Indian soft shell crabs with home-made lime pickle

Indian soft shell crabs with home-made lime pickle

Home Comforts
Yuki Sigura

Soft shell crabs will more often than not be bought frozen; they can be found online or from good fishmongers. So buy plenty at a time, as you can keep them in the freezer at home. You need hot oil to fry them and you’ll need an oil thermometer to get the right temperature; don’t guess for this as you need to get the inside cooked and the outside nice and crisp to get the contrasting textures right.


Quantity Ingredient

For the lime pickle

Quantity Ingredient
500g limes, cut into wedges
2 tablespoons fine sea salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
5cm piece of root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon asafoetida
1 1/2 teaspoons mild chilli powder
300g soft light brown sugar
50ml white wine vinegar

For the crab

Quantity Ingredient
5cm piece of root ginger, peeled and grated
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chilli powder
4 tablespoons chopped coriander leaves and roots
4 tablespoons gram flour
2 limes, finely grated zest and juiced
4 tablespoons groundnut oil
8 small soft shell crabs
flavourless vegetable oil, to deep-fry


  1. First, make the lime pickle; it’s best to make it a week or so before. Place the limes and salt into a bowl and toss to combine, then cover and place in the fridge to cure for 48 hours, stirring occasionally.
  2. Heat a large sauté pan over a high heat, then add the oil and mustard seeds. As soon as they start popping, add the garlic and ginger and stir for one minute. Add the cumin, coriander, asafoetida and chilli powder and stir for another minute, then add the sugar and cook, without stirring, until it liquefies, shaking the pan occasionally. Now tip in the salted limes and the juices from the bowl, the vinegar and 200ml of water.
  3. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 1½ hours over a gentle heat, until thickened and the limes are very soft. Cool slightly before pulsing in a food processor for 20 seconds until the pieces of lime are quite small. Spoon into sterilised jars and ideally leave for a few days to mature.
  4. For the crab, place all the ingredients except the crabs and the oil for deep-frying into a bowl and mix to a thick paste, then add the crabs and mix well so the crabs are coated in the mixture.
  5. Cover and place in the fridge for at least two hours. Remove from the fridge and bring to room temperature before you want to cook them.
  6. Heat a deep fat fryer to 160°C or heat the oil for deep-frying in a deep heavy-based sauté pan until a breadcrumb sizzles and turns brown when dropped into it. (CAUTION: hot oil can be dangerous. Do not leave unattended.)
  7. Carefully lay the crabs one at a time into the oil and cook for one or two minutes until cooked through. Drain on kitchen paper and season with a little salt.
  8. Serve the crabs with generous dollops of lime pickle.
James Martin
Saturday Kitchen
comfort food
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