Top Shelf: Thai Crab Salad with Lime, Hot Mint and Peanuts

Oct 13, 2017 by Timothy MacDonald

Top Shelf: by Chef Tim McDonald

I was a restaurant chef in Sydney and Melbourne in a former life, but greed and lust attracted me to yachting and Eastern Europe. Today, after 10 years of traveling around on yachts, I have become well-versed in the American, European and Eastern European food requirements of the affluent. I am currently sole chef on a 180-foot (55m) Amels charter yacht.

This season we have been floating around Amalfi and Sardinia, and I cannot remember a season where the humidity has been so high! I have been concentrating on using local ingredients and adapting them to salads, as that’s what the crowds are asking for.

Through my new best chums, Sardinian food-provisioning company Nautica, I have been educated on two local pastas that are not the norm: mortadella and pistachio ravioli (4cm square); and culurgiones, the strange little pockets stuffed with whatever is in season. Of course, I went for the summer truffle. There is no other way to serve these two once cooked and plated: local extra virgin olive oil and Parmesan-Reggiano.

Photo by Jessica “Sweets” Dunn

One crowd favorite in the hot weather this summer has been the local Sardinian crab with kaffir lime, mint and roasted peanuts. Those who are familiar with my food heroes from Australia, Andrew Blake and Christine Manfield, will recognize this one. It’s a great summer buffet dish with plenty of big-hair POP! It can be served anywhere in the world using the local crab.This one was in Sardinia in August.

The crab:

I had the provisioner make sure the crab was locally caught. This one was about 2 kilograms.

The dressing: Any Ozzie chef knows this one well. I make this by taste, but …

2 cups sweet chili sauce, Thai brand

1 cup fresh lime juice

10 fresh kaffir lime leaves, minced

2 cloves garlic, mashed with salt

1/4 cup fresh tomato pulp

4 tablespoons black sesame seeds

1/2 cup coriander stems, finely chopped

2 tablespoons pickled ginger, finely cut

1 teaspoon salt

Mix all and allow at least four hours to marry. The palate must register a balance of sweet, salty and the acid component.

The salad:

500 grams fresh lump choice crabmeat. If fresh local crab is not available, use jumbo lump grade A crab meat from a supplier. I used the Van Gorsel Bros up in Holland this season and was supplied with a blue bucket. The meat was perfectly good. I would advise to use choice crab and not the scrappy tourteau meat often available.

150 grams roasted crushed peanuts

50 grams-plus roasted crushed rice (a Darley St. Thai secret)

1 cup coriander leaves

1/2 cup Vietnamese mint

1/2 cup Thai Holy basil

1/ 2 cup fresh coconut shavings

Thai red shallots, fried

Thai fried garlic

Once the crab is steamed for 30 minutes in my trusty MKN oven, the guts and lungs are cleaned out, and Clarence the Crab is left to cool on paper towels.

For service, essentially everything is tossed in a bowl. It’s hard to give exact measurements because I control by taste. As my Dutch Michelin-trained chef back in 1985 used to say, “I cannot teach precision.”

The goal is to keep everything fresh and vibrant. The acid will eat into everything immediately, so everything has to be done once the head stew calls out, “Guests are coming to the table.”

On this particular day I served the crab on an ice plinth for an extra Robert Smith big-hair WOW!

Photo by Jessica “Sweets” Dunn

Japanese seaweed salad sat underneath. The tossed salad was placed in the cavity using two strong-cupped hands. Thai shallots and fried garlic were placed on top and then, finally, Clarence’s headpiece to finish off the dish!

Tim MacDonald ( has more than 20 years experience as a chef. He was named Concours de Chefs winner for Yachts over 160 feet at the 2011 Antigua Charter Yacht Show. His recipes are designed for the owner and guests. Comments are welcome below.