Cracking the Crustacean Code

Welcome back foodies from a loong hiatus. I’ve been slightly preoccupied with the holidays – shopping, baking, cooking, working (yes, even during the holidays), spending time with loved ones, etc. Despite the lack of school, I still feel like there is soo much to do, and just so little time to do everything. And even after the holidays are over and the new year has rolled in, the work just never seems to end. So, even during Winter Break, I still need a real break from it all. And to do that, I’ve started a little annual tradition of attending the San Francisco Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s only my second time, but I’m hopeful that there will be more to come. To round off the tradition, I end the night at Crustacean, a well-known Vietnamese fusion restaurant in San Francisco famed for its garlic noodles and ultra-secret seafood menu. There are stories about this place. Like how only family members can enter the secret kitchen and how the recipes are kept in a vault. Finished plates of garlic noodles and crab and lobster are handed directly to the servers through little slits in the walls from the main kitchen. I’m telling you, the stories circulating this place are ridiculous. And of course, you have to wonder why… well, it’s because the food is pretty darn amazing. Sooo amazing that there are hundreds and thousands of threads on the web dedicated to cracking the recipes to Crustacean’s menu. Do a google search and see for yourself. You will be amazed. So like those thousands of people, I tried my hand at cracking the Crustacean Code. Mission Target: Garlic Noodles.

Garlic Noodles
Please note that amounts are approximates.

6 oz. spaghetti pasta
sesame oil
10 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup butter
1 tbs white wine
3 tbs Maggi Seasoning Sauce
1 tsp sugar

Bring water in large pot to a boil, add spaghetti noodles and dash of salt, lower heat to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes or until the noodles are slightly softer than al dente. In the last few minutes on the stove, add a few drops of sesame oil for flavoring and to prevent the noodles from sticking to each other. Once cooked, drain the noodles into a colander, set aside, and reserve 1 cup of the pasta liquid in the pot. Do not run the noodles under water.

With the 1 cup of pasta liquid, return to stove and let simmer. Add a splash of white wine (sherry is good), and several tablespoon dashes of Maggi Seasoning Sauce. Continue to let simmer. You will find that the liquid will thicken up, but if it doesn’t, add just a sprinkle of cornstarch. Remove from heat, set aside.

In a different sauce pan, melt the butter and allow to brown over medium-low heat. Lower heat and add the minced garlic. Do not let the garlic burn. Rather, you want the garlic to sweat and release all the flavor into the butter. Once the garlic is soft and the butter has been infused with the garlic flavor (you will SMELL it), add the pasta-Maggi-wine liquid right into the garlic butter and continue to let simmer and reduce a bit. Taste test and season with salt/sugar as needed. I also added in several dashes of chili powder because I like the kick. Turn off the heat, but keep the pan on the stove. Toss the spaghetti noodles right into the sauce pan, and coat the noodles with the liquid. You can also add in more fresh garlic at this stage if you want a REALLY intense garlic flavor. I also added another tablespoon of butter and I let it melt over the noodles. Plate and enjoy!

I found that my noodles were radically different from the Crustacean noodles. There was just something missing – somewhere I read that Crustacean actually uses a bit of Parmesan cheese too. But either way, my creation was quite delicious, and I finished the whole thing in one sitting. It is great stand alone, but can be served alongside grilled shrimp or sautéed tamarind crab or buttered lobster – whatever your heart desires. For more ideas, check out the Crustacean menu – maybe it will inspire you to try and crack their secret menu. Let me know how your attempts go my friend.

From my (secret) kitchen to yours.

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12 Responses to Cracking the Crustacean Code

  1. Missy says:

    If I can’t find Maggi Seasoning Sauce what would be a good substitute?

  2. cookiejarconfessions says:

    Good question Missy. If you don’t have Maggi on hand, then the closest I would say would be an equal blend of soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce. See if that works for you. Or you can use either one alone and adjust the salt and sugar levels. Let me know how that turns out for you.

  3. Carolyn Jung says:

    I can never get enough of those noodles. Nice to know that with this recipe, I can get my fix at home now, too.

  4. jd says:

    Yay for garlic noodles!

    I’m a huge fan of garlic (& lots of it), so I’ll definitely have to give this recipe a try…

    Thanks for the idea – & great pics, by the way 🙂

  5. NOODLEHOLIC says:

    I am also addicted to these noodles. I read on Yelp that they use brown sugar rather than white. It sounds like an odd addition but it does do something good for the flavor combination.

  6. wahini00 says:

    i’ve been trying to crack this recipe for about a year now. here’s my recipe for you to try. it’s the closets i’ve come to their ‘secret’ recipe.

    1 pack chinese egg noodles
    1 head garlic
    1 stick butter
    1 tbsp salt
    2 tbsp garlic powder
    2 tbsp 3 crab fish sauce
    2 tbsp brown sugar
    parmesan cheese

    Cook noodles about 3 minutes in boiling water. Drain. Peel and smash the garlic with the salt and garlic powder until it forms a paste in a mortar and pestle. Put paste in a wok with all the butter and cook on low for about 7-10 minutes (don’t let the garlic brown). Turn up the heat to medium high and add the brown sugar. Let this melt into the butter then add the fish sauce. Add the noodles back, mix, then sprinkle in the parmesan cheese.

  7. mel says:

    yes i too am a sucker for these noodles i did get to do this once as a fluke out of desperation and it was a really good fluke with just unagi sauce and garlic powder =D Just mix it in with the noodle a little at a time so as not to overdo it…i think its more of getting the right mix of garlic and the unagi sauce that does the trick. i’m trying it right now with fresher ingredients hopefully it works again.

  8. Missy says:

    Finally made this with your suggested soy/Worcestershire sauce combo. I did add a little extra sugar but it came out wonderfully. It was easy and delicious. Thanks for a great recipe!

  9. leelu says:

    While I’ve never eaten at Crustacean, I’ve lusted after the garlic noodles at their sister restaurant, Thanh Long, for a long time and have made a few attempts at recreating them myself. Maggi seasoning is an intriguing idea! … will try it. Seems to me I’ve read that Vietnamese home cooks (or was it Thai?) have traditionally used Maggi so it makes sense. Not sure about the cheese though. Also I’ve wondered if they use a mixture of roasted garlic and raw … the garlic flavor seems multi-layered to me.

    Sunflower in the Mission (16th Street @ Valencia) is one of my favorite Vietnamese places, and they also do a very good garlic noodle. Perhaps not as garlicky as the An Family recipe, but still yummy. They put a small amount of fried egg in theirs. (Speaking of eggs, leftover garlic noodles are divine in an omelet or scramble! Yum!)

    Thanks for the tip! Will try it. Unagi sauce instead of fish sauce sounds good too!

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