Still cravin’ the delectable, high-def eats from Final Fantasy XV? Then have we got the recipes for you. This week, it’s another installment in “The Food of Final Fantasy XV”, and this time the dishes hail from opposite sides of the world, with a crab curry from southeast Asian and a fancy sandwich from the cafes of France.
If you missed it, check out the salmon teriyaki and chicken cutlet from last week!
Sweet Saltwater Crustacean Curry
You wouldn’t know it from the menu at a typical American Indian restaurant but the sub Indian continent has literally dozens of regional cuisine styles, many of which are coastal and feature a lot of seafood. Perhaps the best curries in the world come from Sri Lanka, where the influences from many styles ranging India to southeast Asia all come together to create a salty, spicy, sweet, floral, aromatic heaven.
Today we are cooking Sweet Saltwater Crustacean Curry, a restaurant dish in Final Fantasy XV that, based on appearance (the yellow, possibly tumeric-heavy sauce, what appears to be pieces of lemongrass, and a garnish of coriander leaf) is probably a Sri Lankan style curry. In the picture you can see a full crab with the shell intact, sitting in a pool of curry sauce, which in reality would be a very poor way to serve crab curry. While some curries feature whole-body crab, the top shell is usually removed and the body halved, with the claws either torn off or left as-is during steaming. A crab with the top shell still intact has guts and gills remaining under the hood, so definitely do not serve yours in this fashion. You can either dish it up traditionally, which is to remove and throw away the shell, then cut in half and simmer in a pool of sauce with the claws, or you can use frozen crab or lobster claws.
As for the type of crab you should use for this dish, the picture shows what looks like a Dungeness crab. But you can use any local seawater crab (for example, East coast folks, you may prefer Maryland blue). For this recipe, 2 crabs (about 1.5-2 lb each) should probably be enough, with 1/2 a crab per person. Personally I’m not a huge fan of eating whole-crab curry (it’s very messy), so if you prefer to use loose crab meat, that’s fine. Just make sure you add the meat at the absolute final stage of cooking the curry sauce, and stir as infrequently as possible, because crab meat shreds very easily. You may wish to use snow crab surimi, which is cheaper and holds better shape, instead.
A few notes on the spices: If overcooked, both mustard seed and fenugreek seeds can become inedible and bitter. Make sure to cook the mustard seed only as long as it needs to pop, then diffuse the heat by quickly adding other ingredients and stirring. If, after you’ve finished the curry sauce, any bitterness remains, you can add a little more ground coriander or demerara sugar to offset. Lime juice can be used as well. Be sure to add all ingredients in 1/4 tsp increments and taste the sauce between additions to balance saltiness, sweetness, sourness, and spiciness.
For this recipe I used Aunt Patty’s Tamarind Paste, which really has more the consistency of a syrup. It’s mostly used to act as a souring agent, so if you cannot find actual tamarind paste, use lemon or lime juice. Be sure to add in very small increments if you’re using a substitution, just in case.
Lime leaves can be found in the fresh herbs of most grocery store produce sections. If you cannot get fresh pandanus leaf (usually found in Asian markets, frozen if they do not have it fresh), you can buy it fresh or dried from Amazon (use about 10-15 small strips if using dried). This is where I also buy my fresh and dried curry leaves. Store the fresh stuff in the freezer to retain its full flavor over time.
Dememara sugar has light amber colored grains, and is used largely in Indian cooking. If you cannot find it, light brown sugar or any mild, molasses-imbued sugar will do.
2 crabs, 1.5-2 lbs. each or approximately 1.5-2 lbs crab meat
4 medium shallots
5 cloves fresh peeled garlic
2 inch piece of ginger root, peeled and diced
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne
1 tsp salt
4 tablespoons water
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp brown (rai) mustard seeds
1 tsp black peppercorn
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 6 inch stalk fresh lemongrass (cut a few small criss-cross patterns on the surface to help release aromas)
2 inch strip fresh pandanus leaf
1 can coconut milk, shaken
1 tsp fresh ground coriander
1/4 tsp tamarind
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tablespoon light brown, demerara or yellow rock sugar
1 tsp salt
2 medium tomatoes, diced
4 large lime leaves
Begin by placing shallot, garlic, ginger, paprika, cayenne, and salt in a food processor and blending into a thick paste. Next moisten a large wok with vegetable oil and heat on medium high. Add the mustard seeds, peppercorn, lemon grass, pandanus leaf, and cinnamon and stir lightly. Once the mustard seeds begin to pop, add the fenugreek. Stir a few times more, then add the shallot paste. Stir fry until it has slightly reduced, about five minutes, then whisk in the coconut milk until smooth. Bring to a simmer.
Once the mixture is slightly boiling, add salt, fresh ground coriander, paprika, turmeric, and tamarind. Taste, add demerara sugar if necessary, then add the diced tomatoes.
Next add the crab. If using shelled crab, the parts need about 10 minutes to simmer in the curry sauce to warm all the way through. Garnish them with the lime leaves and cover the wok with a tight fitting lid and allow to simmer. Check and stir about halfway through, tasting the sauce as it “blooms”. Add ground coriander, salt (or even Thai fish sauce), or lime juice as needed.
Once the crab is heated, you can serve in large bowls with a few inches of curry sauce on the bottom, and grab a crab or nutcracker and a roll of paper towels, because it’s about to get messy! Unless you used loose crab meat in which case, there will be substantially less clothes-staining splatter.
If this recipe is not hot enough for you, feel free to add a few Thai chili peppers to the garlic, shallot, and ginger paste. You can also fry a few Thai chili peppers or dried red chili peppers in the oil before adding the paste.
If you have them, fresh or dried curry leaves are also a nice and tasty garnish.
Serve this meal with my favorite side dish, from Madhur Jaffrey’s Ultimate Curry Bible (aka the best book in the world): saffron and cardamom Jasmine rice.
First take 1 tsp of saffron threads and place them between two sheets of aluminum foil, then use a rolling pin to crush into small pieces. Then put 1/4 cup of very heavy cream into a mug and heat in the microwave for 30 seconds. Add the saffron, 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom and 1/4 tsp of sugar, stir, cover, and set aside for at least 3 hours. Once you’re ready to make the rice, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a 6 quart pot on medium heat, then add two cinnamon sticks and cover. Once the cinnamon sticks have unfurled, add 2 cups of Jasmine rice, and fry until the rice is slightly translucent. Add three cups of hot water and 1 tsp of salt, bring to a high boil, cover, then reduce the heat to low. Let cook for 25 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed, stirring once halfway through the process. Once it is fluffy and ready to eat, drizzle with saffron cream mixture and stir and distribute throughout.
The croque monsieur is basically a fancy ham and cheese sandwich, with crispy bread, a mild white cheese, thin sliced pork, and, in some variations, Béchamel (a basic white sauce that is one of the five “mother sauces” of France). The croque Madame puts a slight spin on it by adding a fried egg. There are many other variations as well but the Madame is specific to Final Fantasy XV.
A good croque monsieur/Madame relies on a stiff bread to withstand the grease of the cheese and ham and sauce. For this recipe, I chose a tough sliced ciabatta, but many types of French bread will do. For the cheese, you can use any mild white. Some recipes suggest using slices of cheese, other recommend a cheese sauce. I used a shredded blend of mozzarella and parmesan and it was perfect. If you plan to eat it open-faced, you can get away with both a cheese sauce and the Béchamel, which would otherwise cause the sandwich to fall apart. Worth noting is that in the picture of the sandwich as depicted in FFXV, it is an open-faced sandwich and it does not appear to have the Béchamel sauce. I’ve included a recipe for the sauce anyway. The picture also shows the egg on top of a piece of lettuce. I do not recommend this.
If you’re going to eat your croque Madame closed-face style, I suggest frying the egg so it is flat. The sandwich is easier to eat when it isn’t unnaturally bulky in weird places. But if you’re going to eat it open-faced you should definitely poach it instead. It’s actually much easier than it sounds; watch my favorite culinary how-to on the technique and you’ll never be intimidated by poached eggs again.
Oh and believe it or not, but it absolutely matters where you get your bay leaves from. There’s a big difference between Turkish bay leaves and those from California; the Californian leaves have a less subtle/nuanced eucalyptus flavor. I prefer the Turkish kind, myself. If you wish to get their full flavor in your Béchamel sauce, you may want to use a mixture of milk and stock instead of just milk, and simmer the bay leaf in the stock for about an hour before making the sauce. Oh and never use fresh bay leaves. They are much too strong. Dried is fine.
Cheese sauce (if desired)
1/2 tsp sodium citrate
3/4 cups water
1-2 cups mixed cheese (preferably mozzarella and parmesan)
Salt and pepper to taste
Or 2 cups mixed shredded or sliced cheese
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons white flour
2 cups milk (or split half milk, half chicken or vegetable stock. Use whole milk. I used 2% and added a dollop of very thick heavy cream)
1 shallot peeled and stuck with a clove (cut a criss cross shape in the underside, stick clove in the middle)
1 bay laurel leaf
Cracked white peppercorn, about a tablespoon
2 thin slices of ham
2 slices French bread
2 tablespoons butter
Splash of vinegar or rice wine
1 tsp salt
The most challenging part of making this sandwich is making sure all the various elements come together at the right time. If left to sit, the surface of the Béchamel will congeal and the poached eggs will overcook. If you wait to poach the egg until the last second, when you start to fry the French bread, it should come out at about the right time. I suggest frying the slices of ham while making the Béchamel sauce, leaving them in the pan and allowing them to crisp, while frying the bread in the leftover oils.
I use a cast iron skillet filled with leftover bacon grease for all my frying, and when there’s enough bacon grease, there’s no need to butter the bread when making a grilled sandwich. If you’re using a regular frying pan, you can both butter the bread and lightly moisten the pan with vegetable oil, to make sure it gets a nice crisp. Keep the heat just shy of medium and you should be able to toast the bread at a manageable rate. If done correctly it should take about 5 minutes.
I adapted this Béchamel recipe from the basic one found in my battered, ancient copy of Mastering The Art of French Cooking and I gotta say, it holds up. Start by putting the milk or milk and stock mixture in a small saucepan and set it on medium high heat. Then place the butter in a stainless steel 6 quart pan on low heat and add the flour in small increments as the butter melts, vigorously blending smooth with a wire whisk. Let it get just hot enough to bubble slightly, and continue to whisk while it froths, for about two minutes. Do not allow it to brown.
Once it has begun to barely simmer, remove from heat and rapidly add the boiling milk or milk/stock mixture and whisk thoroughly. Increase heat to medium, then add bay leaf, white peppercorn, shallot and clove (clove should be face-down in the liquid), and salt to taste. Blend. Continue to whisk and stir occasionally while the rest of the food is being prepared and allow it to stay at a slight simmer. Scrape the sauce off the sides with a spatula as you go, so that it does not burn and ruin the sauce.
The ham should be frying in a nearby cast iron skillet or frying pan as you make the sauce. Make sure the bottom becomes moist with pork fat, or add a small bit of vegetable oil. Butter one side of the bread and place in the skillet butter-side-down, and fry/toast until the underside is stiffened. It should slide across the pan easily once it’s done. Check the underside with a spatula if needed.
While the bread is toasting, poach the egg(s). (Tip: set up the water, vinegar, and salt on the oven in advance). Use just enough water to cover the eggs, then add the salt and splash of vinegar. The salt will season the eggs, while the vinegar ensures the egg whites will hold shape. Cover. Once the water has come to a boil, slip in the eggs, turn off the heat, and cover again. Remove from heat (be careful not to disturb the whites or yolks) and let it sit for four minutes to cook in the cooling water. The eggs should be cooked to medium softness.
The key to good poached eggs is to slip the eggs into the water with as little splash or disruption to the cohesion of the egg whites as possible. This will ensure their shape “holds”. Putting the eggs in a coffee mug, as the video above suggestions, allows for better control over the velocity of the eggs, and thus they will descend into the water fully intact. No need to crack egg after egg into a deep swirling pot of hot water; these will come out perfectly shaped and in one beautiful, delicate piece. Just be sure to get close to the surface of the water with the lip of the mug before allowing the eggs to slide in. Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the water once they’re cooked; this will drain them slightly and reduce the potential sogginess of your sandwich.
If you choose to make a cheese sauce, be sure to pick up some sodium citrate. It’s a salt that restaurants use for their cheese sauces so they do not congeal before a dish reaches the diner (it’s particularly popular with buffets that serve mac and cheese). You can simply dissolve the salt in water and add shredded cheese (in small increments, stirring vigorously between each) until the sauce reaches the thickness you desire (about 1-2 cups). It works for any cheese, you can season it to taste with salt and pepper, and it will not form a nasty crust on the surface like other cheese sauces. The water base also ensures that the sauce is far less likely to scorch. Making additional space in your cupboard for this particular type of salt is well worth it.
When you’re ready to assemble your sandwich, place the bread on a plate with the toasted side down, top with a heavy layer of shredded or sliced cheese, and then place the fried ham on top of that. Layer with the poached egg and top with Bechamel sauce and voila. You now have a fancy French grilled cheese.
Stay tuned for more next week, and send your suggestions to Paste Games on Twitter
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.