Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Spicy Thai crab cakes

Last night, I came the closest to crying that I have in months. I'm not much of a crier these days - what's to cry about, really? - so I was quite surprised when I felt those little pinpricks behind my eyes.

It was about 6.30pm and was sitting on the stairs just down from the the floor of our house that we share with Kitty. My husband was trying to get Kitty in the bath and she was having a little tantrum. "Neaoooo!!! Neeaaoooo!! WanttogetOUT wanttogetDOWN!" She was red-faced, weeping, voice hesitant and hiccuping from trying to talk while crying. She was exhausted and I felt sorry for her - since dropping her big lunchtime nap and replacing it with ad hoc little morning catnaps, Kitty's mood come bathtime is unpredictable. She can either have slept too much or too little or too late during the day, meaning she is either full of beans and impossible to bathe, or overtired - and impossible to bathe. 

It's such a boring story. Scratch the surface of any household with children and they'll have some similar problem. Anyway, I say impossible to bathe, what I mean is that sometimes we all enjoy bathtime and sometimes we do not. She is still always in bed by about 7.15pm - when she actually goes to sleep is up to her and not my problem. 

But last night it was hard to be sanguine. Just as I thought that life was tedious enough, fate decided to hand my ass to me by giving me one of those gluey headcolds that means you can't hear, or think, or see for about a week. The day had been long and tedious, with Kitty watching far too much telly and being left to run riot all over the house, dropping food and spilling drinks, while I quietly despaired. 

And although it's not forever - soon it will be Spring! Soon I won't be pregnant! - days like that - when I lose my grip completely and Kitty eats junk and watches TV all day - leave me depressed as hell. On top of my general gestational insomnia, I've now also got to deal with my cold keeping me up at night, so the days are sharp-edged, bad and bleak enough, without feeling sad that I have totally neglected my child. It's not her fault I'm ill, or that I'm pregnant. She is 2 and the law of cliches has decided that she is going to be a little jerk for an indeterminate number of coming months (years?) She is just doing what toddlers do. Like cats catch mice. 

I considered all this and did what any sensible woman would do and nearly cried for a few seconds. Then I got up and went downstairs to make some spicy Thai crabcakes. 

I don't use tinned stuff much, reasoning that it's better to get things fresh, but making fish cakes or crab cakes from tinned produce is a thing that I hear it's okay to do. I got the idea for these crabcakes from a recipe book but I have altered the recipe so much here that I don't think I'll bother crediting the cook.

These must be shallow-fried, so they are not really suitable for entertaining, as I always think frying things in company doesn't work - it makes a smell and creates an unmellow atmosphere - plus you have to be at the stove, tending and poking your batches, rather than gossiping and pouring drinks. These are better done as a treat dinner for you and someone else. Or just you. If you are feeling very organised you can make them in the morning, leave them in the fridge and then fry off in time for dinner.

They were very nice, I think. My sense of smell and taste has done a bunk. My husband said they were delicious, but he may have just been heading off another tantrum. 

Thai crab cakes
Makes about eight

2 tins crab meat -- I used John West, from Waitrose
1 small bunch coriander
1 red chilli, sloppily de-seeded
2 spring onions, roughly chopped
1 tsp fish sauce, if you have it
1 large pinch salt
1 stick lemongrass, cut into three (if you have it)
1 thumb-sized piece ginger, peeled and chopped into 3
1 small clove garlic - if you LIKE, I didn't
two large handfuls medium matzoh meal (or the equivalent breadcrumbs)
1 egg

1 Drain the crab meat in a sieve and break up with your fingertips

2 Put everything else except the matzoh and the egg in a whizzer and whizz

3 Combine everything in a bowl, stirring in the egg and the matzoh

4 Shape the mixture into flat patties, about 4-5cm across

5 Fry off in a shallow pool of ground nut oil until golden brown

We ate these wrapped in lettuce leaves and dipped in Encona sweet chilli sauce. My husband said "Just cry, let it all out." And I said "No. No way." Then we watched Friday Night Lights and both blubbed a little bit - because sometimes real life just doesn't deserve your tears. 


  1. I know you're a massive carb dodger but no potato or does it all hold together?

    Also it took me ages to realise this and I felt quite dim afterwards but once they give up their afternoon nap you don't let them fall asleep in the day. Then you put them to bed earlier. It's more difficult for about a week then sooo much easier!

    My new baby is 7mths old now and I still feel guilty about the amount of TV my 2yr old watches. But if I don't put it on when I'm feeding the baby he starts being really naughty. I figure watching TV is better than me constantly telling him off. This winter really has been truly, truly awful and has made having a toddler 10x harder! I'm hoping that once spring arrives life will magically get easier...

    Being pregnant is such a pain it makes everything so difficult especially toddler wrangling, it's so nice when the baby's out! Not just because you can see you feet again but because you're a proper family unit with two children. It all feels more solid and you worry less about the toddler, all your fears and worrys are spread out a bit more. You have less time to worry about anything, you're just in survival mode.

    Good luck with everything...have you even cooked meat the Heston way? I brined a chicken last week then slow cooked it at 70c for 4hrs, then blasted it for 10mins to brown it at the MUST try it!

    1. the crab cakes are reasonably fragile (though by no means falling-to-bits) but hold together fine with the matzoh and egg

      the method you're talking about it called sous-vide and my husband's not crazy about the texture it produces - but a lot of people say it's great xxx

  2. My friend who's type 1 diabetic (and therefore has to dodge carbs) made me something very similar to this but with finely chopped chicken and without. breadcrumbs (she bunged everything in the blender) and they were amazing - we also had them with lettuce.

    And seriously to all - don't sweat it about your little ones watching loads of telly. mine are now 12 and 9 and even though I used teletubbies or peppa as a nanny when they were small neither of them is now overweight/inactive/ emotionally stunted/ tv addicted. They both are very creative and will actually turn off the tv themselves to do something less boring instead xx

  3. Your blog posts and tweets make me wonder why anyone would have children. Despite all the bad aspects, it is worth it isn't it?

  4. My twin sons (aged 19) came home for the weekend and then left again - and I felt a wave of loss and despair and nearly did that exact crying thing you mention, and then I made baked eggs with cream and spinach and watched Grey's Anatomy and it was all ok again. The power of food and American TV drama...But sadly you never really stop worrying about or wrangling your children as far as I can tell. It'll probably get much worse when they have their own children because massive disapproval will also factor in the whole neurotic anxiety/despair/love mix.

  5. Love you blog and these crab cakes sound delicious. Do you really need a piece of ginger as large as a thumb - just seems quite a lot.

  6. Mike Fleming, as an avid reader of this blog, and mother of one toddler, another bub on the way, Esther's honesty about the shit bits of parenting are what is so refreshing about it. I think everyone that reads this pretty much takes it as a given that having kids is brilliant and that we're all really lucky to be healthy and happy etc but sometimes it's really, really good to hear that other mum's feel the same desperation we do over seemingly silly things like bathtime-maggedon. Plus, to state the blindingly obvious, it's funny as fuck.

    1. spot on Jess - knowing there's loads of others who have the same worries/ grumbles makes you feel normal again

  7. I still haven't tried tinned crabmeat, must remember to get some as I love any form of both Thai and Crab in a recipe :)

  8. This is prob the best thing to do with tinned crab as ingredient. You have inspired me. In its shell, I think, it's best to eat it w/o faffing and imagine to be somewhere exotic.

    Btw tot unrelated but the builders u mentioned, are they by chance the ones with a goldfish ad outside where they work? Think I've seen them around...

    Cheers Esther!

    1. Yes their logo is a big goldfish in a small bowl. They are SO BRILLIANT.

  9. I am SO going to make these, thanks Esther. I always hesitated about buying tinned crab meat, used to worry it would taste a bit like catfood, but am glad that it tastes ok! Sorry you feel crappy. I prescribe a big pile of buttered sourdough toast and watching Revenge on E4 - works in most emergencies. Anne

  10. These sound and look great - def going to make these!
    I love your honesty and humour. I'm a mum of 3 and I don't think that guilt and worry will ever go away. *Sigh*

  11. I love your honesty too,and your recipes.I'm pregnant too and still yakking everywhere despite being in the THIRD trimester.This has led me to stop bathing my toddler in the evening and putting her in the shower in the morning instead.This is less deserving of a call to Child Services than it sounds.
    Parenting a toddler and being pregnant sucks - as long as we all get out alive is my motto.

  12. Hi Esther, I really enjoyed your article in Saturday Times magazine. Your food looked wonderful too. Best of luck with your ebook.

  13. I made these last night,initially my boyfriend was sceptical about the use of tinned crab rather than fresh but then he grew up in a fishing village (I grew up in the suburbs, near supermarkets, so I was fine with it). Anyway, they were a huge success taste wise, even with the fussy boy, my technique of keeping them together while frying them wasn't great, but I'll get better at that with practice I'm sure. Elaine xx

  14. What the ...... is a WHIZZER ?????