In another life I think I must have been a predator because there
is nothing I like better than food with fight.
If there is a chance I might get injured procuring my food,
I am all in favor of it. That is perhaps
why I like crab so much. It is not only
a fight to procure the tidbits of sweet meat but, crab is forever trying to bite
you back with its sharp spines and pointy spikes.
I rarely come out of a crab dinner without a prick or a cut
or some sort, and this is even with my patented technique of attacking the long
That having been said, there are times when you just want to make something crabby and not worry about flaying open your fingers.
For me this usually happens sometime late in the evening when I am already starving. For this exact reason, I usually keep a can of crab meat in my fridge. My favorite brand is from Costo. Called King brand, it come in a HUGE black and red can and is probably the best tasting crab meat ever to come from a can (or sometimes even a pot). Sweet and mild it magically retains none of the can flavors and resists the tendency of canned crab meat to be oddly briney.
And while it is wonderful straight from the can in the kind of big pinches I snitch it in while I am cooking my favorite way to use it is in a simple stir fry. Composed of simple ingredients I usually have on hand anyway, what makes this stir fry special is my entirely unexpected secret ingredient. Vanilla!
I found the pairing of crab and vanilla entirely by accident. I had procured my first bottle of Trader Joe’s vanilla paste, now no longer available, and became deeply infatuated with it. I tried it in absolutely everything! And it was during one of these raging vanilla paste experimentations that I happened to be cooking my crab stirfry. Never one to shy away from odd combinations, I added a glob of the vanilla paste to the rice. And much to my surprise, it was no only good; it was out of this world good.
The vanilla played to the crab’s sweetness and highlighted the baby corn. Not a prominent flavor, the vanilla was nearly indiscernible. Unfortunately the sugar in the vanilla paste was. And while not overwhelming it was a little over the top combined with the other sweet flavors. So the next time I made the dish I added straight vanilla extract which proved to be just perfect!
And I defy anyone to be able to tell you what the secret ingredient is! The trick is, not to use too much.
The other spice thing that makes this dish special is just a hint of cayenne pepper. The combination of sweet and hot is classic and this dish works best if there is just enough cayenne to warm the mouth but not enough to really burn. Used in this manner the heat plays contrast to the mildness of the other ingredients putting them in a staring spotlight. And though you could omit it, I think it would greatly diminish what to me is the perfect blend of flavors.
Corn and Crab Stirfry
2 cups of cooked rice
½ cup frozen corn (preferably sweet white corn)
½ cup frozen baby peas
2/3 cup canned lump crab meat
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
½ teaspoon five spice powder
Salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons butter or mild oil (like canola)
Heat pan with the butter or oil until hot. Add the rice. Press the rice into a single layer over the bottom of the pan and allow to sit for three minute to begin forming a nice crust. Add the frozen corn and rice on top and stir to combine. Add the spices and vanilla, stirring thoroughly to distribute them. Fold the crab in gently and allow to cook until everything is warmed through.