Yabbies with a touch of coconut

Yabbies are about the only swimmer I have any luck with on a consistent basis. Get some smelly meat, tie it to a piece of string, toss it in the water, tie the string to your big toe, relax into one of those chairs with no legs and a solid back, and you’re in heaven. If you fall asleep, there’s a good chance the biggest yabby will knock off the meat, crawl up the string, and have a go at your big toe.

Once you stop screaming, you’ll realise that yabbies are pretty handsome, too, if you’re keen on that sort of thing. Brilliant of colour, huge of nipper, rather dominating when you put them gently on your best crockery. But that’s about all there is. On a size-to-meat value, and get-up-and-go flavour, there’s not much to write home about.

The best thing to do with them is to use their texture and romance, and mix these never to be underrated ingredients with some subtle but catalytic spice; something from Thailand. We Aussies have fallen in love with the taste of the Thais. It seems to me this has much to do with the ‘almost’ western taste of much of the cooking of Thailand. Sure, it can be hot, as in given a big hit of chilli, but in the best of Thai cuisine, the chillies are there to enhance, not to dominate. That, as a matter of fact, applies to any cuisine which uses chillies — enhance, not dominate. Don’t be intimidated by chillies. Plant them and grow them, pick them, chop them and dry them, and you’ll gain a new respect for them, a new understanding — and these red and green friends will become as indispensable to you as they are to me.

Mix chilli with coconut cream and coriander, throw in some lemon grass, and you’re well on the way to Thailand; as simple as that. Even if you don’t make it there, on the trip you’ll find something in yabbies you didn’t know was there.

There is really nothing to cooking the yabbies (ho, hum, same old story). A pot of boiling water; 5 minutes for the large ones (tipping the scales at about 100g), and a couple of minutes for the smaller. Straight from the water to a hot pan, and spruce them up with a few drops of chilli oil. Serve them as they are, with a nutcracker for the claws and the sauce on the side.

1 stalk of lemon grass, as fresh as you can find it, sliced thinly — Discard the green tips and use only the thick core. Lemon grass (the Thais call it takhrai its botanical name is cymbopgon citratus) would not have been available in Australia not so long back, but it’s readily for sale these days. It provides a wonderfully subtle flavour of lemon, without the acid. It should be firm and green to the tips, with not a trace of brown anywhere. The difference in flavour between the very fresh and the little tired, is marked. If you can pinch a few rooted stems from a friend, do so, and grow it. With love, it is happy in most environments, although the more humid, the better.

live yabbies, as many as you like, or are lucky enough to catch — Beware of yabbies which have passed on. They deteriorate rather rapidly. I wouldn’t touch them unless they were alive and pinching. If you’re buying, pick those of a similar size.

1 chilli, chopped finely

1 clove garlic, chopped finely

6 caps (about a dessertspoon in each) of Thai fish sauce, Nam Pla — This is one of the numerous fish sauces found in many cultureseven the Romans had a condiment made from fish fermented with salt. It’s a little on the nose, but judiciously used with odds and sods, it provides for a delicious under-flavour. Thai cookbooks suggest using it on its own as a table condiment. I think you would need to get used to that idea.

200ml coconut cream — You can make your own if you like, but it’s hardly worth it. Note that it’s not the so-called milk which comes when you crack a nut. It’s the fleshgrated, boiled with water, and then squeezedwhich does the job. The tinned product is fine for making sauces and curries. By the way, if you have a cholesterol problem, coconut milk is high on the list of out-and-out taboos. Coconut oil is very high in saturated fats. Sigh.

small bunch of coriander, chopped roughly

juice of 1 lime or lemon

2 teaspoons chilli oil — Beware: this is red hot! and optional.


Bring a pot of water to the boil. Throw in the large yabbies first, taking care to avoid the nippers, and gradually the smaller, down the scale. Total cooking time for the fearsome 100g yabbies is about 5 minutes.


While the yabbies are doing their darnedest, start on the sauce, which will only take a few minutes. Mix the lemon grass, chopped chilli, garlic and fish sauce into the coconut milk, and bring to the boil, slowly, preferably in a wide saucepan. When it has boiled, reduce to a simmer and cook gently for about 5 minutes, reducing, reducing. Remove from heat and add coriander and lime juice; mix with a wooden spoon and set aside. Leave for a few minutes and taste for seasoning. If it is lacking, add a couple more caps of fish sauce, stirring through. Return to the heat and bring to a simmer again, cooking for another 5 minutes, then set aside in a warm bowl.


When the yabbies are cooked, drain them and toss them into the still hot pan in which you made the coconut sauce. Sprinkle the lot with a teaspoon or two of chilli oil, and toss on medium heat for half a minute. Put the yabbies in a large bowl and heat through the coconut sauce if necessary.


Serve the bowl at the table, with the sauce at the side for dipping the flesh in. Or, for a more substantial meal, steam some rice, work the sauce through the rice, and serve with the yabbies on top.

WINE: Forget the wine -go for beer or Chinese tea. If beer, I like a Cascade or a Dutch or Danish style.