July 2010

Sri Lankan Crab Curry: a fiery delight
July 2010

Crab can be prepared in a multitude of ways and is a universally sought after seafood dish due to its tender ‘melt in your mouth' experience coupled with a unique taste. These favoured dishes hold a prominent place in the menus of many a fine dining restaurant due to their popularity. Sri Lanka, a country famous for its many curry dishes, has its curry edition of crabs as well. Of the variety of delectable versions of crab, Crab Curry is an exotic dish, which can be served for special occasions as a rich and flavoursome addition to the table. Families join together for Sunday lunches and where crab is served, heartily indulge in their meal for hours on end over lighthearted chatter while elbow deep in crab shells. It's a dish that requires time well spent.

Usually an appropriate dish for luncheons, it falls under the category of red curry (among other types, black, white, pepper and tempered curries) due to its intense red colour. This characteristic red colour is attributed to the addition of generous amounts of chilli powder or ground dried chillies. But for those who do not have a penchant or have a low threshold for the "hot" taste, the brilliant red paprika powder can be used to attain the authentic red colour and chilli powder added according to personal preference.

What you need

6 crabs
3 slices ginger
3 cloves garlic sliced
2 green chillies sliced
6 shallots sliced
¼ tsp turmeric
1-2 tsp chilli powder
1" piece cinnamon
2" piece pandan leaf
2 tomatoes peeled and chopped
125ml (1/2 cup) water
500ml (2 cups) coconut milk
2" piece lemon grass
6 curry leaves or 3 bay leaves
2 tbsp paprika powder
1 tbsp roasted curry powder
2 tsp salt

The ‘hot mix'

As in the case of eastern dishes the use of curry powder or the ‘hot mixture' is prevalent and is what gives curry dishes its distinct spicy flavour.

It comprises of a blend of ground spices and although readily available in market places in the present day, can be traditionally prepared from scratch with individual spices ground together to a fine powder in a coffee grinder. In case of roasted curry powder, used in this dish, the spices are first roasted before being ground.

Feature flavour

Lemon grass - referred to as "sereh" by locals, is a grass with a bulbous base and a distinct lemony fragrance.

The bulbous part of the fresh grass is used in meat and seafood dishes and confers a refreshing lemon taste to a dish. Primarily grown in South East Asia and South America, lemon grass is available fresh or as a powder. It can also be dried and stored for long-term use.

Hot Mix Spices

3 tbsp coriander seeds
3 tbsp cumin seeds
1 ½ tbsp sweet cumin seeds
2" cinnamon stick
10 curry leaves
10 cardamoms
10 cloves
½ tsp fenugreek
½ tsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp rice (washed and drained)
1 tbsp fresh or desiccated coconut
¼ tspn grated nutmeg or mace (optional)

The ingredients are roasted over a low flame in a dry flat pan starting with coriander seeds and the rest added in a sequence and stirred constantly till they turn slightly dark brown. The roasted spices can be stored whole to preserve their fresh flavour and ground when required.

Making of the Sri lankan Crab Curry

The crab is shelled, washed and drained and its claws mildly crushed to allow the curry flavour to seep into the meat.
The oil is heated and the shallots fried until they turn a light brown colour. Curry leaves, cinnamon, lemon grass, ginger, garlic and green chillies are then added and fried for several minutes.
To this fragrant mix, tomatoes, salt, paprika, curry, chilli and turmeric powders are added.
The crab is then added and stirred over a low fire after which 100ml or half a cup of water is poured into the mix and boiled for ten minutes.
The heat is lowered and the prepared coconut milk is added and allowed to simmer for another ten minutes.
Serve hot with a mound of rice, stringhoppers or bread.

Felicia Wakwella Sorensen is renowned for her expertise in Sri Lankan cuisine particularly in the preparation of curry dishes. Her skills sought after by hotels and restaurants all over the world, she has been instrumental in bringing Sri Lankan curries to the global culinary platform.


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    1. Ginger 2. Green chillies 3. Chilli powder 4. Turmeric powder 5. Roasted curry powder 6. Tomatoes 7. Cinnamon 8. Cloves 9. Cardamoms 10. Sliced pandan leaves 11. Lemon grass

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    Adding the coconut milk to the mix

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    A seafood delight – Sri Lankan Crab Curry ready to serve - The preparation of this particular recipe was conducted at Seafood Cove, Mount Lavinia Hotel solely for the purpose of photographs.

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