Jaffna crab curry

Jaffna crab curry

My Feast
Chris Chen

Now that the civil war is over in Sri Lanka, the people are returning to claim their ancestral land. On Delf Island, despite the ravages of war, not much has changed and the people continue to celebrate their food traditions. There I found a wonderful lady who taught me how to make the best crab curry on the planet. The time and effort she spent in grinding the coconut was praiseworthy. Her paste was incredibly toasty and rich. If you don’t have time to grind the paste by hand, a blender does the job nicely.


Quantity Ingredient
2 live mud crabs
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1/2 cup freshly grated coconut
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, ground
1 golf ball-sized piece tamarind pulp
400ml coconut milk
50g ghee
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 red onion, sliced
1 sprig curry leaves, leaves picked
3 small green chillies, finely chopped
1 tablespoon jaffna curry powder, (see glossary)
1 tablespoon red chilli powder
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
500ml water
drumstick leaves
1/2 lime, juiced
salt, to taste
coriander leaves, to garnish


  1. Put the crabs in the freezer for 1 hour to immobilise them or in a bucket of iced water for 15 minutes. Pull off the top shells, pull out the spongy grey gills and remove the guts. Chop the crab into 6 pieces and crack the large claws but leave them a ached.
  2. In a dry frying pan over medium heat, toast the cumin seeds, coconut and pepper until the coconut is golden. Grind to a smooth paste using a large mortar and pestle or in a blender and set aside.
  3. Combine the tamarind and coconut milk in a small bowl and mix until it forms a thick paste. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, extracting as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids. Set aside until ready to use.
  4. Heat the ghee in a large heavy-based saucepan over high heat, add the mustard seeds and cook until they start to pop, then add the fennel seeds and cook until they are lightly toasted. Add the onion, curry leaves and chilli and cook for a few minutes or until the onion is golden.
  5. Add the curry powder, chilli powder and turmeric and mix in. Add the crab and cook for 3 minutes. At this stage you need to stir it a lot so the spices don’t burn. Add the coconut paste, stir and add the water. If the curry is too dry, add more water. Cover and simmer for 12 minutes or until the crab is just cooked through and the sauce has thickened.
  6. Add the tamarind liquid, stir through and bring back to the boil.
  7. Remove from the heat, stir in the drumstick leaves and lime juice and season with salt. Garnish with the coriander to serve.
My Sri Lanka
Island Feast
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