Creative crustaceans

Bart Beek | VOLUME 26, ISSUE 2

Bringing the subtle and elegant flavours of crustaceans to your home dinner table is easier than you might think …

I’d like to address something that has confused Australians and New Zealanders for years. Officially, ‘crayfish’ is the term used to refer to freshwater crustaceans, while ‘rock lobster’ is the term used for saltwater crustaceans.

The confusion surrounding these names is understandable. Up until about six years ago, when a concerted push was made to clear up this conundrum, every crustacean in Australia and New Zealand was referred to as a ‘crayfish’ or a ‘cray’. These days, however, when we say ‘crayfish’, we (or at least most of us) are referring purely to the freshwater crustaceans that live in our rivers, lakes and streams – like marron, yabby, gilgie and koonacs.

So, once again, ‘crayfish’ are freshwater crustaceans, while ‘rock lobsters’ are saltwater crustaceans.

Simple, right? Of course. But when overseas, ‘rock lobsters’ are called ‘spiny lobsters’ to distinguish them from the North American and European lobsters with huge, flat claws. But enough semantics, we have food to prepare …

Thankfully, preparing crustaceans for dinner will always be easier than explaining the finer points associated with their names.

In this issue, I have produced two recipes using rock lobster. The first uses cooked lobster with roasted garlic aioli and the second uses fresh raw lobster, which is baked in paper with saffron butter.

As anyone in my neighbourhood will tell you, I love green mud crabs; when I cook my Singapore chilli crab dish in the wok, you can smell it from miles away. For something a little milder, I offer my Greek-style blue swimmer crab cakes with a tomato and caper berry salad.

Then, there is squid – which is not a crustacean at all, but a cephalapod. And this recipe for salt and pepper calamari will have your friends begging for more. It’s fast, tender and absolutely delicious, and when combined with the flavours of Sichuan pepper, salt and sugar, is pure magic.

The big finish to this banquet is the fresh pear and almond cake, which never fails to please. It can be served hot, warm or cold, accompanied with a spoonful of Amaretto cream.

Singapore chilli crab

Singapore is famous for this dish, which was created in 1950 by female Chef Cher Yam Tian. It’s common to use mud crabs, which are stir-fried in a thick, fragrant, spicy sweet sauce. However, you can use other varieties of crab, such as blue swimmer crab, sand crab or spanner crab.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Serves: 2

1kg fresh live mud crab, cleaned and portioned

1 medium brown onion, diced

3 bird’s-eye chillies, stem removed

2 cloves garlic

1 tblsp grated ginger

4 tblsps peanut oil

1 tsp shrimp paste

1 tblsp white wine vinegar

4 tblsps caster sugar

500ml tomato purée

1 tblsp tomato paste

½ tsp salt

4 tblsps light soy

180ml water

2 tblsps tomato sauce

½ cup chopped spring onions

½ lime, zest and juice

½ cup coriander leaves, roughly chopped

Place the diced onions, chillies, garlic and ginger into a blender and process for 30 seconds.

Heat the peanut oil in a hot wok and add the onion mix. Cook, stirring constantly, until the moisture is cooked out of the mixture.

Add the shrimp paste, vinegar, sugar, tomato purée, tomato paste, soy, salt, tomato sauce and water. Bring to a boil then add the two largest cracked crab claws. Stir well, cover and cook for three minutes. Remove the lid and add the remainder of the crab portions. Re-cover and cook for a further six minutes until all the pieces turn red.

Stir well, folding in the spring onions, lime zest and juice and the coriander leaves.

Serve on a large platter, with steaming hot rice and extra napkins.

Flame-grilled lobster with roasted garlic aioli

This is a very easy way to prepare a cooked rock lobster. It’s split into two, gently heated on a flame grill and basted with a lemon and parsley butter.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour for garlic, 6 minutes for lobster

Serves: 2 (one half tail per person)

600g cooked lobster

60g melted butter

2 tblsps chopped parsley

2 tblsps lemon juice

Salt flakes and freshly-milled black pepper, to taste 2 cups mixed lettuce leaves

1 lemon

Roasted garlic aioli

2 egg yolks, at room temperature

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tblsp white wine vinegar

½ tsp salt

Pinch of white pepper

150ml Jingilli extra virgin olive oil

150ml vegetable oil

1 tblsp snipped chives

1 head garlic

1 tblsp Jingilli extra virgin olive oil


1 tblsp lemon juice

3 tblsp Jingilli extra virgin olive oil

Cut the top quarter off the garlic head so that the cloves are partly exposed; moisten with one tablespoon of olive oil. Season the garlic and wrap in aluminium foil, then place in a pre-heated oven set at 160ºC for one hour. Leave to cool, then squeeze out the cloves and mash until smooth.

Prepare the aioli by combining the egg yolks, mustard, vinegar and seasonings. Whisk well then slowly incorporate the two oils, a few drops at a time at first, then more as the mixture thickens.

Blend in the garlic purée and chives then check for correct seasoning. The addition of a tablespoon of cold water will lighten the mixture, if needed.

Split the cooked lobster in half and remove the head sac, feathery gills and intestinal tract. Combine the melted butter, chopped parsley, lemon juice and seasoning.

Place the lobster halves, flesh side-down, onto a pre-heated, lightly-oiled open grill on moderate heat. Heat for two minutes, then turn over onto the shell side. Now brush the lobster flesh with the seasoned butter and grill until the butter has melted onto and into the lobster flesh (about five minutes).

Present warm with the dressed lettuce leaves, half a lemon and a bowl of the roasted garlic aioli.

Baked rock lobster with pepper, tarragon and saffron butter

Rock lobster goes well with butter, and here we season it further with the addition of fresh French tarragon, freshly-milled black pepper and the exotic taste of saffron. It’s then plated, wrapped up with a sheet of baking paper and baked until just done.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Serves: 2

700g fresh, live rock lobster

1 small fennel bulb, finely sliced

2 tblsps parsley, torn

50g unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 tblsps chopped fresh tarragon leaves

1 small pinch saffron threads

½ tsp freshly-milled black pepper

Salt flakes, to taste

60ml vermouth (a fortified aromatic wine)

1 cup watercress

½ small lemon

Pre-heat the oven to 185ºC. Chill the live rock lobster in the freezer for 45 minutes (this will put it to sleep). Remove from the freezer, then, while holding the tail in one hand and the legs and upper body in the other, twist and pull until the two come apart.

Using a sharp knife, cut the tail lengthways in half and remove the intestinal tract. (The legs and head can be boiled in salted water for seven minutes, depending on the size, then chilled and eaten.)

Using a fork, combine the butter, tarragon, saffron, salt and pepper in a bowl. Spread the mixture evenly over the lobster tail flesh.

Place the sliced fennel and torn parsley onto a small dinner plate (the half lobster tail must just fit on the selected plate) and top with half of the vermouth. Position the half lobster tail on top so that it stays level, and so the butter won’t run off once it’s melted.

Wrap the whole plate with a sheet of baking paper and tie the top with string. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the hot parcel from the oven and allow the guests to open their dish at the table. Present with the watercress, a lemon wedge and several slices of good bread.

Salt and pepper calamari

This is a succulent and tender way of cooking fresh calamari, which will only take 40 seconds to cook. Clean and score the calamari well and you will be rewarded with something quite special. Cook the Sichuan peppercorns in a small skillet above heat until they begin to smoke and become fragrant, then grind the peppercorns in a mortar with a pestle.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes for the Sichuan pepper and 40 seconds for the calamari

Serves: 4 plus

2 medium calamari tubes

Flour dusting mix

1 cup plain flour

½ cup rice flour

1 tsp fine salt

1 tsp ground white pepper

Combine the above ingredients well in a bowl

Seasoning mix

1 tsp ground roasted Sichuan pepper 1 tblsp salt flakes

1 tblsp white sugar

Combine well and place into a small dish.

Pre-heat a small deep fryer or a wok, half-filled with vegetable oil until it’s at 185ºC.

Carefully cut open the calamari tube and lay flat. Using a sharp knife, make shallow incisions into the inside of the calamari about 5mm apart, making sure that you do not cut all the way through. Now cut the other way until you have a fine criss-cross pattern on one side.

Cut into strips that are 2cm wide and 6cm long and lightly dust in the flour mix. Shake to remove excess flour and plunge into the hot oil. Gently move around and fry for 40 seconds. Remove and drain onto kitchen paper, dust with the seasoning mix and serve.

Greek-style crab cakes with tomato and caper berry salad

These crab cakes are delicate and rich with a beautiful Japanese crunchy crumb coating. In this recipe, I used cooked spanner crab meat, which is delicate and white, but make sure you pick out any stray pieces of crab shell. Blend the garlic and almond sauce well to obtain a smooth paste.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Serves: 5

500g picked cooked crab meat

4 tblsps chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 tblsps chopped dill sprigs

½ lemon, zest only

200g garlic and almond sauce (see below)

Salt flakes and freshly-milled black pepper, to taste

½ cup plain flour

1 egg, beaten

1 cup Panko Japanese breadcrumbs

Garlic and almond sauce

3 cloves garlic

½ cup blanched almonds, soaked overnight

60ml Jingilli extra virgin olive oil

2 cups loosely packed stale white bread, soaked in water and squeezed out

1 lemon, juice only

In a blender, combine the garlic, almonds, olive oil, bread, lemon juice and seasoning until smooth and thick.


1 punnet baby Roma tomatoes, halved

1 cup sliced cucumber

½ cup small caper berries

½ cup baby olives

½ cup flat-leaf parsley, torn

Salt flakes and freshly-milled black pepper, to taste

½ lemon, juice only

6 tblsps Jingilli extra virgin olive oil

In a bowl, combine the crabmeat, parsley, dill, lemonzest, garlic and almond sauce and seasoning. Shape into 10 round flat patties and chill for one hour.

Pre-heat a saucepan with one cup of vegetable oil.

Remove the crab cakes from the fridge and coat with the plain flour. Gently roll into the beaten egg and then cover well with the bread crumbs. Cook in the oil until both sides are golden brown.

Present the crab cakes with the salad, dressed with the lemon juice and the olive oil.

Fresh pear and almond cake

The fresh pear halves used in this dish ensure that this is a very moist tart. Even firm pears will be cooked soft and tender within 55 minutes. Almonds and pears are a perfect match and it can simply be served with a little whipped cream, or a pouring of crème anglaise.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes

Serves: 8

3 medium Packham pears

160g unsalted butter, at room temperature

160g caster sugar

2 medium eggs

160g almond meal

2 tblsps self-raising flour

4 tblsps dark brown sugar

½ cup roasted slivered almonds

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Wash, halve and core the pears, then remove the stem and set aside. Do not peel, but trim away any dark, bruised areas.

Line a buttered 25cm round non-stick baking pan with baking paper. Sprinkle the base with the dark brown sugar and position the pear halves flat side-down. Place the roasted almond slivers into the gaps and set aside.

Beat together the butter and caster sugar until light. Add the lightly-beaten eggs, and then add the almond meal and self-raising flour.

Spread onto the pears and smooth out, pushing down well into the gaps.

Place into the oven and bake for 55 minutes, or until cooked in the centre. Remove and allow to cool in the tin. Present with Amaretto-flavoured whipped cream.