I've been out climbing around protea trees again this morning, cutting the blooms and setting up my stall on the roadside. I think I've become the metamorphosis of Eliza Doolittle!
While swinging from fragile tree branches, my mind turned to mud crabs. Perhaps I've mentioned previously that my mind works in mysterious ways, therefore, I am unable to explain why I would be thinking about mud crabs while cutting protea blooms. But, there I was, covered in leaves, hoping I wouldn't stumble upon wasps' nests and all I could think of was mud crabs!
It's best to keep out of a mud crab's way once you've caught him (you must throw back the 'Jennies' aka the female...it is illegal to keep the female...she's breeding stock), because he's never too happy. An unhappy 'buck' aka male crab is not something you should shake hands with. Those two front claws of his can give you a nasty nip! I think it's because of his majestic arrogance that I love him so much. The mud crab does not go down without a fight!
When I was a child...I've written previously about our frequent jaunts to Tin Can Bay, mud crabs were frequently on the menu in our home. Of course, living on Hinchinbrook and Newry Islands sated my appetite (almost) for fresh mud crabs. My appetite for freshly cooked crabs will never be entirely satisfied. As with all fresh seafood, simple is the best to my way of thinking. My favourite way of presenting and eating mud crab is by just boiling a whole crab for 12-14 minutes in boiling salted water, to which a small amount of sugar has been added. Remove cooked crabs (they turn orange when cooked), run cold water over them to stop them from further cooking. Cool, crack open and devour! There is no lady-like way to eat mud crabs, so don't even try. Just get in there and savour every succulent piece of its tender, sweet flesh.
Before you cook your catch, be humane and kill the crabs first. This can be done by putting the crabs in the freezer for half an hour while you get the pot on the boil or the wok heated. Another reason to put them under is that when live crabs are immersed in boiling water or hot oil, they thrash about and tend to discard legs and claws (and make a mess of the kitchen).
The mud crab is a large dark brownish-green crab that grows up to 25 cm (about 10 in) and weigh up to 3.5 kg (almost 8 lb). Mud crabs use their large claws to catch prey and defend themselves from attackers. Mud crabs hide in the muddy bottoms of estuaries and mangrove forests during the day and come out to hunt at night. They do, however, migrate from estauries, mangrove forests and salt-water lakes such as Lake Weyba at Noosa, further out to sea. The mud crab's back legs are flattened to help them swim. As they travel along the open coast, that's is what is seen above the water, just a flurry of their flattened back legs propelling them along. Mud crabs can be found in a large area ranging from the northern half of Australia, the Philippines, the east coast of Africa and Pacific islands including Samoa and Fiji. They eat molluscs, small crabs, snails and worms. Don't be fooled into thinking their flesh tastes muddy because of their time spent in the estuaries and mangrove areas. The flesh of a mud crab is very sweet and juicy.
I've mentioned I prefer eating mud crabs simply prepared, served with freshly-baked bread, butter, salt, pepper and vinegar, but I will share with you a couple of recipes in case you feel like something more exotic.
BAKED MUD CRAB: By cooking in an oven bag,you retain all the flavour and moisture.
1 cleaned fresh mud crab cut down the middle, legs separated and claws cracked.2 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil or you can use butter or margarine if you wish. Flavouring of your choice i.e. Garlic, chilli, coriander etc. Place into an oven bag and try to coat the crab all over with the marinade. Seal with a twist tie, puncture bag in 2 to 3 places with a small knife and place on a small baking tray either on top of the grill or hot plate. Cook on LOW to MEDIUMfor approximately 20-30 minutes, or until crab changes colour and looks cooked. Serve with fresh crusty bread to soak up juices.Chilli Mud Crab: Drop the crab into a pot of boiling water for 5 minutes. This will give some colour and start the cooking process. Take the crab out and place in a bowl of cold water to stop it cooking further. Using a sharp knife, cleaver or chicken shears, chop the crab into pieces, cracking the claws with a mallet or pestle. Remove the "head sac" and feathery gills.
Cooking oil - 3 teaspoons (peanut oil with a touch of sesame oil is best)
Ginger slices - quantiy to taste
Garlic crushed or finely chopped - 2 cloves
Spring onion - slice up a couple of stalks
Sliced Chilli - 2 to 3 chillis but vary to your taste
Fermented black beans
Chopped crab pieces
1 cup Stock - chicken OR water with a dash of soy OR coconut milk - your choice
Fresh herbs e.g. coriander, parsley, etc.