Vietnamese Crabmeat Soup with (Elderly) Asparagus
You know, I don’t think I’d ever cooked crab before last night, unless you count the crab cakes I occasionally purchase for our reheating pleasure when we repair to the summer palace. I often find myself getting misty over the 25 cent crabs Greg and I used to buy on the beach in Nha Trang. They made such an impression on me, that now I am constitutionally unable to bask on sand without at some point remarking, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if there was a lady in a conical hat carrying a can of boiling water and a can of crabs slung milkmaid-style on a pole across her shoulders, and after she’d cooked them and served them to us with some salt and a wedge of lime, she’d squat a few feet away, waiting to carry the empty shells away?” (Hardly seems fair that the crab ladies are the ones to get stuck with a fine when some pampered, indecently-dressed Western tourist litters the beach with their gnawed-on remains.) No doubt those Nha Trang crabs owed much of their magic to the setting in which they were prepared, but I’d be willing to fake me up a facsimile if only it didn’t involve boiling a living creature to death. That ranks high on my list of awful ways to go, a subject that’s obsessed me since childhood. I was more than able to stomach the delicious results of the murder-by-scalding to which I’d been a not-so-innocent bystander on the beach in Vietnam, but I don’t think I could bear to be the executioner in my Brooklyn kitchenette.
Fortunately, last night’s recipe called for lump crabmeat. For someone who prides herself on the freshness of her ingredients and her moralistic stance toward factory farming, I had very little trouble convincing myself that the plastic tub I brought home from Fish Tales contained nothing more than the salvageable odds and ends of creatures who’d washed up on the beach, after the seagulls had gotten a chance to work them over first.
And don’t ask me where I get off claiming freshness on the part of my ingredients. That white asparagus had been mouldering in the fridge for over a week and a half, yet another impulse purchase fallen victim to both travel and pre-existing plans to dine out. White asparagus is much too highly prized by the gourmet crowd to just chuck in the trash, however. I had to find some way to justify its existence in my home, even if that justification involved crab. Only when I was knee-deep in preparations did I read the recipe closely enough to realize that it called for canned white asparagus, like it’s the sort of item one can expect to find stocked at Met Foods between the California olives and the creamed corn. It may well be, for all I know. I don’t have much truck with the canned vegetable aisle.
Vietnamese Crabmeat Soup with Elderly White Asparagus
Break out your minimum-of-3-quart soup pot and add
4 cups of water
A couple of Knorr bouillon cubes (I used one fish & one vegetable & next time, I think I’d rethink that fish)
1 tablespoon of fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
& 1/4 teaspoon of salt
Bring it to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer.
Chop 6 shallots and 2 cloves of garlic.
Fry them in a big skillet in1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, stirring all the while so you don’t disgrace yourself by burning them in front of the white asparagus crowd.
Just when things are starting to smell nice, it’s nice to stink things up by adding
1/2 lb of fresh or canned lump crabmeat
2 teaspoons of fish sauce
& fresh ground black pepper as you see fit.
Fry it up for another one minute and I’ll tell you, I would have been content to stop right there, because that was one fine tasting mash! Start slapping that shit on crackers and you could easily polish off the whole pan in the time it takes to watch a couple of episodes of Arrested Development. Or, if you’re really gung-ho to see this recipe through to completion, set it aside for now.
Bring the soup back to a boil. (Hey, wouldn’t it be great if a lady in a conical hat came along, carrying a can of boiling water and a can of crabs slung milkmaid-style on a pole across her shoulder, to make you a little snack as you’re making dinner?)
Dissolve 2 tablespoons of cornstarch in 2 tablespoons of water and whisk it in, stirring gently until the soup becomes clear(ish) again.
Give an egg a sort of half assed beating and add that too, stirring all the while.
If you’re using fresh or formerly fresh asparagus, peel the tough part of the stalks away, cut it into inch-long sections, lightly steam it in a tiny bit of water and add both it and its water to the soup. If you’re using Jolly Green giant, just chuck it in as is, juice and all.
Follow it up with the crab mixture, assuming there’s any left after Old Man Triscuit’s had his way with it.
Heat it through and serve sprinkled with a sliced scallion and a handful of shredded cilantro.
aspirant crab ladies ----------->
(Hey kids! Stay tuned for Nobu’s miso marinated black cod, which, much to Greg’s native Cape Codder horror, must fester for a minimum of forty-eight hours in its marinade.)