Sri Lankan Crab Curry


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Crabs and chilies are made for each other. Sri Lankans are very proud of the crabs caught off their coast and this curry is a national dish. Traditionally, the crabs would be simmered in their shells but this version is easier to make at home. Leaving the claws intact still gives diners the pleasure of attacking some of the meal with nutcrackers (or you can use the end of a rolling pin).

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  • 2 whole large cooked brown crabs
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick or ½ tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • ½ tsp. coriander seeds
  • ½ tsp. fennel seeds
  • 2 Tbs. vegetable oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 red chilies, chopped
  • 400ml can coconut milk
  • Juice of 1 lime, plus lime wedges to serve (optional)
  • ½ tsp. mustard powder
  • 3-4 curry leaves or a bay leaf

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Remove the crabs' claws. Leave them whole and set them aside. Pick the crabs (for details of the best way to do this, see this month's delicious.), then mix the remaining white and brown meat and keep chilled in the fridge until you need it. (Reserve the crab shells to make a crab bisque.) Heat a small frying pan or skillet and dry-roast the cloves, cinnamon, cumin, coriander and fennel seeds, so that you unlock their flavor. This only takes a minute or so, and you will smell it happening. Remove the spices from the heat and set aside. In a pan or pot large enough for everything, heat the vegetable oil and fry the garlic, onions and chilies. If you don't like your food particularly hot (Sri Lankans do), remove the chili seeds, or just use 1 chili. Allow to cook quite briskly; it doesn't matter if the onions catch a little in the pan. Add the coconut milk to the curry, then fill the can with water and add to the pan. Simmer for 10-15 minutes over a medium heat. Combine the mixed crabmeat with the lime juice and mustard powder and add to the curry with the intact claws, spices and the curry leaves or bay leaf. Heat through and stir gently. Check the seasoning and serve with a crab claw – garnished with lime, if you like.

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