I grew up close to the beach in Madras (now Chennai), India – within about half an hour. But, listening to my wife talk about that beach, I get the impression that it was in her backyard. In fact, she grew up just minutes away from it. And, it seemed to have made a difference in how much more it was part of her growing-up routine. One of her favorite beach stories involves her trip to the seafood market with her grandfather.
She says the market itself with its cacophony of noises as one seller tries to loudly outshine another didn’t leave much of an impression, but the thought of accompanying her grandfather with a container in tow to bring back seafood, and watching him interact shrewdly yet kindly with every seller, was always worth looking forward to. The selling pitch aside, she says the sellers liked talking to her grandfather who always thought of doing something or the other to help them. Grandfather and granddaughter also always went home with a good selection of fresh seafood. One of the top selections were crabs, and she remembers them clearly as they used to make a clanging noise from within the container, and as they were the focus of the cooks at home upon arrival since they needed extra attention - one of them once daring to run away from the pot.
Here’s a simple method to make crab soup, South Indian style:
Green chili peppers (remove seeds to reduce heat)
Butter or oil
Fennel seeds (toasted and ground into powder)
Chop onions and green chilies and sauté them in butter or oil till semi-clear appearance. Add freshly pounded ginger-garlic paste to taste, and continue to sauté. Add the cleaned crabs as is or with the claws removed. Sauté for a few minutes before adding enough coconut milk and water to just cover the crabs. Continue to cook with a closed lid for about 10-20 minutes until smell and flavor start to develop. Open lid and boil down the sauce to thicken slightly. Check for seasoning and adjust. Add the ground fennel, mix and simmer for a few more minutes until the taste of the sauce is satisfactory. A little bit of fresh lemon juice could be added to taste. Ladle the soup first and then add pieces of crab on top. When served with steamed rice, it makes the soup more of a main course.
My interest in cracking open crabs to pick their meat is not sustained for very long. My wife on the other hand happily cracks away at them telling me how, when she was young her grandfather always picked out crabmeat for her. Her grandfather was not the cook and she doesn't talk too much about the flavor of her childhood crab dish, but the memory of buying crabs with him, and being served picked crabmeat by him, remains clear and untouched, as was the way she enjoyed watching him interact with people.