“Picking crab meat from its shell need not be boring and frustrating …
it’s like undressing a beautiful woman in a tricky dress.”
~ Chopinand, co-author ChopinandMysaucepan
“Spanner crab meat, palm hearts, finger lime, Sichuan oil and crisp duck skin, how difficult can that recipe be?” I ask Mysaucepan.
“Well, you can give it a go. I’m sure it can’t be too far off” she says.
This is the thing about seafood restaurants in Sydney – most of the seafood is so fresh, I believe only very minimal cooking is required to bring out its flavours. To me, it is almost criminal to overcook such fresh and delicate seafood.
“Finger limes may not be quite as easily available but I think pink grapefruit would be a really decent alternative” I thought to myself.
As for the rest of the ingredients, I can put my own spin into it as I visualize a beautiful looking dish in my mind.
“The colour combination of vibrant orange, fluorescent pink, bright green would look awesome on the plate” I say to Mysaucepan. “And I still have that air-tight bottle of crispy duck skin which I made a few weeks ago from that whole duck which you bought so there would be absolutely zero cooking for this salad!”.
So here is my take on Flying Fish restaurant’s spanner crab salad and I am thrilled with how it turned out on my very first attempt.
Spanner Crab Salad with pink grapefruit, flying fish roe and crisp duck skin
If you have not seen a spanner crab before, it does look like something out of an alien sci-fi movie.
Its head is ugly with its menacing three-point horns and the flat pincers look very similar to spanners which I believe is how this crab derived its name.
The two spanner crabs we got from the Sydney Fish Market are approximately 700 grams each.
And the best thing about these crabs is you can buy them cooked to save cooking time although I have seen life spanner crabs too.
Extracting the spanner crab meat
To extract the meat from the spanner crab, turn the crab upside down and start by breaking off all the legs at the joint where the legs meet the body of the crab.
Check out the underside of the spanner crab – does it look ugly to you?
Once you have removed all the legs and pincers, remove the top shell and you will find that most of the meat is in the body of the crab although the fatter legs do have some meat as well.
Extracting crab meat can be quite testing especially when I am generally an impatient person.
I use a combination of the back of a kitchen knife (as a hammer to break hard crab shells) and a pair of kitchen scissors to snip the softer leg shells to extract the meat.
Tip 1: Organise beforehand so that you have all the utensils such as the knife, scissors, bowl and tea towels etc within easy reach since your hands are going to be messy from this process once you begin.
Tip 2: Use the scissors to snip the softer leg shell as the harder crab shell can be brittle. The last thing you want is tiny bits of irritating crab shells in your salad!
These two spanner crabs yield approximately two cups of meat.
How to prepare crisp duck skin (optional for this recipe)
I happen to have a large bottle of crisp duck skin in the fridge from cooking a whole duck a few weeks before – how convenient!
Here’s how I made crisp duck skin:
1. Heat a non-stick pan until very hot.
2. Season the diced duck skin and fat with a generous amount of salt and add to the hot pan. The skin and fat should immediately start to sizzle.
3. Turn off the heat immediately when the skin becomes golden brown. Drain fat and transfer the duck skin onto kitchen paper to blot off excess fat.
4. When the duck skin is cooled completely, refrigerate in an air-tight bottle.
You don’t even need to oil the pan as the duck fat will immediately start to render from the heat of the pan.
One of the best things about cooking fresh duck is being able to use the entire duck. The duck Marylands are perfect for a confit while the duck breasts can be used for a different dish altogether.
Duck bones and the carcass can be roasted and made into flavoursome stock.
Tip 3: Pour the duck fat from the pan into a bottle and it can be kept in the freezer for months. One of the best uses for duck fat is to brush on hand-cut potato chips to be baked in the oven.
Tip 4: Keep the crisp duck skin in an air-tight bottle in the fridge and it will keep for months. Sprinkle this duck skin on salads and pasta. I guarantee it will bring your cooking to another level.
Tip 5: Try not to pop these little crisp duck skin nibbles into your mouth because they are VERY ADDICTIVE even on its own.
I’m not sure which is more tasty - bits of crispy deep-fried pork lard such as bacon or this crispy duck skin but I’m sure you can imagine how a simple salad can come alive with these bits of decadence!
I have omitted the palm hearts because it can be difficult to find in supermarkets and personally, I found the taste to be a little bland. I believe the palm hearts were more for a visual and textural effect.
Mix all the ingredients in a large salad bowl and then place some in a small dipping plate to be cupped onto a dinner plate to serve. Garnish with a small dollop of flying fish roe and small basil leaves and drizzle a bit of extra virgin olive oil if required.
Tip 6: Ensure the zucchini, dill and crisp duck skin are very finely diced. The pink grapefruit pods should be separated instead of being in clumps.
Tip 7: Peel the zucchini (optional) to remove the skin and slice it lengthwise into very thin 3mm strips. Then, dice the zucchini as fine as possible into 3mm bits. Raw zucchini is firm and will retain its shape and texture even after it has been mixed in a salad. This step adds finesse to the salad and your guests will be wondering what are these tiny, light yellow bits that add texture to the salad.
Tip 8: Baby radish with its vibrant red and diced into 3mm bits is an excellent alternative to using zucchini in this salad.
No one ingredient such as the small basil leaves or grapefruit should dominate the taste. Rather, the crab meat should be the star of this dish and its sweet taste brought out by the combination of all the ingredients.
The flavours of this salad are subtle and yet they combine well to create a beautiful dish that I am sure I will be doing over and over again.
This salad is also a good option when entertaining at home because it can be prepared before hand and then served slightly chilled or at room temperature.
Notwithstanding preparation time, the cost of all the ingredients for this recipe is approximately $25 and serves up eight portions as per my presentation.
Below is my recipe in full.
Spanner Crab Salad
with pink grapefruit, flying fish roe & crisp duck skin
Adapted from Spanner crab, palm hearts, finger lime, szechuan oil & crisp duck skin at Flying Fish restaurant, Sydney
- 2 spanner crabs, cooked and meat removed *
- 5 sprigs of dill, diced very finely
- 5 tablespoon zucchini, diced very finely
- 3 tablespoon crisp duck skin (optional) **
- 5 pink grapefruit, separated into individual pods
- 5 tablespoon tobiko or fresh flying fish roe
- 5 – 10 small basil leaves or large leaves cut into very small strips
- 10 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 3 teaspoon lemon juice
- Salt to taste
- Combine all the ingredients into a large salad bowl and mix thoroughly.
- Spoon salad into small dipping plate to cup onto large dinner plate.
- Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature.
* Alternatively, mud crab or Blue swimmer is just as good for this recipe although I suspect spanner crab sounds kinda funky on a restaurant menu.
** My suggestions for an alternative to crisp duck skin are very finely diced salted duck egg white and mashed salted duck egg yolk to be mixed with the salad. Use the duck egg as a salt alternative to taste as it will add good salt complexity to the dish. Crispy deep-fried anchovies pounded finely in a pestle and mortar can also add salt and textural complexity to this salad.
Serves up to 8 portions per display.
If you want to impress someone with a delicious dish that requires almost no cooking, I would suggest you give this spanner crab salad a go.
Mysaucepan suggests an aged Moet & Chandon Nectar Imperial and its sweet honey, nutty and toasty flavours are excellent with this savoury salad.
This beautiful summery salad will also go well with a chilled citrusy riesling or an aged semillon.
So dear readers, do you have a favourite salad recipe to share with us?