Chettinad crab curry

Preparation time
less than 30 mins

Cooking time
10 to 30 mins

Serves 2

When I arrived in Tamil Nadu from the north of India and found fabulous seafood all down the Coromandel coast, it was like I’d come home. This combination of whole crab, coconut and tamarind with curry leaves, tomatoes, chilli and spices is going on the menu…

By Rick Stein

From Rick Stein's India


  • 1 x 750g/1lb 10oz cooked brown crab

For the coconut paste

  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 25g/1oz fresh or frozen coconut flesh, blended in a food processor or grated

For the masala

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 10 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 10–14 fresh curry leaves
  • 2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 4-5 tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped dried kokum (available from specialist Indian stores)
  • 1 tsp tamarind liquid
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp jaggery or soft brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt

Recipe tips


  1. For the crab, break off the tail flaps and discard. Break off the claws, then take a large-bladed knife and cut them in half at the joint; crack the shells of each piece with a hammer or the back of a knife. Chop the body section in half, then gently tug on the legs to pull the body pieces away from the back shell. Use a knife as an added lever if you need to, but the body pieces should come away quite easily with the legs still attached. Turn each piece over and pick off the dead man’s fingers (soft gills), then cut in half once more so you have two legs attached to each piece.

  2. For the coconut paste, grind the fennel and cumin seeds in a pestle and mortar, then add to a mini-food processor with the coconut and a splash of water and blend to a smooth paste.

  3. For the masala, heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan or karahi over a medium heat, add the fennel and fenugreek seeds, garlic, shallots and onion and fry for 10 minutes, or until the onion is golden-brown.

  4. Stir in the curry leaves, chilli powder and turmeric, fry for 30 seconds and then add the tomatoes. Simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have reduced down to a pulp.

  5. Stir in the coconut paste and fry for 2-3 minutes. Add 200ml/7fl oz of water and the kokum, tamarind liquid, coriander, sugar and salt and bring to a boil. Add the crab, cover the pan, and cook over a high heat for 3-4 minutes, or until the sauce is rich and quite thick, adding a splash more water if it looks like catching on the bottom of the pan. Serve.

Recipe Tips

To make tamarind liquid, take 60g/2¼oz tamarind pulp and put it in a bowl with 120ml/4fl oz just-boiled water. Leave to soak for 15 minutes, then work the paste with your fingers until it has broken down and the seeds have been released. Strain the slightly syrupy mixture through a fine sieve, rubbing it well against the sides of the sieve to extract as much of the liquid as possible. Discard the fibrous material and seeds left behind. The liquid is ready to use and will keep in the fridge for 24 hours.

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