This Coconut Chilli Crab is a lip smacking aromatic and flavourful dish with a lingering taste that makes my mouth water each time I think about it. The sweet juicy roasted coconut flavour combined with the subtle aroma of the light spices and heat from the chillies that lightly sears your taste buds and the sweet taste of the crab flesh that is so flavourful yet not overpowered by the spices, is utter bliss indeed. I felt like I was on cloud 9 enjoying this delectable crab dinner with the coconut rice and the steamed yu choy that complemented it so much.
I would say that I created this dish out of fluke because of a small mistake in the process of cooking. But as the dish developed it took a different turn. A unique flavour emanated as a result of a catalytic reaction that transformed the taste of the entire dish – all because of one single ingredient that I added as a finishing touch to this coconut chilli crab. Had it not been for this magic potion I wouldn’t be writing this recipe now.
It so happened that my husband and I were craving for crab. He expressed his desire to eat a crab dish without any gravy or too much masala but at the same time flavourful and spicy (not overwhelmingly spicy). So I embarked on this journey to create the dish with light masala that was flavourful. I thought of a combination of roasted coconut , roasted cumin and caramelized onion & garlic with black pepper and red chilli paste for the heat and zing. I had some dried red chillies soaking in vinegar. So I ground them to a paste using all the vinegar.
After sautéeing the crab in butter and olive oil and adding the ground coconut masala I drizzled some of this chilli paste into the pot. Thank God I added a little……but the crab masala tasted so tangy! I panicked thinking of my husband’s reaction. I realized what a blunder it was adding up all the vinegar which must have been at least 1/4 cup to grind the chillies I knew exactly what he would say ………that I ruined it and it doesn’t taste like crab at all, so on and so forth. My husband does not like any ingredient overpowering the other especially anything too sour is the least desirable thing for him.
This time it was the sour taste that was killing the dish. I had to do something to balance the taste and take away the sourness from the masala. I had already added the entire coconut onion ground masala so I had to be really careful at this stage of cooking. Whatever I add now can either make it a hotchpotch dish of undesirable taste or a unique blend of flavours that sing in praise of each other. I looked around and spotted the pack of fried onions which I had been recently using. I took a good 2 tbs then mixed in some red chilli, cumin and salt, ground them up quickly using a mortar and pestle then tossed this spicy ground onion masla into the pot. My jaw dropped when I tasted it. This magical potion not only took away the sourness but also infused a unique flavour which elevated the crab dish to a new dimension I could not have imagined. It was sensational! My husband enjoyed the crab like never before and said it was exactly just what he wanted. But he still doesn’t know the story behind………….Lol!
1 whole dungeness crab 1 1/2 lbs
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp black peppercorns
4 green chillies
2 tbs chopped cilantro
2 tbs fried onions (store bought)
1/4 tsp roasted cumin powder
1/2 – 1 tsp red chilli powder
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp garam masala powder
2 tbs unsalted butter
1/4 cup oil (coconut or olive oil)
For the red chilli paste:
2 tbs red chilli paste (made from chillies soaked in white vinegar)
For the coconut ground masala
1/2 a large onion sliced
1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh coconut or
1. Soak 5-6 dried red chillies in 2 tbs white vinegar for a couple of hours or overnight. Grind them with the vinegar to a coarse paste.
2. Scrape the shell of the crab with a knife, rub the shell with salt and clean the crab pieces well. Rinse well in cold running water, drain and keep aside. Check my other post on crab red masala on how to kill and clean a crab.
3. Toast the coconut slices in a tsp of oil till they are lightly brown. Remove then add the cumin and coriander seeds to the pan and when they change colour and emit an aroma, throw in the 1/2 sliced onion quickly just till it softens. Remove and set aside. Crush the garlic cloves and sizzle them in the same pan in a few drops of oil till they change colour a bit and become aromatic, then remove.
4. Put all the roasted ingredients in a grinder when they cool down and grind to a paste adding a little water. Keep the ground coconut masala paste aside.
5. In a pot or kadai add the 1/4 cup oil and the unsalted butter. When hot enough drop in the bay leaf, the cloves, slit green chillies and coarsely pounded pepper then immediately add the crab. Sprinkle some salt on it, turn over and quickly fry in the oil for 1 minute, then add just 2 tbs of the *chilli paste, 1/2 tsp turmeric followed by the ground coconut masala. Mix well.
6. Sprinkle half a cup of water from the sides of the pot, cover with a lid and simmer for 2 minutes.
7. Meanwhile to make the fried dry onion masala, take 2 tbs of the crispy fried onions (store bought pack) and mix in 1/2 to 1 tsp chilli powder, 1/4 tsp roasted cumin powder then grind them using a mortar and pestle.
8. Now open the lid from the pot, stir the crab dish, taste to check if the salt is just enough and if not make adjustments. Then sprinkle this ground fried dry onion masala on the crab, followed by chopped cilantro and then garam masala powder. You could also add some crushed black pepper and red chilli flakes if you want it more spicy. Turn over and mix well. Simmer till the water gets absorbed and the masala just sticks to it as seen in the pictures.
1. *Chilli paste: To make chilli paste soak 6 dried long red chillies in 2 tbs vinegar and leave them overnight, then grind them to a paste.
2. I prefer using Shaan’s garam masala powder as it not only is aromatic like homemade but also has saffron in it which makes it even more appealing to the taste buds.
3. You could use unsweetened shredded coconut if you don’t have fresh coconut and toast it in the same way as given in the recipe.
4. You could omit the crushed black pepper and red chilli flakes in the final step if you don’t want it too spicy. You can add or reduce the red chilli powder, black pepper according to your desirable spice level.
Some of the links on this post and below are affiliate links. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn a small commission by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. Should you choose to buy them you could click on these links to go to the respective sites and make your purchase. I would really appreciate if you do that. Thank you.