Singapore Crab Cakes with Red Chile Sauce
Makes 24 mini crab cakes; serves 8 to 10
Walking through the hawker stands in Singapore City, you are bound to see red chile crabs for sale. Some say it is actually the national dish. Typically you'll see whole crabs, roughly cut in quarters and wok-fried with a red chile sauce. Eating them can be quite a messy experience, so I simplified that dish to turn it into something you might serve for a dinner party or as an appetizer. I love to garnish this with tons of cilantro leaves over the top and a squeeze of fresh lime. Japanese mayonnaise is different from the stuff we all know in two ways: it is made with egg yolks instead of whole eggs, and with rice wine instead of apple and malt vinegar. It is richer than the usual mayonnaise. Kewpie is the most popular brand available in the United States, and you can find it in Asian or Japanese specialty markets.
½ pound Dungeness crabmeat
1 cup ground Japanese rice crackers (3½ ounces) or dry bread crumbs
1 Persian cucumber, chopped (¾ cup)
1 small red onion, finely diced (½ cup)
½ red bell pepper, chopped (¼ cup)
½ cup fresh Thai basil leaves (see opposite), chopped
¹⁄³ cup chopped fresh cilantro
¹⁄³ cup Japanese mayonnaise
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice (from 2 limes)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon canola oil
Singapore Red Chile Sauce (recipe follows)
- Put the crabmeat in a medium bowl and check for any bits of shell and cartilage. Add the ground rice crackers, cucumber, onion, bell pepper, Thai basil, cilantro, mayonnaise, fish sauce, lime juice, and salt. Stir together until well combined. Shape into 1-ounce cakes (about 2 tablespoons each).
- Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Add the canola oil, and arrange the cakes in a single even layer in the pan (do this in batches if necessary). Sear the cakes on both sides, 1 to 2 minutes per side, until browned and warmed through.
- Transfer the crab cakes to a platter and serve with a side of red chile sauce.
Singapore Red Chile Sauce
Makes 3 cups
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
4 (3-inch) pieces fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped (¾ cup)
1¼ cups ketchup
1 cup grated coconut palm sugar (see page 129) or packed dark brown sugar
½ cup chile bean paste
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter
- Heat the oil in a small saucepan set over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add the onion and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until soft and starting to brown. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the ginger, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes until fragrant. Reduce the heat to low. Add the ketchup, coconut palm sugar, and chile bean paste. Stir, and let simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens and all of the ingredients have become one cohesive mix. Remove from the heat and transfer to a blender. Pulse to release the steam and then puree on high speed until the mixture is smooth.
- With a rubber spatula, scrape the sauce back into the saucepan. Set the pan over medium heat and add 1 cup water. Stir well. Let simmer for 3 minutes, and then add the butter, stirring continuously until incorporated. Remove from the heat and serve immediately
Found in Southeast Asia and now — by popular demand — in the United States, Thai basil has small, narrow leaves, purple stems, and mauve flowers. It has an identifiable licorice flavor not present in sweet basil, and its flavor is more stable under high or extended cooking temperatures than that of sweet basil. If you can't find it, you can substitute regular basil.
Note: If you are making this sauce in advance, stop before adding the butter and refrigerate it, covered, for up to 4 days. Add the butter and reheat just before serving.