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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Everything came together very quickly. The sauce developed and thickened in just a few minutes and then we were ready to dig in.
Some Asian steamed buns were perfect for soaking up all the sauce.
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.
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!