Singapore Chili Crabs

Ketam Sos Chili


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes

    2 to 3

    servings as part of a multi-dish meal

Appears in

Chili crab is unofficially the national dish of Singapore, a food-obsessed where locals still debate which is “number one” into the wee hours of the night. This recipe, with its copious amount of gravy, is modeled after Mellben Seafood’s version, which is served with piles of fried bread cubes to sop up the sweet, spicy gravy. A modern dish that fuses the best of the traditional (a Malay-style spice paste, rempah) and new (ketchup).

Yes, ketchup. After all, ketchup’s ancestry can be traced back to Southeast Asia in the form of an Indonesian fermented sauce called “keciap.” When the British brought this sweet concoction to their colonies in the New World, tomatoes became the dominant ingredient. Ketchup is now an authentic ingredient in chili crab. Not that they’re using Heinz or Hunt’s: “Asian” style ketchups like Lee Kum Kee are much deeper red, have less spices and tangy flavor.

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  • ¼ cup (¼ oz. / 7 g.) Dried long red chilies, stems and seeds removed
  • ¼ cup Vegetable oil, plus 2 Tbsp. extra for cooking crab
  • 2 medium Shallots, roughly chopped
  • 6 cloves Garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. Minced ginger
  • 2 pieces Long red chilies or other hot red chilies, roughly chopped
  • 1 lg. Live Dungeness crab, about 2 to 3 lbs. (.9 to 1.4 kg.)
  • 1 Tbsp. Cornstarch whisked together with ¼ cup water
  • cup Water (divided use)
  • 3 Tbsp. Ketchup, (preferably Asian style, such as Lee Kum Kee)
  • 1 Tbsp. Ground bean sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. Granulated sugar
  • ¼ tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1 lg. Egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 Scallion, 2-inch (5 cm.) pieces, shaved thinly, rinsed under cool water
  • 6 Sprigs cilantro
  • 1 loaf White bread (soft baguette or other of your choice)


  1. Make the spice paste: Soak dried chilies in ½ cup of room temperature water 30 minutes; drain (save water), squeeze out excess moisture. In a blender, puree soaked chilies with ¼ cup oil, shallots, garlic, ginger, and chilies to create a fine spice paste (rempah). Add only as much water (use water from chilies), as needed to facilitate blending. (Alternately make the spice paste in mortar.
  2. Prepare crab: Cut crab with by piercing through the center of the body with a knife, cutting through head. Pull off top shell; reserve. Pull off the feathery gills and bottom tail flap; discard. Cut entire crab in half from head to tail. Cut off both claws, cut body halves evenly in two so there are some walking legs on each piece. Rinse crab with cold water and drain very well. With heavy, blunt object (such as a mallet or the back of a cleaver) crack claw and thick legs to ensure seasoning penetrates.
  3. Combine water and cornstarch; whisk well, and set aside.
  4. Cook the crab: Heat a large skillet, wok or Dutch oven over high heat. Add 2 Tbsp. oil, heat briefly, and then add crab (drained of any moisture that has gathered); stir-fry for about 3 to 5 minutes, until crab begins to turn orange and a roasted aroma is perceivable. Add 1 cup water cover, and cook 3 minutes until crab is almost fully cooked. Remove crab from pot, and reserve in a warm place, along with any remaining liquid.
  5. Add 2 tablespoons of oil to pan, add spice paste and cook until paste looses raw aroma, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add remaining ½ cup water, ketchup, ground bean sauce, sugar, and salt; bring to a boil. Stir cornstarch mixture (a slurry), and then drizzle in cornstarch slurry while rapidly stirring boiling sauce; cook until sauce thickens considerably. Add water as needed to maintain a thick and creamy sauce consistency.
  6. Add crab back to pan, and cook, stirring constantly, until crab is fully coated with sauce. Transfer crab to a serving platter. Bring sauce up to a simmer; drizzle in eggs while stirring slowly to create small ribbons of eggs (like egg drop soup). Remove from heat. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt or sugar. Pour sauce over crab. Garnish with scallions, and serve with crusty soft-centered bread or steamed rice.