Appa's Crab Joleem
The first time Mr. Im tasted crab joleem was nearly 60 years ago when his mother made it for him as a kid growing up in Korea. When the crabs were in season, Grandma Im would make this spicy soy sauce braised crab dish several times a week for her family, and it was always a treat.
In Korea back in the 1940’s, Mr. Im grew up in a generation where the men never went into the kitchen. They would sit around and the women would bring them food. Even the layout of homes put the kitchen at one end and the living room at the other. So many men of that generation grew up not knowing how to cook. Grandma Im eventually taught Mr. Im and his brother how to make this dish so that they would not starve as bachelors. It became one of only two dishes that Mr. Im knows how to make. Even now, it’s rare to find Mr. Im in the kitchen, unless he’s making crab joleem for his kids.
Every so often, Maria and her siblings would cry, “Dad, we need some crab!” Sometimes, they would beg their dad every single day. Eventually, Mr. Im would give in and make them his special dish. He would jovially say, "I have to make it. They're my kids!"
On those rare occasions when Mr. Im makes this dish, Maria would say, “It's like a salt bomb exploding in your mouth. My eyes are usually super puffy the next day thanks to the water retention. It's delicious and my daddy makes it best!”
- 6-8 live blue crabs
- 2 Tbsp gochujang - red chili pepper paste
- 1 Tbsp gochugaru - red chili pepper powder
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- 6 green onions
- 1 medium onion
- 3 cups water
- Large 6-8qt Pot
- Chef Knife
GET STARTED WITH FRESH CRAB
Get fresh water crab from the supermarket or seafood market. Fresh crabs are prone to bacterial contamination, so buy the ones that appear lively and fresh. Avoid the ones that are slow and battered.
Female crabs, called "Sooks", tend to have eggs that add a lot of flavor and color to the dish. They're the one with an "apron" on their belly. Male crabs, usually called "Jimmies", will often be bigger and have more meat. It's best to get a combination of both so that you get the best of both worlds- the meat and the flavor!
CLEAN THE CRAB
- SCRUB the crab clean with a brush under running water.
- DISARM them from their powerful pinch attacks by clipping off their claws.
- CUT OFF the rest of their legs at the 2nd joint.
- SEPARATE the top shell from the main body by flipping the crab upside down, exposing the capital shaped apron, then lifting the apron, and following the natural seam to separate the top and bottom sections of the crab.
- SET ASIDE the top shell leaving the tasty bits inside untouched.
- SNIP OFF the inedible gills while holding the body and legs.
- PLACE body on a cutting board and cut in half with a sharp knife.
PRO TIP: Be sure save the orange eggs because they add lots of flavor and color!
PREP THE POT
- ARRANGE the body parts and top shells in the large pot.
- ADD the shells and be sure to scrap out the eggs into the pot.
- SLICE the green onions into 1-inch sections and layer on top of the crab.
- JULIENNE the yellow onion and add to the pot.
CHEF'S TIPS: Mr. Im didn’t cook all the top shells. For the ones he discarded, he made sure to carefully scrap all the bits into the pot. Generally, it's a lot of fun to eat out of the shell, so cook as many as you'd like.
ADD THE FLAVORS
- SPRINKLE the Gochugaru powder on top of the mixture (red chili pepper flakes).
- ADD some soy sauce.
- ADD some gochujang (red chili pepper paste) and water. The Ims used Chung Jung One.
- TURN ON heat, cover and bring the liquid to a boil.
- TURN DOWN heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
- UNCOVER and simmer for an additional 5-10 minutes, until crab is cooked through.
GET READY TO FEAST!
- SERVE various banchan with the meal. Banchan are the small dishes of food that are often serve along with cooked rice in tradition Korean cuisine. For this meal, the Ims' banchan consisted of Mrs. Im's homemade oh-so-heavenly kimchee, her amazing japchae, fresh and spicy octopus, and purple rice.
- SCOOP the braised crab in a bowl and serve while it's still hot!
- EAT with your fingers. There's no other way to eat them.