Chilli Crab a la Marketman

This enormous alimango (mud crab) was hand carried from Northern Palawan cr1(Culion, to be exact) and arrived early yesterday. What a fantastic present! It was nice and big and super feisty. After scrubbing off the gunk that is sometimes on the shell, I put it on a scale and it weighed in at about 900 grams, just shy of a kilo. Not the biggest I have seen and cooked (that was about 1.7 kilos) but this was a very nice size indeed. I put him (you can tell the sex of the crab from the shape of its belly flap) in a bowl and took him outside to photograph and he wasn’t happy at all. He tried several times to snap at me and the string tied around the claws was a little loose. After the photo shoot it was back into the kitchen and into the frying pan…

Some cookbooks suggest that you put the crab in the freezer wrapped in a cr2damp towel for 20-30 minutes to put it to “sleep” before you kill it… this is more humane, they assert. Our cook just turns it over and plunges the tip of a big knife into the softest part of the underbelly to deal what is hopefully a quick lethal blow. But you can’t be too careful as the claws can still chomp on a finger or two despite the stabbing. Next you have to remove the shell and clean out all the guts, gills and gross stuff. Rinse the rest of the crab with water and cut it into generous sized pieces. I like to pound the shells of the claws already before it is cooked to make eating it a little easier to eat. Store in a cold refrigerator until you are ready to cook it. Do not kill the crab more than 2-3 hours before you cook it.

To make chilli crab my way (and I will admit this strays from most Singaporean or Malay versions a little) you need the following ingredients for each kilo of crabs:

¼ cup butter (not margarine)
2-3 tablespoons finely chopped peeled ginger, more if you like
½ cup chopped white onion, more if you like
1-2 tablespoons of chopped garlic
4-10 chopped sili labuyo, depending on spiciness desired and spiciness of your sili
Generous dashes of rock salt
4-6 cups of tomato sauce with some hot water added if sauce gets too thick (use less if you are cooking say 3 or more kilos of crab as it will be drowning in sauce)
Some bottled chili sauce (not Tabasco, the viscous less intense types)
Shaoxing rice wine (authentic but optional in our house)
1 egg
1-2 tablespoons chopped coriander (wansoy)

I like to have lots of sauce to mix with my rice, hence the large cr3volume of tomato sauce in this recipe. I have to admit I don’t usually use a recipe for this but throw in stuff by feel – hence the dish differs a bit each time and my family and friends notice it – “just right”, “too much butter”, “too spicy”, “not enough salt”, “ah, perfect”, etc. I leave the recipe a bit nebulous so that you can find the balance that truly makes this your own dish. To cook: put a large pan on high heat and when hot throw in the butter, then the ginger seconds after and sauté a bit. Add the onions next and keep them moving to avoid burning them. Add the garlic after a minute or two (never start with the garlic as it will get bitter). Then, depending on your ability to handle the spiciness of the sili, you can add the chopped sili now and move momentarily away from the pan as the capsaicin oils launched into the air can be wicked. If you want the dish less spicy, add the sili after you cook the tomato sauce. Add Shaoxing if using it.

Put your cleaned crab pieces in the pan and cover. Saute crab for a few minutes until they are just colored, not cooked. Add the tomato and bottled chili sauce. Add salt. cr4 Cover and let it simmer for a few minutes until all the crab is cooked. Lightly beat one egg and put it in the pan stir to thicken the sauce. Add chopped coriander and serve hot. This dish needs lobster bibs, large clean dishtowels or tons of paper napkins served with it. In Singapore, they serve this with white bread to sop up the sauce. I like it with steamed rice. Count on at least ½ kilo of crab per person for serious eaters. Oh, and final tip. Clean the crabs before you cook! I once relayed this recipe to a friend verbally and she forgot the cleaning step and had a really “blackish” chili crab – yuck. Enjoy!


14 Responses

  1. What a scary pre-frying photo. Nice portrait of a crab who doesn’t want to be cooked. This is my favorite dish yet. If only they had these available in my part of the globe. Oh well, I shall have to live vicariously through your blog.

  2. Luya – what part of the globe are you from? This dish or a variation of it should be possible in most places except highly inland locations or antartica… yes, the crab did look particularly mean so I had no trouble eating him…

  3. This is one of my favourite dishes. For extra flavour (and fat) i deep fry the crab before addding to the sauce.

    Byt, i have become a big fan of your site since the inq7 article.

    Great job pare! I’m envious! I could only wish for a friend who gave this as a gift!

  4. Hi marketman. Our cook used to make what he calls adobong alimango. The crab is cleaned and cut to pieces, reserving the fat and aligue. You may leave the shell on its back intact, for a nicer presentation later on. Btw, this recipe is better with female crabs, if only for the aligue. If you can’t get those, gay crabs are good too. I don’t know why the vendors call them that, they’re the ones with yellow fat.

    Steam the crabs with white vinegar, crushed peppercorns and a good amount of garlic. Reserve the steaming liquid. Then fry the steamed pieces in oil, add lots of chopped garlic and red pepper flakes or labuyo if you want. Fry just until the garlic starts to brown, add some tomato paste and cook a little more. Then add the reserved steaming liquid and crab fat/aligue. Adjust the seasoning and stir until the sauce thickens a little. Yum! the sauce is delicious with rice.

  5. my mom makes a similar dish called alavar
    crabs. she adds alavar sauce (in packets, from mindanao,
    made of coconut milk and aligue) and about half a bottle
    (more :) ) of aligue. Sarap! Sarsa pa lang, ulam na.
    Eating too much of the sauce can give you a tummyache,

    oh, it doesn’t have tomato sauce.

  6. I am not sure whether any of you had gone to the Tacloban wet market. Mud crabs there easily weigh 5 kilos, at least that was my impression when I had the chance to go to Tacloban. My wife and I bought such one enormous female crab and had it cooked by the chef of a nearby hotel. The next day, I bought another one and had it cooked by a nearby turo-turo restaurant. (I usually ask the locals to cook seafood the way it is commonly cooked in the places I go to.)

    Actually, the reason why it is better to freeze crabs before cooking them is more for aesthetic rather than humane reasons, i.e., so that the claws and hands of the crab will not fall off when it is cooked.

    It is best, however to buy mudcrabs from its source. That way you can be sure that it is clean. Mudcrabs caught in the wild and not fattened are fattest immediately before and after a full moon. The reason is that mudcrabs find it easier to catch their prey at nights when the moon is bright.

  7. I have never been to the Tacloban market…geez those crabs sound like giants! I can’t imagine a brab that weighs over 11 pounds! I would have thought 2 kilos would be the max… but it sounds terrific, nonetheless!

  8. matagal ko na hinahanap kung pano magluto ng chili crab (singapore, east coast seafood center style)…and i think this is the one closest to that recipe..i will try this tomorrow…thanks for the recipe..

    some unsolicited advice: when in Singapore, try the Bee Hoon Crab in Sin Huat Restaurant…This restaurant is along Lorong 34, Geylang (Im not sure if i got the correct street number but this restaurant is opposite an Esso gasoline station along the stretch of Geylang…)…We just found out about this superb crab recipe and personally, i like it more than the Chili Crab…because it is not too spicy and I can appreciate the taste of the female Sri Lankan crab(grabe!) more…If it was not referred by a friend, we wouldn’t have tried it because the restaurant is the usual geylang hawker restaurant and I wouldn’t have expected that they’re cooking up this kind of glorious food in that place…hehehe…it’s a case of don’t judge a book by its cover…hehehe…when we asked the auntie how to cook Bee Hoon crab, she wouldn’t divulge the recipe…she said its a family secret…

  9. Hello ‘m from peru nd i so much interedetd in south est asia food. I m lookin for a recipe of crab beehoon similar vto teh one served at sin huan resturant in Saingapore.

    Thank you for helping

    Miguel Medina Peru

  10. Sad, scared, intimidated … Your photo of the crab brings out these emotions in me. I usually do not eat shellfish due, and I am intimidated to prepare crabs and lobsters, so I usually just settle for shrimp. But I think I will have to try this recipe someday soon. My mouth always waters whenever I see photos of Chili Crab or some sort similar.



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