If soft-shell crabs can't be found, fish, large prawns (shrimp), squid, or crabs of the hard-shell variety can be used with this recipe.
To clean the crabs, lift the shell on each side of the body and scrape out the frond-like gills. Snip off the eyes and mouth. Give the crabs a quick rinse then pat dry with a paper towel.
Using a pestle and mortar, pound the coriander roots to a paste with a good pinch of salt. Add the garlic and continue to pound into a somewhat coarse paste. Remove excess or tough garlic skin then stir in the peppercorns, crushing them lightly.
Mix the flour with a large pinch of salt. Dredge the cleaned crabs with the seasoned flour, shaking off any excess, then combine them with the garlic and black pepper paste.
Pour the deep-frying oil into a large, stable wok or a wide, heavy-based pan until it is about two-thirds full. Heat the oil over a medium-high flame until a cooking thermometer registers 180°C (350°F). Alternatively, test the temperature of the oil by dropping in a cube of bread; it will brown in about 15 seconds if the oil is hot enough.
Deep-fry the crabs in the hot oil for 3-4 minutes, turning them a few times to ensure even cooking, until they are cooked and the garlic is golden. Should the garlic start to smell bitter and darken too much before the crabs are ready, quickly scoop it out. Lift out the crabs and drain on paper towels.
Sprinkle with the chopped coriander and serve with steamed rice and a small bowl of sauce Siracha.
Photo: Earl Carter © 2009
"Reprinted with permission from Thai Street Food: Authentic Recipes, Vibrant Traditions by David Thompson, copyright © 2009. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc."