When I stayed with one of the Japanese teachers during New Year’s, I was fed something they called kani gohan, literally crab rice. The Japanese often flavor their rice as they cook it in the cooker. It’s not unusual, and it’s really quite good. I’ve had a few that were cooked with lotus roots, bamboo shoots, and mushroom. Kani gohan as expected, is flavored with crabs.
To make this dish, you need:
1. Rice cooker
The ingredients are thus:
1. Female crabs (If you can get one with eggs, even better) – 2 or 3 (depends on the size of your rice cooker)
2. Soy sauce – 1/2 cup (or as desired)
3. Cooking wine/rice wine – 1 cup
4. Sugar – 1 tsp
5. Asian rice – 2 and 1/2 cup (I made a whole lot for my three crabs, so you can adjust depending)
1. Shitake mushrooms – 5-7 (or as desired)
2. Bamboo shoots – 1 cup (or as desired)
3. Sesame oil – 1 tsp
Finely chop mushrooms and bamboo shoots. I actually grated the bamboo shoots instead, though any way is acceptable. Carrots and any other vegetable can be substituted, for example, button mushrooms or baby corn. Then I washed the rice, and placed it in the rice cooker pot. I then added all the ingredients except the crab, using my rice paddle to mix everything evenly. Then I added water until it was about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch above the actual rice, depending on how soft you want it. It is better to have a little more water than too little. Some ingredients may float to the top. Don’t worry, since you can mix it back in later.
Now comes the crabs. Mind you, I got mine extra fresh in Japan, so the ones I had were still alive and kicking. The Japanese don’t bind them with rubber bands (you have to remove them anyway), and provided no tongs to grab them at the market. I was a bit wary, but they had been laying on ice, and so they were all quite sluggish. I figured putting them in the plastic bag and tying a knot would kill them, but a half hour later found them still quite alive.
Since you will be putting the crabs, as is, directly on top of the rice, you might think rinsing them with water is a good idea (At least I did). Bad idea. The water was warm and my crabs came alive. I managed to get the first one and second one in, but the third one stiffened its legs and glared at me above the rice pot. It. Would. Not. Go. In. While the other two were docilely stuck in the brown colored water, that one continued to snap and click its claws menacingly. And it was already a tight fit with two other crabs, so trying to get it down was a challenge. In the end, I poked it with chopsticks until it backed down, but I was more than a little scared. I’d never killed my food to eat before!
So finally I got it into the pot, forced the lid down, and depending on your rice cooker, you set it to cook. It should do so automatically. Mine gave me a bit of trouble, and the tab that showed it was cooking jumped up a bit too soon. This is okay, so long as the crabs are dead. I took that chance to take the crabs and rip the top shell off.
This is where things changes depending on preference. I did not bother with the meat in the legs or body. Instead I merely scraped the eggs (which are bright orange) and the brains (a darker, murky, yellowish-brown) into the pot. I also ripped off a few legs, as is, back into the pot for extra flavoring. I mixed up the rice and set it back to cook. It should cook for at least 15 minutes, or until the water has boiled away and the rice is soft and sticky. Of course, if your rice cooker was well behaved and did not give you trouble, leaving the mixture without pausing to remove the crabs is also acceptable. Once done, I mixed everything up again for good measure. If you had added crab legs back in for additional flavoring, now is the time to remove them.
This is the result:
I ate it with salmon, but it can be eaten as is. It comes out mild, so naturally it can be eaten as normal rice with other ingredients. If you notice the orange, it’s the eggs, which as far as I’m concerned, is the best part of the meal.
This is what it looked like when I prepared it for my bento (Japanese lunch box) on the following day.
Now, I leave you to try this unique Japanese winter dish on your own!