If you live in the Bay Area or the Greater Los Angeles Area, I am sure you have heard of–and most likely dined in–the famed Thanh Long Restaurant and it’s better-known sister property Crustacean.
Their signature garlic noodles and roasted crab not only won over food critics, foodies, and aficionados alike, they also helped launch a multi-million restaurant empire (counting 3 and growing!) for the An’s family who hailed from Vietnam.
The legacy lies in the “Secret Kitchen”–a completely enclosed kitchen within the main kitchen, off-limits to all employees, where the family members churn out the legendary garlic noodles and roasted crab, using secret recipes that were passed down for three generations.
I had dined at Thanh Long in San Francisco many years ago and really enjoyed the garlic noodles and roasted crab, but it’s not until this week that I reacquainted myself with them.
This time, the location was Crustacean Beverly Hills; the dishes ordered were roasted crab, grilled tiger prawns with garlic noodles, and Maine lobster with garlic noodles.
The taste of the garlic noodles was exactly what I remember. In my honest opinion, their roasted crab was too dry for my taste (I think the crab was boiled and then roasted in the oven hence it lost all its juiciness).
The lobster garlic noodles were good, but not spectacular. The best dish was definitely grilled tiger prawns with garlic noodles. The sweetness of the grilled prawns complemented the garlic noodles perfectly.
Everything ordered that night was also a tad too salty. Anyway, I was still smitten by their foods, and most importantly, intrigued by their “Secret Kitchen” and secret family recipes.
I resolved to figure out the secret recipes, using none other than my taste buds and keen eyes. I examined the remains of the roasted crab dish–cracked black peppers, check; coarsely chopped garlic, check; butter, check; exotic spices, maybe but I couldn’t find any evidence.
I also packed a box of garlic noodles to go, for further examination at home.
I think I’ve got most things figured out.
So, I spent hours in the kitchen yesterday, perfecting my version of Crustacean’s garlic noodles and roasted crab. I added the seasonings little by little, trying to get as close to the original taste as possible.
I have no doubt that my recipes and techniques are somewhat different from the secret recipes, but there are really not that many “secret” ways to prepare garlic noodles and roasted crab.
As to the myth of “Secret Kitchen,” I will say that it’s more for smart marketing than its practicality.
Garlic and Chile Roasted Dungeness Crabs
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more for cooking the crabs
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1 head garlic, minced, peels reserved
1 onion, minced, peel reserved
4 large Dungeness crabs*, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds each
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper, or 6 to 8 fresh red chiles, such as serrano, minced and seeded, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro leaves
- Fill a large stockpot two-thirds full of water. Add enough salt so that the water tastes like seawater. Add half of the sliced lemon and the reserved peels from the garlic and onion, and bring to a boil. Plunge the crabs in the water, in batches if necessary, and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the crabs from the stockpot and set aside until cool enough to handle.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
- When the crabs are cool enough to handle, remove the top shell and apron and discard. Remove the gills and any transparent cartilage and scrape out any crab fat and rinse crabs under cool running water. Place crabs, bottom side down, on a cutting board and half lengthwise with a heavy knife.
- Combine 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt, the minced garlic, onions, butter, olive oil, crushed red pepper, and black pepper in a large roasting pan. Place the pan in the oven on the lowest rack, and bake, stirring occasionally, until onions and garlic are golden, about 8 minutes. (Do not allow the garlic to burn.) Remove the pan from the oven and add the crab pieces and mix thoroughly so that the crabs are well coated with the garlic and butter mixture. Return the pan to the oven and bake, stirring occasionally, until the crabs are heated through and the garlic mixture is braised onto the shells, 13 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with the chopped parsley or cilantro, and serve hot.