Like most North Indian families, in our family too, non-vegetarian food was restricted to chicken and mutton. Although my mother is an expert in cooking a variety of meat dishes, her nose prohibited her from making seafood. And by seafood, I mean only fish. So much so that in order to cook fish in the house, we lock her in a room and burn aromatic candles to subdue the smell.
I started experimenting with seafood beyond fish only after I started working. I am proud to say that I am the first one in my extended family to buy fish or crabs and cook them. After moving to Bangalore, I was introduced to Kerala cuisine and fell in love with it. The credit goes to my neighbour and close friend, who taught me this spicy crab recipe, which is a favourite till date.
My friends from Mumbai, Goa and Kerala tell me that crabs are bought alive and then put in boiling water with some salt. I am still a novice, and prefer to buy crabs from the local fish shop that sells dead crabs. On request, the seller cleans and cuts the crabs into half. I also request him to crack the claws of the crab such that the crab meat absorbs the spices while cooking. The crab meat is delicate, soft and sweet and goes well with a fiery gravy. Coconut milk makes the gravy mild and smooth. Crabs in gravy goes well with red rice, steamed or even normal rice. I like it with bread too, as bread absorbs the spicy gravy well.
Coconut milk adds warmth to the gravy. Photo: Paluk Khanna
Eating crabs needs a lot of patience, and involves breaking the shell and sucking out the flesh. It is a dish that one needs to sit and eat at leisure. In the West, a mallet, dull knife, crab fork and claw cracker are used to crack the soft shell. I prefer to eat it with my hands like any other Indian meal, and you may end up using both the hands. Ultimately the taste is well worth the trouble as you will be licking your fingers wishing for more.
Even though crabs are used in other dishes like crab cakes, seafood pizza and soups, which are in fact easier to eat, I prefer this gravy recipe. So, call in family and friends for a lazy Sunday lunch and eat your crab leisurely in their company. It is more time consuming, but then not every day one gets the opportunity to enjoy a meal at leisure with loved ones.
Recipe for Masala Crab
1 kg ( 4 nos) crab, medium size
3 tbsp oil
1/4 tsp mustard seed
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
2 large onions finely chopped
1 tbsp finely chopped ginger
2 tsp finely chopped garlic
2 large tomatoes, finely chopped
2 green chillies, slit into halves
20 curry leaves
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp chilli powder
100 ml coconut milk
Salt to taste
1. In a pan heat oil and add mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds start crackling, add fennel seeds.
2. When the fennel seeds get lightly roasted, add onions and stir.
3. Once the onions are translucent, add ginger, garlic, curry leaves and green chilly and continue to fry.
4. Add tomatoes when the onions become golden brown and stir.
5. When tomatoes become soft add turmeric, red chilli powder and coriander powder and continue to fry, remembering to stir.
6. Once the oil starts separating from the gravy and you can see it on the edges of the vessel, add a tablespoon of coconut milk and stir.
7. Add crabs and mix well with the gravy. Cover the pan and cook for 30 minutes or till the crabs are cooked. Make sure to turn the crabs every two to three minutes. Crabs will be cooked when the colour starts changing and there will be aroma of fried crabs.
8. Take the crabs out and place them in the serving dish, add remaining coconut milk and boil the gravy and pour over the crabs.
The author is a Chartered Accountant by profession and works in an MNC in Bangalore. She started blogging on Kitchen Fables with an aim to share recipes that she learnt from her friends and family.