King crabs or better known as Horse Shoe Crabs, are now easily available for the dining tables around Thailand but predominantly along the seaside townships of the country. They are now a part of the aqua-culture efforts to grow and harvest these beauties in estuaries along the shores. Where they were once almost a rarity has now been successfully cultivated and become a staple cuisine attraction for Thailand.
The Horse Shoe Crab is a species called arthropods and very different from the normal crustacean family of crabs. These alien looking marine creatures have a hard carapace and a long spiky tail. Though one may think they are related to the crab family because we call them King Crabs or Horse Shoe Crabs, they are infact closer to the species of arachnids or rather spider family! The horse shoe crab is actually a living fossil and the species found in Thailand has a tetrodotoxin which is found in the roe of the crab. It takes some knowledge to know how to cook this variety of horse shoe crab and there is actually no meat in the species so what is consumed is actually the roe. Only the female variety is eaten and it has to be of a certain size for good eating. The younger horse shoe crabs are left for breeding as well as selected mature horse shoe crabs. The female horse shoe crab is also a lot larger than the male and males are never eaten.
Thai cuisine with horse shoe crabs
The Thai peoples have several ways of making delicious dishes with the eggs from a horse shoe crab. As the female horse shoe crab is full of eggs under the carapace, the only way to get at them would be to grill the entire crab in the shell or to boil it. The crab is first placed over a charcoal grill and cooked until the eggs are well done and firm then the carapace is opened, and this is done to prevent the toxins from contaminating the rest of the eggs sections. Once cooked, the eggs are scooped out or left as is and a combination of marinades and local herbs used to mix with the eggs to produce a refreshing concoction of flavors and textures.
A combination of lime juice, fish sauce, palm sugar, local spearmint, cilantro, onions, cherry tomatoes and the eggs are mixed together to produce a sour sweet salad. All this mixture is then placed back in the carapace and served! The eggs have a firm, creamy flavour and texture with a slight briny taste at the end. This dish is extremely high in cholesterol and not recommended for those who are watching their cholesterol levels!
One such dish costs on the average THB380 at a seafood restaurant and can be found in most seafood restaurants along the coasts especially in the province of Chonburi and Trat or even on the islands such as Phuket. They are also available at certain seafood restaurants in Bangkok but are a little harder to find.
Preparing your own horse shoe crab dish – only if you are skilled or have some knowledge of how to prepare it
Sometimes you can buy these horse shoe crabs in the wet markets near the town of Baan Saen in Chonburi or the fisherman market in Pattaya, Rayong, the island of Phuket or Trat. If you managed to get one, ask the fishmonger to help you slit the crab and to clean it as it takes skill to cut through the carapace. Alternatively you could buy a grilled crab that has been cleaned, grilled and the eggs prepared as there is a toxin that could make you sick if you are not sure how to prepare this.
Place the crab carapace side down over a grilled or charcoal fire and let it cook until the eggs are a nice yellowish colour and firm. This takes anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes depending on the size of the crab. The common horse shoe crab dish is known as “Yum Khai Mengda Talay”. To prepare this dish you would need the following ingredients:
1 horse shoe crab with eggs cooked (either boiled or grilled and the eggs removed)
Fish sauce about 3 table spoons
4 large green limes and juice extracted to give around 4 tablespoons of juice
Palm sugar about 2 large table spoons ( a little more if you like it sweeter)
Medium sized bird seed chilli – two fairly large ones if you like spicy or just one if not and chopped fine
Red onions (shallots) – 3 bulbs coarsely chopped
A large green mango, skin peeled and flesh shredded or you could also use a green papaya to substitute for the mango
3 stalks of cilantro or Chinese celery chopped coarsely
A handful of cherry tomatoes cut in half
3 stalks of long beans cut into 1 in sticks
Set the eggs aside and mix all the other ingredients together. When the ingredients are well mixed, put in the eggs and give it a rough toss. Serve immediately with either sticky rice, steamed white rice or eaten as is!
Note: Photos are courtesy of 123RF, Wikipedia and Shutterstock