Crispy Soft-Shell Crab Banh Mi with Tamarind Sauce

Active Time: 50 MINTotal Time1 HR 15 MIN
Yield: Serves : 6

Tamarind crab is a classic Vietnamese dish—the tart sauce melds with fresh, sweet crab—but it can be a bit messy to eat. At Nen Restaurant in Da Nang, chef Summer Le simplifies things by switching to soft-shell crab (available year-round in Vietnam). We love it served on a baguette for a soft-shell crab banh mi.


  • 1 1/2 cups hot water (just cool enough to touch)
  • 1 1/3 cups peeled tamarind fruit (removed from 1 pound whole tamarind pods)
  • 4 lemongrass stalks

  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 3 shallots, thinly sliced (about 3/4 cup)
  • 6 tablespoons sambal oelek

  • 6 tablespoons ketchup

  • 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons chicken bouillon granules
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon achiote (ground annatto) oil (such as La Favorita Vegetable Oil with Annatto)
  • 10 cups canola oil

  • 1 cup cornstarch (about 4 1/2 ounces), divided
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (about 2 1/8 ounces)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup club soda
  • 6 large soft-shell crabs, cleaned and cut into quarters
  • 6 (10-inch) baguettes
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 cups loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
  • 1 1/2 cups Pickled Carrots and Daikon

How to Make It

Step 1    

Place hot water and tamarind fruit in a bowl. While submerged in water, separate tamarind pulp from seeds with your fingers. Let mixture stand 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cut lemongrass stalks into 3-inch pieces. Working in 4 batches, place lemongrass pieces in a mortar; smash with pestle until fragrant and fibers are separated. Set aside.

Step 2    

Pour soaked tamarind mixture through a fine wire-mesh strainer into a small bowl, rubbing and pressing softened tamarind pulp back and forth across strainer to extract liquid. Discard solids; reserve strained liquid.

Step 3    

Heat vegetable oil in a large saucepan over high. Add shallots and smashed lemongrass; cook, stirring often, until shallots begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in sambal oelek, ketchup, sugar, bouillon granules, salt, achiote oil, and strained tamarind liquid. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer, stirring often, until flavors have melded and sauce thickens slightly, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat. Pour through a fine wire-mesh strainer into a heatproof bowl, pressing on solids with a spoon to extract liquid. Discard solids. Cover to keep warm until ready to serve.

Step 4    

Heat canola oil in a wok over medium-high to 350°F. Place 1/2 cup cornstarch in a shallow bowl. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and remaining 1/2 cup cornstarch in a separate shallow bowl. Whisk club soda into flour mixture until just combined. Pat crab quarters dry. Working in 4 batches, dredge crabs in cornstarch, shaking off excess. Dip into flour batter, allowing excess to drip off. Place in hot oil; fry until crisp and light golden brown, about 4 minutes, turning once halfway through cook time. Drain on a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet.

Step 5    

Using a serrated knife, split baguettes, cutting to, but not through, opposite side. Spread 2 tablespoons mayonnaise on cut sides of baguettes. Divide crabs evenly among baguettes. Spoon tamarind sauce over crabs; top each with 1/4 cup cilantro leaves and 1/4 cup pickled carrots and daikon.

Suggested Pairing

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