Coastal crab and coconut curry

Coastal crab and coconut curry

I Love India
Martin Poole

Having grown up with a father who absolutely loved good food (I’m sure most of our holidays were based around a city he wanted to eat at) and also had a general passion for travel and eating, I have had my fair share of the world’s delicious crab dishes. I’ve eaten fried soft-shell crabs by the Potomac in Washington, crab cakes in New York, chilli crab in Singapore… and just American-style, cooked and served with a butter sauce. But, I have to say, none are quite as delicious as India’s Malabar Coast crab dishes. Cooked with local spices and coconut, you are literally licking your fingers as you break bits open. Many feel that cooking an expensive crab with Indian spices is a waste and that the flavours would be drowned out. I think that cooking it any other way is a waste of good crab! This is not a watery curry; here the sauce is thick but not so dry it clings.


Quantity Ingredient
5 tablepoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
15 fresh or dried curry leaves
1 onion, finely chopped
40g roughly chopped root ginger, (peeled weight)
cloves from 1/2 large head of garlic
tomatoes, (4 medium-large), , blended until smooth
1/4-1/2 teaspoon chilli powder, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoon ground coriander
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 teaspoons garam masala
80g fresh grated coconut, (you can buy this frozen in Asian supermarkets as well as fresh in some supermarkets now), plus more to serve (optional)
2-3 green chillies, stalks removed, pierced with a knife
1 medium-sized crab, around 1.2kg cleaned, lightly broken up in places
2 teaspoon tamarind paste, or to taste
handful chopped coriander, (optional), to serve
see method for ingredients


  1. Heat the oil in a large non-stick karahi, wok or saucepan. Add the mustard seeds and, as they are popping, add the curry leaves and cook for another 10 seconds or so. Add the onion and a little salt and cook until it is soft and has a good golden brown colour on the edges, around 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, make a paste in a blender of the ginger and garlic with some water. Add to the pan and cook for 1–2 minutes or so, or until the water has dried off and the garlic smells cooked.
  3. Add the tomatoes, seasoning and powdered spices and cook well until the masala releases oil into the pan, around 15 minutes, stirring often. Once it has released oil into the pan, stir-fry over a high heat to darken a little. This will deepen the flavour and colour.
  4. Meanwhile, blend the coconut with some water until smooth. Once the tomatoes are done, add the coconut and chillies, bring back to the boil and add the crab. Cook for 2–3 minutes, then add enough water to come just halfway up the crab. Return to the boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. Once the crab is done, add most of the tamarind, taste and adjust the seasoning and add more tamarind or chilli powder for more tang or heat respectively. There should be a lot of thick sauce; this is not a watery curry, you should be able to eat the creamy sauce with rice.
  6. Serve sprinkled with coriander or coconut, or both.
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