In India, fish markets are an assault on the senses. Brightly dressed fisherwomen, baskets laden with all sorts of fins and shells popping out. Cats—lots and lots of them, between your feet, under tables, curled dangerously close to fish chopping boards. It’s all very vibrant and chaotic, in a good way. At one end of the market is the crab monger. In bucket-shaped cane baskets, you will see live crabs, trying their best to escape the gaze of hungry customers. The fisherwomen declaw the crabs on the spot once the bargaining is done, and then it’s off to the kitchen.
Whole crab is one of the most time-consuming foods to eat. It’s also one of the most rewarding, with its pockets of sweet, tender meat. This crab masala combines a homestyle spiced tomato-based masala with whole crabs.
If you like heat, this is a wonderful medley of hot and fragrant, with the fried and ground spices giving the dish a robust base along with onions, garlic, and ginger (you can reduce or remove the chili if your pain threshold is low). I toast whole spices and aromatics in a caste iron pan to improve their aroma and add complexity, before grinding them all together for a super fragrant masala. The crab gets added to the curry and steamed under a lid until just cooked through. I finish it with freshly chopped cilantro leaves. You can also try this recipe with shrimp or chunks of tender white fish, for instance.
Serve this aromatic curry as a seafood side to Indian Shrimp Pilaf or scoop it up with Bhakri, an Indian Rice Bread. The dish itself is simple to make. The hard part is resisting seconds, thirds….fifths!
Indian Homestyle Crab Curry
|ACTIVE TIME:||10 mins prep, 25 mins cooking|
|TOTAL TIME:||35 mins|
|SPECIAL EQUIPMENT:||Blender/mortar and pestle. Heavy-bottomed [lidded] saucepan|
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1 whole small dried red chili, such as Thai bird or chile de árbol
- 5 whole black peppercorns
- 2 whole cloves
- 2 tablespoons ginger- garlic paste
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 cup tomato puree
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 2 medium crabs, cleaned and cut into half
- Salt to taste
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- Cooked rice or flatbread for serving
Heat a caste iron pan. Add coriander seeds, cumin seeds, dried chili, peppercorns & cloves. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and add fennel seeds. Stir to mix through. Immediately transfer to the bowl of a blender or mortar and pestle and blend/pound until a fine powder is formed. Remove and set aside.
Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion. Cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 6 minutes. Add the tomato puree and ginger garlic paste, bring to a simmer, and simmer for 5 minutes. The oil should start separating now. Add turmeric powder and the ground spice paste. Stir well to combine and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the oil separates further and starts surfacing. Add a few drops of water if the paste tends to stick or get too dry.
Add the crab and salt. Spoon some of the curry over the crab to coat. Cover and cook for 5 minute. Remove lid, stir, and continue to cook for 10 minutes, spooning the curry over the crabs occasionally. Sprinkle with coriander leaves and serve immediately with rice or bread.