An unforgettably flavorful and glorious Spicy Sri Lankan Crab Curry! Made in a wonderfully aromatic and easy curry base with classic Sri Lankan curry flavors. One taste of this and you’ll know why Sri Lankan Crab Curry is world famous and a favorite for anyone who visits Sri Lanka!
If I could only eat just one curry for the rest of my life, I want it to be this. A Spicy Sri Lankan Crab Curry so good, that it makes you do a happy dance, sing its praises and forget all that hard work of cracking the claws and crab shells to get to the good stuff!
No matter where I lived or how old I was, making and eating this spicy Sri Lankan crab curry was an event. An event worth celebrating. When I was a kid, if we knew we were going to have this crab curry for dinner that night, we would go the whole day eating very lightly just so that we’d be ravenous come dinner time, and salivating as the glorious aromas of this crab curry filled the house.
Don’t be intimidated by the list of ingredients – every ingredient adds to a flavor-packed, wholesome crab curry. It’s also deceptively easy to put together. Below, you will also find information on how to choose the right kind of crabs for this recipe, so that you get the best results.
Sri Lankans really do take their crab curry seriously. Last time I visited, there was even a restaurant dedicated entirely to crab dishes in Colombo, though I never got to check it out because it was quite a bit pricey. But thankfully, I have this recipe, and I know you guys are going to love it too! 🙂
Why unroasted curry powder works better for this crab curry?
You can get the recipe for the Sri Lankan curry powder right here on the blog, but I’ve included it here as well with one difference. I don’t roast the spices for this Sri Lankan crab curry. The reason is that, seafood is more delicate in flavor and roasting the spices makes their flavor profile more robust which can easily overpower the flavor of seafood. So unroasted curry powder provides a better balance of flavor for seafood curries, while roasted curry powder stands up well against other meat based curries.
How to choose the right kind of crabs for this crab curry
Choosing fresh crab is really important.
I use blue swimmer crabs for this curry. Fresh crab is always best. And by fresh I mean that the crab is still alive. If you do find fresh crab that’s still alive, get your fishmonger to kill and clean the crab for you.
And once you kill the crab, it’s also important to clean it immediately. If the crabs have been dead for a while, enzyme activity in the meat can turn it soft, mushy and insipid when cooked. If you’re buying pre-frozen crab, make sure it’s from a source you trust and that the crabs were frozen soon after they were killed and cleaned. Anything else is just a waste of your hard-earned money.
I was able to get my hands on some fresh crab that I brought home and cleaned myself. I cooked the crabs immediately to preserve the freshness as much as possible. I used male crabs, because that’s what was available to me, as is usually the case. Female crabs tend to be more expensive, mostly because female crabs aren’t harvested nearly as much as the male ones, and female crabs also taste better (a little sweeter) in my experience.
Here’s a great video that I came across on YouTube on how to clean blue swimmer crab. For this spiry Sri Lankan crab curry, you only need to cut the crab in half – so do NOT quarter the crab like in this video.
I also don’t remove the big claws from the body either, but that’s up to you. Sometimes, they tend to fall off when you stir the curry, so it’s not a big deal either way. It’s also a good idea to crack those claws before you add the crabs to the curry base so that all of that delicious flavor has more of an opportunity to get inside and flavor the meat. But that’s also optional. If you don’t have a crab claw cracker, you can use a meat hammer to get the job done.
Sri Lankan Crab Curry
- ½ tbsp raw long white rice
- 4 tbsp ¼ cup desiccated coconut (unsweetened) OR freshly grated coconut
- 1 inch ginger minced
- 6 garlic cloves left whole
- ½ yellow onion finely chopped
- 1 ½ tbsp of unroasted curry powder recipe below - see notes for substitutes
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper I use 1 heaped tsp because we like it extra spicy
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 tbsp tamarind paste
- 6 - 8 curry leaves
- 1 - 2 pandan leaves fresh or dried
- 2 - 3 fresh red or green chili peppers or 2 serrano peppers, sliced or slit in half
- 1 can of coconut milk good quality
- 5 - 6 FRESH blue swimmer crabs cleaned and cut in half (see video in post for cleaning instructions)
- Salt to taste
- Drumstick leaves traditional, but optional
- If you can’t find curry, pandan or drumstick leaves you can add some flat leaf parsley or cilantro instead
- Water as needed
Unroasted Curry powder (Please see notes)
- 4 tsp whole coriander seeds
- 3 tsp whole cumin seeds
- ½ tsp mustard seeds
- 1 ½ tsp black peppercorns
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- Finely grind all the spices in a spice grinder. Set aside. If you are using roasted curry powder, add another 1 tsp of fennel seeds, ground to a powder (or ½ tsp ground fennel).
- Grind the raw rice and coconut until fine (or if using fresh coconut, grind until you have a fine paste). Set aside.
- Add about 2 tbsp of coconut oil (or vegetable oil) into a large saucepan (there has to be enough space to gently stir the crabs) and heat over medium heat. Add the onion, ginger, garlic and saute for a few minutes until the onions have softened.
- When onions are soft, add the 1 ½ tbsp of the curry curry powder, cayenne pepper and coconut/rice mix. Cook for 2 - 3 minutes until the spices become fragrant.
- Add the tamarind paste, sugar, chili peppers, curry leaves and pandan and ¾ of the coconut milk from the can. Add a generous ¼ tsp salt (more can be added after you taste it later). Bring it to a boil.
- Place the crabs in this gravy/sauce and gently mix to coat the crabs with the thickened gravy.
- Bring it to a boil on medium high heat and then lower the heat to medium, cover and simmer for 15 - 20 minutes, until the crabs turn pink and are cooked through. Make sure to turn over/stir the crabs half way through cooking to make sure they are well coated with the gravy while being cooked.
- Add extra coconut milk if you prefer it more creamy, or up to ½ cup of water to dilute the gravy. Add salt to taste.
- Add the drumstick leaves or parsley or cilantro leaves and stir through while hot.
- Serve warm with steamed rice. Enjoy!
Tips & Tricks
Love Sri Lankan food? Here’s more!
How about Sri Lankan desserts?
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