Black pepper crab with curry leaves

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


Appears in

Food and Travels: Asia

Food and Travels

By Alastair Hendy

Published 2004

  • About

Chilli crab is Singapore’s fave wokked mollusc, and comes in all guises. This one I unearthed in a food hall, and with a touch of India about its gills, it’s gorgaous. Every nook, cranny and hollow yields the sweetest - sometimes meagre, sometimes generous - morsels. It’s a slow-picking game, so the pleasure comes in little doses and spurts; hands-on stuff, which demands constant licking, so finger bowls and wipes at the ready, and that bowl of regular rice.


  • 2 cooked mud crabs or blue-swimmer crabs (ask the fishmonger to remove the gills), or 8 cooked cold-water fat crab claws (in the shell)
  • 3 long dried red chillies, deseeded and chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp groundnut oil
  • a knob of fresh root ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 3 tsp coarsely crushed black pepper or chopped fresh peppercorns
  • 15 curry leaves
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
  • 1 tbsp flaggi sauce or dark soy sauce
  • 1 bunch spring onions, very finely shredded


First remove the top shell from the crabs, then quarter them and, using a rolling pin, thwack the shell of the large front claws to smash it but leave it all intact. In a wok, fry the chillies and garlic in 2 tbsp of hot oil until the garlic starts to colour, then add the ginger, sugar, black pepper, curry leaves and remaining oil and fry until the leaves have darkened. Add the fish sauce and sweet chilli sauce and fry for 30 seconds more. Toss in all the bits of crab (including the top shells) and shunt and push the lot around in the wok, making sure everything gets well plastered in the richly flavoured oil - spoon some gunge and oil inside the carapaces too. Fry all over, tipping and turning all the parts until the sauce has really darkened and the crab is flecked with black; 3-4 minutes. Serve piled with spring onion. Implements of sorts, to wheedle out the claw meat, are in order.