For my 2011 Food Challenges I committed to learning how to make Singapore’s famous Chilli Crab. And what better way to learn, than to take a class at the Sydney Fish Market’s beautiful, luxurious cooking school: Sydney Seafood School.
The venue is superb. First you gather in a small auditorium, where students watch the dish being prepared by the teacher, complete with cameras broadcasting the detailed elements onto large display screens.
Next you shuffle into the cooking area, complete with stainless steel cooking stations, where the staff move from group to group offering advice and suggestions. Each station is also equipped with expensive hand soap to remove fishy odours and bottles of sparkling mineral water to sip upon. Cooking done in style!
Last, and most exciting, is the dining room where you sit down to eat your creation with a bottle of wine and bottles of mineral water.
It’s a truly wonderful cooking school and I highly recommend it. It’s even a decent place to go on your own, if you can’t find anyone else to join you. I’ve been twice now and made friends each time.
Tourists should take note, Sydney’s fish market is the third largest in the world for volume and is second only to Tokyo’s in terms of variety sold. That’s a whole lot of seafood.
So, what did I learn about buying and preparing crabs?
1. The lustre or shine of a shell, scale or skin indicates the level of freshness. If the seafood is dull, it’s not very fresh.
2. For crustaceans, look at the under carriage, at the legs and head joints, which should be clean. If they are oxidising they aren’t as fresh.
3. Hard shells are best. If a shell is soft it indicates the crustacean has been caught during its moulting period and this means the flesh has absorbed more water. It will be less flavoursome and more mushy.
4. When you buy shellfish, transport it in a cool bag and store it in a bowl covered in plastic wrap in the fridge. Don’t leave it wrapped in the plastic and paper from the shop.
5. To clean, just wipe with a wet cloth. Never wash crab (or seafood other than bivalves) under water as you wash away the oils and flavour and allow the meat to absorb water.
6. To prepare crab, lift the flap under its body, slide your thumb in as far as you can then lift the top shell away, exposing the gills so you can remove them.
7. Use a large, sharp knife and cut with short, hard chops. Sawing motions will only tear the delicate flesh from the shell.