Alimango (Mud Crab) Scylla serrata are originally mangrove dwellers but now widely farmed in ponds with brackish water. They are plentiful in the remaining mangrove areas around the country and range in size from tiny babies to the giants at about 1 kilo a piece. They have medium to firm textured meat with a delicate sweet flavor that I find absolutely delicious. They have much thicker shells than the blue or orange shelled crabs that seem to have more delicate meat. They can be prepared steamed with lots of old bay seasoning, or steamed plain and served with lemon butter, stir-fried with garlic and oil, cooked with chili and tomatoes, fried into crab cakes, etc.
In my formative years, my family had a healthy supply of superb alimango, the by-product of a Lucena fishpond/prawn farm experiment gone haywire. All of the pricey black tiger prawns raised in the ponds were being munched on by alimango adolescents that had snuck in from the nearby river… As the intruders grew up on this smorgasborg of black prawns, they in turn became the prized catch of the pond when harvest time rolled around. All of these fat alimango were packed up nicely and made the trip to our kitchen in Manila.
I never cooked crab until my mid-thirties. It just seemed so bothersome to clean and prep them. So I satisfied my cravings with restaurant Maryland-style crab cakes and restaurant chilli crab dishes. That is, until a few years ago, when I discovered just how easy and delicious homemade chilli crab can be. It has since become a signature dish in our household.
I only buy large 600-1,000 gram live crabs that are still spunky. If they don’t try to lunge at me when i make poking movements at their beady eyes I take that as a sign that they are near death and thus less fresh than they could be. Recent prices in the markets range from P250-350 per kilo, with females pricier than males due to the added bonus of fat crab roe (the orange coral that is pure cholesterol, I think). “Gay” crabs are priced somewhat in the middle of the range – but no one has really been able to explain what these are… if I recall correctly, a recent newspaper article surmised that they were males with eggs…let’s not go there, shall we? Aesthetically, crabs seem more balanced when they have both claws but it really doesn’t matter. In fact, you can get a much better price on one-clawed specimens as they have probably failed to get themselves exported to Hong Kong or Tokyo. I have been able to get good crabs from the FTI weekend market in Taguig, Seaside Mart in Baclaran and in Batangas markets. I recently saw two crab vendors at the Market!Market! mall and they were asking P450 a kilo for crabs when they could be had elsewhere for just P350 or less… what a rip-off! And you have to pay for parking too.
To clean the crabs, ask your brilliant cook if s/he knows how, and if yes, you are truly in luck! Otherwise, it is a royal pain in the neck. You brush the outside of the crabs until clean. You find a soft spot on it’s belly and plunge a knife through it to kill it while it writhes with pain. You open it up and remove the hairy lungs/gills and entrails, dismember the body, etc. In our household, there are at least three people who can clean crabs and prep them for cooking. I simply refuse. Some things I can but don’t have to do… Once clean, you can cut the main body into four pieces + the two claws. Please see third photo of clean dismembered crab. This is now ready for cooking. Be careful when handling live crab. Always keep their claws tied. A crab bite is not funny. The biggest crabs could probably sever a fingertip if truly annoyed.
Please check the recipe section in a week or so for chilli crab a la marketman and/or a crab cake recipe.