In March each year my favourite food festival is held in Mandurah W.A., about an hour south of Perth. It’s Crab Fest, a celebration of all things crustacean. The event focuses on the local blue manna crabs, known to us in the east as blue swimmer crabs or sand crabs.
In essence, the festival is three days of crab catching, crab cooking and crab eating. Believe me, there are worse ways to earn a buck!!!
Blue swimmers are found along most of the Australian mainland coast, lurking around inlets, or sandy channels in the open water. Most of the commercial catch comes from Queensland and W.A., as these crabs prefer tropical waters. However, you will find them as far south as the Great Australian Bight.
The blue swimmer is moist and sweet when cooked and has a relatively high meat-to-shell ratio, meaning you get a better yield from each crab. But best of all blue swimmer crabs are prolific, which keeps the price down. Contrary to popular opinion, crab can be a very affordable luxury.
Most of the crabs caught commercially are cooked or rapidly chilled at sea to preserve the flavour and quality, as crabs do not live long after capture. Thus, unlike mud crab or king crab, you won’t find live blue swimmers available at your local fishmonger or seafood restaurant.
While fresh crabs are caught year round, the best and tastiest ones come from slightly cooler waters. During summer this means South Australia, southern W.A. and NSW, and right now it means Queensland and northern W.A.. The cooler water results in sweeter, denser meat with a more pronounced crab flavour.
My favourite example of crab cookery is Singapore’s famous chilli crab. The very best is found at the East Ocean Seafood Centre, on Singapore’s southern shores near Changi. That’s where the whole tradition supposedly began with Madame Cher Yam Tian’s rickety stall. Today you’ll find dozens of restaurants all too eager to share their version of the classic with you. Meanwhile, why not make your own? It’s extremely simple. It requires only a handful of ingredients, plenty of crab and a very hot wok. Oh, and make sure you’ve got lots of serviettes on hand. This one’s a deliciously messy experience!
Singapore chilli crab