Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential. ~Winston Churchill
I confess mine is not the modern family which has the luxury of planning meals in advance? Let’s just say ‘it’s an ongoing endeavor’. However, Bakwan Kepiting will taste oh-so-much-better with some preparation ahead of time, I promise you. It will also save you a bunch of time. Since this was for our Lunar New Year eve’s dinner, it was a bit more special than usual. The extra time spent was totally worth it.
Bakwan Kepiting, or Ground Pork and Crab Meat Ball Soup is a Nyonya dish that is delicately flavored, relying almost completely on the stock and meat balls to provide flavor. It is a must-have in many Peranakan households during Lunar New Year. I learnt this recipe from my mother-in-law, asking her repeat it over several preparations to capture all the nuances and adjustments that she made each time she prepared it, watching with eagle eyes and taking notes. The challenge with oral traditions is that all the best cooks tweak a little something with each cooking, depending on their mood and the ingredients on hand. If the crabs don’t yield enough meat, there may be a bit more prawns, or some extra pork with 1 tsp of sugar. There is no fixed recipe; the right quantities and proportions come with experience.
These meat balls can be made to be finer and smoother by grinding or chopping the pork and crab more finely. I prefer to keep it slightly chunky so as to bite into and feel the different textures. This is entirely your preference. Traditionally, Nyonya girls were expected to be refined and delicate in everything, from deportment to the fineness of their cooking. The latter is usually critically judged from how evenly their food is sliced, how finely ingredients are chopped (I would only be nearly kidding when I say I believe that the olden ladies’ chopping would rival that of modern day electric choppers!), how delicately a dish is spiced. All of these were crucial in ensuring a good marriage. Am I glad that I live in more modern times!
Try more of our Lunar New Year Eve’s dinner with Buddha’s Delight, Turnip Cake, and round up with Glutinous Rice Balls for dessert. I am almost done with sharing all the recipes from our dinner with you …. Stay tuned!
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Meanwhile, on the reading table is Sonia Shah’s ‘Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond‘. Sonia’s easy and casual style draws the reader into a serious world bacteria and viruses, yet you never feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed despite the gravity of the subject matter.
- Pork bones are optional but my grocery store sells bones for making stock quite cheaply. If you are fortunate enough to have a friendly butcher, s/he may save some for you if you ask.
- An average crab yields about 2 oz of meat. For 1/2 cup of meat, you will need 4 crabs, depending on the species and size of the crab.
- The stock can be made a few days in advance the day before to save on time. See Tips for Tricks on how to store stock.
- Meat balls can be made in advance and frozen. Steam the seasoned meat balls for 5 minutes. Lay on a flat tray to cool, then place the tray in freezer. Once frozen, the balls can be stored in an airtight bag or container till they are ready to be used.
- To make smooth meat balls, moisten the hand that is shaping the balls.
- Freshly sliced or shredded bamboo shoots can be used. To save on time, canned bamboo shoots come in hand. Just slice to size.
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 45 min
Total time: 1 hr 45 min
Recipe type: Sides/Soup
Serves: 4 – 6
2 cups frozen prawn shells with heads
1/2 lb pork bones (optional)
1/2 lb ground pork
1/4 lb prawns, minced
1/2 cup cooked crab meat, flaked
1 green onion, finely chopped
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp corn starch
salt and pepper
Prepare the stock:
1. Fry the prawn shells in a large pot or wok with 1 Tbsp oil till fragrant and shells turn red.
2. Add 3 cups of water and bring to a boil.
3. Add pork bones and simmer for 15 minutes.
4. Remove shells and bones. Skim the top or strain to retain a clear stock. Set aside till ready for use. See Tips for Tricks on how to store stock.
Prepare the meat balls:
1. Mix ground pork, minced prawns, flaked crab meat and green onions evenly.
2. Add egg yolk to bind the ingredients.
3. Add salt and pepper to taste.
4. Add corn flour to soften further bind and also soften the meat balls. Allow to season for at least 30 minutes.
1. Bring stock to a boil.
2. Meanwhile, blanch bamboo shoots in boiling water for about 3 minutes to get rid of the metallic taste. Set aside. If using fresh bamboo shoots, briefly stir fry and set aside.
3. Heat 2 Tbsp oil and stir fry garlic till fragrant. Add shrimp till they begin to turn pink. Add bamboo shoots, followed by carrots.
4. Add the stir-fried ingredients into the boiling stock. Lower heat to medium and gently add the meat balls, taking care not to break them up – use a ladle if necessary. Allow meat balls to cook for about 5 minutes. Lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
5. Serve with sambal belachan.