Crabs In Fish Sauce (Pinatisang Alimango)

I grew up in the fishing town of Malabon in the Philippines. My grandparents owned acres of fish ponds where milkfish, shrimps and crabs were raised. This crab recipe is one of many my grandmother cooked using the crops from the fish ponds. I wish I had made notes or took pictures even when my grandmother was in the kitchen. All that I have of her now is  in my memory.  Wonderful memories that always bring tears.

Here’s what you need.

  • 1 dozen female live crabs
  • 1 head of garlic, minced
  • 1 big onion, cut in half, then sliced
  • 1/4 c white vinegar
  • 1/4 c Patis or fish sauce
  • 1 T Canola oil

Here in the US, I use the blue crabs from Maryland as pictured but should be live.  I always make a big batch of this dish because this is one of those dishes whose flavor improves after a day or two, that is, if you happen to have leftovers. The crab apron tells you which is the male and which is the female.  I found this website:  It’s funny how the apron is described. Female apron looks like the dome of the Capitol Building whereas the male’s is shaped like the Washington Monument.

For this dish, the female crab is favored because they have more tamale which is what makes this good.

Preparing the crab for this dish is the hard part! It is a cruel process and you just have to get passed it, just like preparing for the broiled lobster. As they say, somebody has to do it.  I guarantee no one will think of this process once they taste the dish.

  • Using a kitchen tong, take a crab and lay it upside down on a chopping board and with a cleaver, cut it in half crosswise.
  • Clean each half  by removing the bottom, discard.
  • Separate the shell from the body. Discard the gills or plume-like white part.
  • Taking the shell, discard the antennae and the eyes.
  • Wash each piece in running water being careful not to wash out the tamale.
  • Save any tamale that falls off in the process.

Now you cook.

  • In a big pan or wok, heat the oil. Add the garlic and saute until light brown.
  • Add the onions, cook until wilted.  I really put a lot of Vidalia or sweet onions on this.
  • Add the saved tamale and saute for about 2 minutes or until it turns orange.
  • Add the crabs, vinegar and fish sauce.
  • Cover and cook for  15-20 minutes, turning over to get the fish sauce-vinegar flavor onto all the crabs. This will produce water from the steaming but you may add water for more sauce, if desired.

That’s the basic. You can create another dish using this: Crabs in Coconut Milk. Following the Filipino love for coconut, you can add a 14-oz can of coconut milk and some sliced jalapeno peppers. Simmer until the sauce thickens.



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