Saturday, November 01, 2008

Operation Crab, Sydney

The Crab Whisperer
Originally uploaded by Suzi Edwards
One of the best things about being into food, is all of the other people who are into food. We hide in the strangest of places, always ready to make a restaurant recommendation or share the best recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies.

I was blessed to meet a fellow friend in food during my time in Sydney. Jake Greenberg is a true budding greedy weasel, and one of my regrets about moving to Calgary is that I won’t get to spend more time with him.

My first sense of his gastronomic powers was when we went to a simple noodle bar. The whole family was there; grandparents, aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, cousins and brothers. And me, the interloper, being welcomed for the first time, into the glories of a very large extended family. Most of the children were drumming with chopsticks and attempting to hide spring rolls up one another’s noses. As the other diners left, I was beginning to regret my decision to choose a restaurant with no tablecloths and the worst acoustics in the whole of Balmain. But over the noise, I hear Jake say that he was going to have the squid.

An eight year old choosing the squid? This is relevant to my interest. Said squid was duly delivered, and I was keen to get Jake’s view.

“It’s a little bland.”

I had found a new friend.

So I suggested to Jake that we cook together one day. Pick anything you like…we’ll make it, I promised. He chose crab. To go to the fish market and pick a live crab. And then take it home and kill it and prepare it and eat it. Of course an eight your old gourmet would want to do this.

I duly create a menu and work out the most humane way to kill a crab. My plan was that this would be a lesson about our moral obligation, as those at the top of the food chain, to treat our food well. To teach Jake how to choose good produce and prepare it simply and beautifully. We were going to have crab linguine, with some buffalo mozzarella bruschetta, and chocolate cupcakes.

Once back from the market, (where Jake eyeballed the pecorino with truffles as something he wanted to try, based solely on the $120 per kilo price as he scarfed down a half dozen rock oysters) I set to putting our two Queensland Mud Crabs into a coma. I was determined that they wouldn’t be thrown, alive, into a pan of boiling water and while my research suggested that a spike to the “brain” was probably a very good way of dispatching them efficiently, I’m no crab brain surgeon.

Jake suggested throwing them, alive, into a pan of boiling water. I was pleased and began my homily about moral obligation. Jake listened, nodding. “How about we put one into a coma and throw the other one, alive, into a pan of boiling water?”

With hindsight, we should have. It would have been interesting to see if there was any noticeable difference in the texture of the crabs with two different cooking methods, and Jake would have got his wish. However, I stood firm, and both crabs were anesthetized before death. The other thing I stood firm on was not untying one of the crab claws. This was just an instinct from me, in spite of repeated begging from Jake. It was only afterward that I discovered Mud Crab claws are so strong, they can pince off the finger of a grown man. Maybe I do have some maternal instincts…

The meal turned out well. Jake enjoyed his first taste of softly sweet imported buffalo mozzarella, and the linguine, with the crab, parsley, ripe tomato chunks and garlic, was enjoyed by all. Less successful were my cupcakes. Turns out that even a budding gourmet isn’t ready for 66 % Valrhona chocolate. He did enjoy licking the bowl though.

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