Ngapali beach chilli crab


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


Appears in

Food and Travels: Asia

Food and Travels

By Alastair Hendy

Published 2004

  • About

White-fleshed crab is wanted here, but if you’re in the wrong place for such tropical water delicacies (blue swimmer crabs or mud crabs, say), use nice fat whole claws instead. I scoffed this nightly on Ngapali Beach, far away in time. Gorgeous.


  • 4 uncooked tropical water crabs, or 8 big cooked crab claws
  • 3 cm piece fresh root ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 6 small shallots, chopped
  • 2 tsp each dried chilli flakes and paprika
  • 1 tsp dried shrimp or 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 3-4 tbsp peanut oil
  • ½ tsp shrimp paste
  • ¼ tsp ground turmeric
  • salt
  • 4 tomatoes, skinned and chopped
  • 8 small green or red chillies, left whole
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves


Ask your fishmonger to split the crabs into quarters, and to lightly bash the claws to crack their shells, yet leave the shell intact and on the meat (easily done with a rolling pin at home). In a processor, blast the ginger, garlic and shallots to make a coarse paste. Gently fry the dried chilli flakes, paprika and dried shrimp in the oil until the oil reddens a little. Stir-fry the crabs in two batches in the flavoured oil until seared and reddened all over. Scoop them out, leaving the oil behind, then slip in the pulverized onion paste with the shrimp paste, turmeric and a sprinkling of salt, and fry until it looks reddened. Stir in the tomatoes, chillies, lime leaves and a touch more salt (if needed) and bubble up, adding a dash of water. Rapidly cook for 10 minutes, adding more water if necessary It should end up paste-like, rich and unctuous. Slip the crab back in and cook in the paste, stir-frying, for 5 minutes or so, until the crab is cooked Eat with rice, finger bowls ready.