Yabbies are new on our shores but well known to many Australians. As more compact versions of large lobsters, yabbies are healthier, more buttery and richer in flavour than a regular lobster. While great in pasta and pizzas, yabbies are particularly delicious on their own, with a simple dip!
I first heard about these cute little lobster-like shellfish through a friend, who had come into contact with the supplier for the Yabbies. My interest was piqued, as I am a fan of seafood. Although I wouldn’t readily sink my teeth into a slice of puffer fish, but I do have a particular penchant for shrimp, lobsters, crayfish, salmon, cod… you get the picture. So you can imagine my elation when I was invited to a tabby tasting by Ian, the kindred spirited man who is bringing the delightfully scrumptious yabbies from southern Australia.
Yabbies are native to Southern Australia and were first considered pests by fresh seafood farmers, according to Ian. But like all human evolution stories, a curious human being decided to see what would happen when yabbies are cooked. A genius that man was if you ask me.
The best way to enjoy yabbies is to either steam them or grill them. I love the fact that the yabbies are brought to Singapore live, so you have to commit a fair bit of kitchen debauchery to enjoy the yabbies. Not for everyone, I know. I personally don’t have a problem with watching seafood (or chickens), being killed. Growing up, my dad used to go off on his fishing trips and return with live crab, which he’d then kill in the kitchen sink before cooking it with black pepper, or sometimes making a spicy Indian broth with it known as Nandu Rasam. So when Ian pierced through the cracking shell of the yabbies to half them, I didn’t quite feel like barfing (this is where I silently say thanks to my childhood).
We cooked two batches of the yabbies, to taste them both steamed and grilled. Ian suggests these two methods as the best for the yabbies, as it’ll bring out their flavour the most. Boiling them, which he says is commonplace among restaurant chefs who are unfamiliar with yabbies, drains the natural Flavours of the meat. This’ll result in tough and rubbery meat, heavily dependent on flavourings to boost its taste. The steaming method is pretty straightforward – you bring a pot of water to the boil, place a steaming rack in the middle of it ( ensure that the water doesn’t come in contact with the top of the rack) and lower the yabbies onto the rack. This’ll take about 10 to 13 Mins, by which time the yabbies will have changed colour to become a bright orange from their usual olive green – this means that your yabbies are cooked through.
The grilled version works slightly differently. Again not so much for the kitchen squeamish, but you’ll have to run a knife through the yabbies from the head down to the tail. Unlike prawns, the head of the yabbie contains its organs and brains (this was coloured mustard yellow) is not normally consumed. It’s the white, juicy flesh you’re after. After halving the yabbies lengthwise, you grill them in a pan (or in our case, pan sear them as we couldn’t find a griddle) with a tablespoon or two of extra virgin olive oil. The cooking here hardly introduces any flavours into the meat – that’s why you have the dips.
Ian fashioned two dips from basic ingredients found in most kitchen pantries. The first was a salty, spicy dip with soy sauce, minced garlic and Chilli flakes. The second one packed a little more of a punch; with lemon juice, olive oil, chilli flakes, minced garlic and smoked salt. The best way to eat the yabbies, though is to sink your teeth into the flesh without any dips – the flesh is sweet, soft and a welcome change to lobsters.
Removing the flesh from the shells once cooked is fairly easy. For steamed yabbies, simply twist the head off. Then, crack down the underbelly by pressing on both edges of the shell. The white (dyed stunning orange in parts close the shell) flesh doesn’t stick to the shell, willingly prying off. For grilled yabbies, you simply fork out the flesh and consume it hot – again, without the dip. Then, you go for the dips on your second bite.
The taste of the yabby is unique and juicy. Yes, I understand that ‘juicy’ is not an adjective that denotes flavour. But that’s honestly the best way to describe the moist, fleshy, almost sweet texture of the yabbies. The meat is pure white, corralled strikingly with sharp orange in certain parts. The flesh itself carries a world of flavour, all thanks to its freshwater and natural, organic breeding. As the yabbies aren’t marinated before cooking, the dips act as a mere coating to enhance the flavours of the meat. If you like spicy, they give you spicy, and if you like sour, the meat complements tarty seasonings well, too.
Ian comes from a family of farmers in Western Australia. However, the farm is but one facet of his business. If you’re looking for the complete experience, you can stay at their farmhouse to immerse yourself in the environment.
Currently, the yabbies are available in Buzz In The Woods, Gunther’s, Saint Pierre, Odette, Chefs Table, Cheek by Jowl, Salt & Grill and White Grass. If you’re looking to purchase the Yabbies for your family’s Barbeque party, you can do so directly from Ian by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bear in mind that there will be a minimum order, but don’t worry about the quantity. Regardless of the volume, the yabbies will be gobbled up by everyone young and old in minutes!