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Fish 4 Friday: Crab & Asparagus Soup, or Sup Mang Tay Cua

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My mother-in-law (MIL) has done it again. She’s gone and found a new dish that she really, really likes. She wants me to share it with the world. But she couldn’t quite describe it!

MIL went with Paula Jo to eat lunch one Saturday afternoon, and they tried out a fairly new restaurant in our area: the Happy Dragon Chinese Bistro. I’d been there with daughterperson Jessica a couple of times and found them to be an enjoyable place for a quick meal. Convenient to our house as well. Anyway, they got up there and MIL saw a starter on the menu that she thought she’d try: Crab and Asparagus Soup.

Although the Happy Dragon is a Chinese-style place, this dish has to be Vietnamese. Why? Well, the Chinese don’t eat asparagus, by and large. They haven’t really been introduced to this tasty vegetable. Besides, it’s a pain to grow, most places, and the Chinese don’t have time for that.

The French, however, DO eat asparagus, and they know how to cultivate it well. Maybe the Dutch and Belgians are better at that, but not by much. (There, I started a global shooting match. Again.) The French also spent quite a bit of time in Indochina, and they took a lot of their cooking methods and foodstuffs along. The Vietnamese melded in these new ingredients and the rest is history.

I’d offer to go eat the Happy Dragon’s soup, but I’m allergic to shellfish. So instead I did the only next best thing, I Googled it. I found several creamy asparagus soups with crab in them, but that’s not the style served at the Bistro. No, many Southeast Asians don’t use dairy in their cooking. I understand it’s because of a genetic predisposition to lactose intolerance. If a food makes you feel bad, you’ll learn to avoid it. So the Vietnamese crab and asparagus soup doesn’t include milk or cream.

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Would These Eyes Lie?

Sup Mang Tay Cua is easy to fix. Gather the following ingredients: (Soup for Two)

  • 1/2 pound fresh asparagus
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or fresh!)
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons water (or use dry sherry)
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • 1/3 pound cooked lump crabmeat, or one 6-ounce can, drained (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion
  • 1 hard-boiled quail egg, halved (optional)

Clean and cut the asparagus, on a diagonal, into about 1-inch pieces. Warm the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, then sauté the asparagus with shallots, garlic, salt and pepper. Only cook for a minute or two, with stirring, until the shallots and garlic are fragrant. Add the broth, bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water to make a thin, smooth slurry. Add slurry to soup, with stirring, to evenly distribute the starch and begin to thicken the soup. While slowly stirring the soup with a large spoon, slowly drizzle in the beaten egg to make long, lace strings. Add the crab and stir well, then add green onion. Serve immediately, with quail egg garnish if desired. That’s all there is to it!

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You can put a lot of other ingredients in here, like small, shelled shrimp or even cooked fish pieces. Use a mild white fish to keep the flavors in balance. I’ve seen versions of this soup where a bit of fish sauce was added; do this only if you really enjoy that flavor! You can jazz it up with chile pepper slices too, if you like. (This IS the Chile Underground, remember.) Corn is also a natural extra, and I’ve seen kernels and baby corn used. Even snow peas and the like won’t hurt this soup! Try it out, then try some things you like and see what you get. Who knows, maybe you’ll be famous!

So now my mother-in-law has a recipe she can try and adjust at home. She lives in the country and can’t get this soup every day at a restaurant like she wants. Problem solved…

Enjoy the (Green Viet Crab Soup) Heat!

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