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How to eat crab – with chef Sam Leong

October 11, 2011

Inside SaffronWe are in the Ah Chow in Cheltenham’s Albion street circa 1971, the waiter brings canned pineapple juice as our starter from the set menu. Then the main dishes appear including sweet and sour king prawn, round balls of batter which are slightly soggy in the middle swimming in a lurid neon orange sauce.  My sister and I are thrilled and baffled in equal measure by these new foods.  A few years later, the Mayflower takes its place with flock wallpaper and deep red furnishings – crispy seaweed (actually deep-fried shredded cabbage), Kung Po prawn (sweet and sour with pieces of pineapple) and duck with pancakes and plum sauce.  Then a trip to China Town in London’s West End; we climb rickety stairs to a crammed top floor, a lazy Susan revolves in the centre of the table to deliver dishes thick with cornflour, dotted with limp straw mushrooms and bamboo shoots, accompanied by a huge pot of tea. My sister bravely orders duck’s webs and is appalled when it arrives – two feet sit upright on the plate as though the duck has just flown off and left them.  This is the patchwork of my experience of Chinese food.  Not much of it authentic I presume but I’m afraid that I would run a mile if it was.  It’s still all a bit baffling so I jump at the chance to be instructed by chef Sam Leong, a star of Chinese cuisine who is visiting Atlantis.

Sam Leong

Sam Leong is a sensation in Singapore who has worked his way up to celebrity status from fairly humble beginnings and after a succesful career as an award-winning hotel chef has set up his own cookery school with his Thai wife Forest.   Punctuating his sentences with enthusiastic expressions – “POAANG!” – and lots of hand gestures, he demonstrated how to make wasabi prawns, hot and sour soup and black peppered crab while a small group of us tasted the results.

He warned us that, like durians, we would be divided on the soup.  He was right, the thick, intense black shiny broth threaded through with strands of egg white was too much for me in terms of taste and texture but my neighbour ate her whole bowlful.  Sam’s signature prawns were  firm yet succulent, dipped in their mayonnaise-based coating with a sweet, spicy mango salsa.  A marinade of egg white and cornflour was the secret to getting just the right firmness when cooking the prawn and it was this attention to detail about texture which was the biggest lesson of the day for me from Sam.

Wasabi prawns, hot and sour soup, black pepper crab

Our menu. Red lighting made this quite difficult to photography well.

The final recipe was black pepper crab, dipped in cornflower before deep-frying so that the brown-black sauce (which included HP and Maggi sauces) would cling to the shells.  Given these rather odd ingredients I was a bit dubious but the final stir-frying in the pot released inviting peppery, hot aromas. Various tools were provided but I failed to get more than a few strands of the tasty crab meat from the shells until Sam gave us a demonstration of how to eat it.  Filled with confidence we all grabbed the crab with our hands and tore the meat limb from limb.  Billed by Atlantis as the World’ Best Peppered Crab, I have nothing to compare it to, but it was jolly good.  You can download the recipe here or try it at Safrron in Atlantis which has some of Sam’s dishes on its extensive Asian menu – the Seafood night on Tuesdays is worth going to in particular.  Watch the video below for Sam’s crab eating lesson.

Saffron sign and crab-eating cutlery

The cookery session opened the door to Chinese cooking a little wider and I browsed through Sam’s cook book ‘A Wok Through Time’ eagerly.  I was really disappointed to see the first three recipes include shark’s fin, encouraging the widespread and barbaric practise of finning.  I hope his move from the Singapore hotel environment means this is permanently off Sam’s menu.  To read more about this cruel and wasteful practise visit Sharkwater.  Otherwise there are lots of ideas in this book worth reading , including an interesting pictorial glossary of ingredients at the end, although some recipes are a bit too ‘cheffy’ for home cooking.

Images from the Saffron kitchen

Eager to taste the sweet prawn/hot wasabi combination again but for a lighter taste I adapted it slightly using labaan rather than mayonnaise (a sort of Middle East meets East adjustment).

Wasabi prawns with mango salsa adapted from a recipe by Sam Leong

Serves 4-5

Ingredients for the prawn marinade

10 large raw prawns, shelled and deveined
1 egg white
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
A dash of sesame oil
2 teaspoons cornflour

Wasabi sauce

300g labaan
2-3 tablespoons wasabi paste
1-2 teaspoons honey
juice of half a lemon

Mango salsa

1 mango, diced
2 shallots, chopped
Mint, shredded
Thai chilli sauce, to taste


Mix prawns with the marinade and set aside for 30 minutes.

Stir the wasabi paste into the labaan little by little until it is the concentration that you like.  Keep tasting until it’s just right (mild or fiery). Stir in the honey, then add a little lemon juice, stir and taste again until it’s the right balance of creamy, hot and sharp flavours.  Combine the diced mango, shallots and mint leaves with Thai chilli sauce.  Put wasabi sauce and the salsa in the fridge until ready to use.

Deep-fry the prawns in hot oil until cooked, for about a minute, and mix immediately into wasabi sauce. Serve with the mango salsa.

My friend over at Ginger and Scotch has made a really useful map of Asian grocery stores in Dubai if you live here and are tempted to explore Chinese cookery further.  You can get HP sauce in any supermarket!

I’d love to hear about your Chinese food experiences…are they similar to mine or completely different?

DISCLOSUREI enjoyed this complimentary cooking course as a guest of the Atlantis The Palm. Inside Atlantis

  1. October 11, 2011 7:49 am

    What a fun cooking class!

    Loved the video, Sally. Chef describes exactly how I eat my crab – I thought that was how everyone did it! And I can hear some Cantonese in his accent (what I speak).

    • October 11, 2011 8:02 am

      PS – thanks for including the map link.

    • October 12, 2011 8:18 am

      You are my Chinese food ‘go to’ blog – I’ve got to make that pork soon.

  2. October 11, 2011 9:28 am

    Lovely video sally!!! Thats how we eat crab too.. sounds simple but an art in itself!!! I love wasabi prawns! Will definitely try the recipe!

    • October 12, 2011 8:18 am

      Let me know what you think about my labaan alternative 🙂

  3. October 11, 2011 9:32 am

    loved the video… though i dont eat crabs 😮
    good job!!

  4. October 11, 2011 9:50 am

    Very nice post and I have learned something new from the video as I have always approached my crabs with a hammer

  5. October 11, 2011 9:53 am

    Looks like lots of fun 🙂 Very useful information am sure it was as fun as it sounds 🙂
    This is an amazing post Sally, love the video too, you are a star 🙂

  6. October 11, 2011 10:18 am

    Lovely food and a wonderful recipe!

    A great event!



    • October 12, 2011 8:16 am

      Thanks Rosa – always appreciate a comment from you.

  7. October 11, 2011 10:18 am

    I couldn’t get enough of the black pepper crab too 🙂 It’s been a while, but from what I remember it’s a notch above Grand Hyatt’s Peppercrab restaurant and even Singapore. The black cod was pretty good too. Will take a look at the video when am out of an open plan office!
    ps – I have many fond student memories of the Mayflower…luckily Chinese cuisine has come a long way since then!

    • October 12, 2011 8:16 am

      Always forget your Cheltenham connection – the Mayflower was a considerable step up from the Ah Chow I can tell you!

  8. October 11, 2011 10:44 am

    Black pepper crab! One of my favourite dishes! I’ve never even contemplated making it at home! 🙂

    • October 12, 2011 8:15 am

      Actually very easy – especially for such a skilled cook as yourself.

  9. October 11, 2011 11:10 am

    I love crab! What a fantastic experience. I can et Chinese take aways any day but for some reason, the smell of the oil at the restaurants leaves my stomach queasy 🙂

    • October 12, 2011 8:14 am

      The crab was excellent. Saffron is very high-end so no oil smells here.

  10. October 11, 2011 1:11 pm

    I have never had a crab ever. A little terrified of the crustacean and also can to do with the fact that my hubby is a cancerian 🙂

  11. October 11, 2011 1:15 pm

    *also has to do with the fact that my hubby is a cancerian

    • October 12, 2011 8:13 am

      I never thought of it that way Anita!

  12. October 11, 2011 4:24 pm

    WOW! Good job on your first video Sally 🙂 Not bad for a first timer. I’m no video expert myself.

    I also want to share a funny Filipino crab eating tutorial from a rising Filipino internet star, Mikey Bustos. It is quite helpful I must say and most entertaining. Click on the link to watch:

    Let me know what you think 🙂 If you don’t understand anything, feel free to drop a tweet or email 🙂

    • October 12, 2011 8:12 am

      Love this guy – I can only aspire to his relationship with the camera 🙂

  13. October 11, 2011 7:11 pm

    What a great time! I want to eat crabs with him too!

  14. Anna permalink
    October 11, 2011 9:31 pm

    The chicken and mushroom at the Ah-Chow was to die for…as I remember…so was the banana fritter, though I remember feeling full up after one bite! That could’ve been my only meal out as a child!

    • October 12, 2011 8:12 am

      I can’t remember any other occassions except a milkshake at the old Wimpy bar! Banana fritters….oh yes!

  15. October 11, 2011 10:10 pm

    Wow didn’t realise their was an art to eating crab. Looks liek you had a great class. I love the video and definitely want to see more of you next time 🙂 Great job!

    • October 12, 2011 8:11 am

      Thanks Sukaina – it was a really interesting session and Sam was a really engaging character. You don’t know how many takes that took (construction, call-to-prayer, dogs, laughing etc!)

  16. October 11, 2011 11:00 pm

    Oh girl, you look fabulous in front of the camera! I’m looking forward to seeing more videos with you.

    • October 12, 2011 8:09 am

      Thanks Silvia – It’s so awful looking at yourself in motion so this is much appreciated!

  17. October 12, 2011 1:48 pm

    Ha your childhood experience with Chinese food is the same as mine, but somehow we thought it was extraordinary and so deliciously exotic. Today I would love to eat at Sam Leong’s restaurant and attend a cooking class with him! Fascinating and the food is amazing!

  18. October 12, 2011 2:37 pm

    Love your post Sally – you did so well with the video!

  19. October 13, 2011 11:07 am

    I didn’t experience Chinese food until I was an adult. I do remember the first time I was offered Chiccken feets at a Yum Cha restaurant.

    I love crab. Growing up my grandfather took us crabbing most weekends.

  20. October 14, 2011 8:27 am

    That video is brilliant!! I always waste half of my crab…even more…cause I eat it the wrong way (shell in mouth, chomp, sputter-spit, repeat). This is super helpful. (Did I say I LOVED the video?!)

    Such a well-written descriptive post, enjoyed biting in to every word of yours! 🙂


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