the No Signboard Seafood restaurant where we tried chilli crab was unforgettable. And yet, up until this challenge, I never considered making it at home as much as I wanted to have just one more taste of one of the most delicious (and messiest!) meals of my life. Because well, there was this whole cooking whole crab-thing that stood in the way. Not exactly my forte.

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Apparently a lot of Americans agree with me. Finding whole crabs was quite the challenge. A trip to several traditional groceries stores produced nothing better than frozen crab legs. Nope, not gonna cut it. Luckily, I thought of checking one more spot – an Asian supermarket not too far away. Score! They had several varieties of crab but whole crabs were all alive. I guess it was time to face my fears full-on.

I did a lot of research for recipes. If I was going to go through the trouble of recreating chilli crab, it better taste good! I chose this recipe because it had chilli sauce and shrimp paste and the dish I tried specifically mentioned these two ingredients in the description. I picked up most of the ingredients at the Asian grocery store as well, although surprisingly, there weren’t too many “funky” ingredients involved.

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I par-boiled the crabs for 4 minutes before stir frying them with the sauce. Many recipes said to chop them up right away and just throw them in with the sauce (and stir-fry until ready) but I didn’t have a cleaver and my knife definitely couldn’t handle this job. Plus, in all honesty, I really don’t know if I could even do that. I’m sure from my facial expressions in all the pictures, you can conclude that I was outside of my comfort zone as is.

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Once the crabs were cooked a little, I was a bit more at ease. I rinsed them under cool water so that they’d be easier to handle.

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Sorry, buddy, your time has come. I was actually shaking for a few minutes. I think it’s the eyes. Once I turned them over and realized the legs were actually falling off on their own, things moved more smoothly. I mean, I eat lobster and in that sense, it’s quite similar.

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Everything came together very quickly. The sauce developed and thickened in just a few minutes and then we were ready to dig in.

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Some Asian steamed buns were perfect for soaking up all the sauce.

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And yes, this was messy, VERY messy. Even though it didn’t taste exactly like the chilli crab we had before, it took me right back to our meal at the No Signboard Seafood. I’m sure there are hundreds of variations to this national dish. I’m so glad I overcame my fears and was able to have a little taste of Singapore right in my Boston home. :)

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What dish is outside of your comfort zone?

PS – I’m in San Francisco right now (I cooked this right before we left just in case :) ). I’ll be back in a few days with a full recap. We’re having a blast despite the fact that I got a crazy cold right before we left.

PPS – If you enjoy this blog and my second challenge entry, PLEASE vote for me (follow the widget link on the top left or go here). 200 challengers will advance to the next round so you can vote for your favorite 200 bloggers at this stage! Thank you so much again. I can’t advance without your votes so please do it now! :)

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39 Comments so far ↓

  • #1 - alicia

    I LOVE these pictures of you. Your facial expression is priceless. Great post, and the food looks delicious! I’ve never had Chilli crab before! I’m going to have to keep my eyes peeled for them on menus…..or I’ll just come over and you can cook for me?

  • #2 - Lauren

    What a neat meal! Congrats on advancing to the next stage of the competition… I knew you would :).

    Have a blast in San Fran!

  • #3 - kara

    Delurking again! Welcome to SF, Elina! I thought you might like a burrito recommendation. My absolute favorite is Papalote, on 24th and Valencia. Really fresh (well, as burritos go) and delicious.

  • #4 - Michelle

    OMG, I was cracking up at your photos. I adore eating lobster but cooking it makes me uneasy too! Congratulations on advancing to the next round…hopefully we can make it even further! Can’t wait to hear all about SF when you get back!

  • #5 - Jessica@tastyandtrim

    YAY congrats on making it to the next round, you deserve it! Cooking fish is usually out of my comfort zone. I never know how long to cook it or how to make sure it doesn’t have that “fishy” taste.

  • #6 - Lily @ Lily's Health Pad

    This DEFINITELY looks outside my comfort zone. I don’t think I coulda boiled the crab. Things that require a lot of pretty chopping-outside my comfort zone. I need a knife set…badly.

  • #7 - Megan

    Awesome pictures of the whole process… and I am still very obsessed with your backsplash. It’s so modern and sophisticated!

    Looks like an incredible dish and you put so much work into it.

    I hope you are having a great time in SF!!

  • #8 - Nikki

    I am impressed. I found your blog while looking at bloggers advancing on to the next level and love your next entry.

  • #9 - MelissaNibbles

    YES! I’m so happy for you that you advanced!! Congratulations!

    Wow, I’m so impressed that you cooked this meal! This would definitely scare the pants off me. Hahaha! Great job and I love the pictures. You are too cute.

  • #10 - Danielle

    I just saw that episode of Top Chef last night on-demand… cool that you actually visited Singapore, too!

  • #11 - Kerstin

    Awesome entry – I’m so impressed! I haven’t tried cooking lobster or crab at home because I’m afraid of messing it up, but you’ve inspired me to try!

  • #12 - Laura

    Woooop! Big congrats !!!!!

  • #13 - Shannon

    wow, what a feat :) you did awesome!!

  • #14 - Liz

    Ryan and I were just talking about the Top Chef finale and all the good foods they showcased while in Singapore! I don’t think there is any way either of us could drop a live crab in the water so I commend you on that :) Congrats on making it through round 1!

    I typically shy away from any meat that is on the bone or needs to be “cleaned” in any way before eating. I have peeled frozen shrimp before (while wearing gloves LOL) but that is about as daring as I’ve gotten. My grandparents used to own a meat-packing company, and after I saw the meat in different stages of butchery as a kid, I was kind of scarred for life! I actually became vegetarian for many years and still can’t get over my squeamishness towards meat.

  • #15 - Daisy

    I love crab! I even catch my own in the summer but I have a very very hard time (aka leave it to others) to add them to the pot. Poor little guys.
    But their meat is so good! I usually make crab cakes. Awesome job stepping out of your comfort zone and creating this meal!

  • #16 - sister inna

    you look so cute in all of these :)
    i voted!

  • #17 - Kimmy

    I love the shot of the crab before its demise. What a challenge to recreate such an expensive meal! :-)

  • #18 - Kelly

    Well researched and gorgeous. Hope you’re having a delightful trip. You have my vote.

  • #19 - Sues

    Wow, you’re so brave!!! This was the perfect dish to make for this challenge and I’m super impressed :) Awesome job!!!

  • #20 - Shirley

    I gotta support a local, especially when she picks Singapore, my dad’s country! Plus looks like you did a great job, and I wouldn’t be too comfortable attacking crabs myself.

  • #21 - Reeni

    You did a great job with this! I think the live crabs would make me a little squeamish too…well a LOT squeamish! I wish you the best of luck with this round!

  • #22 - Lara (Thinspired)

    You know you’ve got my vote on this one! What an incredible amount of preparation and work!
    Btw, that is one of my favorite scenes from Julie & Julia 😉
    Congrats again on making it to the second round!

  • #23 - Bridget

    Awesome job Elina!!!! THis is definitely a meal out of many peoples comfort zone I’m sure! I love shellfish but still can’t bring myself to cook them live haha. Looks like it turned out delicious!! Good Luck!!!

    Hope your having an AMAZING time in SF…that is my next MUST travel place :)

  • #24 - Joanne

    Shellfish is one thing that I have never dared to cook. For precisely the reason you describe. Plus I have no significant other to do the dirty work for me.

    You did an awesome job with it though and you’ve certainly got my vote!

    If you’d like, you can check out my post here! http://www.joanne-eatswellwithothers.com/2010/09/butternut-squash-enchiladas-with-red.html

  • #25 - Debbie

    I almost did this…I was researching Japan, Singapore and Thailand..I did Japan..congrats and good luck! You get my vote!

  • #26 - Allison

    Voted for you! I hope you advance :)

  • #27 - Therese @ artistta

    Looks very good. Nicely done. You have my vote! Good luck in PFB!

  • #28 - The Duo Dishes

    Live crabs taste so much better than their frozen or pre-cooked counterparts, but it can be intimidating to deal with them. We’ve done it a few times. Scary scary. Great job tackling this one!

  • #29 - Jacob's Kitchen

    Great post! The crab looks awesome. I voted for you!

    Good luck! =)

    You can check out my PFB post at :http://www.foodbuzz.com/project_food_blog/challenges/2/view/864

  • #30 - Margot

    Love the pictures and how they tell the story of your adventure. Sounds delicous.

  • #31 - The Cheap Gourmet

    You are one brave woman for using live crabs, but I bet the meal was worth all your effort. Your photos definitely speak volumes and made me smile. Great job on the chili crab recipe. I would like to try it, but don’t know if I can be as brave as you. Might have to stick with dead crabs 😉 Wishing you all the best in future challenges and sending along my vote!

  • #32 - Peter

    Bravo on the crab! (You got our vote!)

  • #33 - stephchows

    I made lobster for the first time this summer, so scary!!! Great job and looks like you had a blast in SF! Glad you are feeling better!! PS love your kitchen backsplash!! voted!

  • #34 - Mike

    Ever since Top Chef finale, I have been dying to try a chili crab. That’s so awesome that you made it. You have my vote. I am in Boston too… where in town are you?

  • #35 - Sarah @ The Smart Kitchen

    Wow! I’m impressed….I especially love th pic of the crab staring me down. :)

  • #36 - Jen @ Tiny Urban Kitchen

    Wow, I am so impressed. I still have never cooked live shellfish and I’m not sure I will anytime soon! Bravo!

  • #37 - Gina Ruiz

    Wow those crabs look amazing! You have one of my votes. Good luck!

  • #38 - Casey Angelova

    I was in Singapore last year and I loved the Chili Crab. Great post! You have my vote!!

  • #39 - Dana

    Wow… cooking whole crabs is definitely quite the challenge to tackle! Great job… and I love teh traditional looking serving dish you used!