Weekend Recipe: Sri Lankan Crab Curry

Categories: Recipes

Sri Lankan style chile crab
Skiz Fernando is a musician, journalist, and cook who spent a year in Sri Lanka studying regional cooking for his book Rice and Curry, Sri Lankan Home Cooking. It's a refreshingly low-key collection of stories and recipes, and it includes this one for fiery crab curry that I am particularly looking forward to trying as crab boil season takes off.

Fernando learned how to make the dish from Leela, a woman who came from Sri Lanka's west coast to work for his family 32 years ago. His essay about Leela and the trip he makes back to her village as she goes into retirement is really moving, but we're also just grateful that he took notes while she cooked. You'll want to triple the recipe and invite a few friends over.

Kakuluwo Curry, or Leela's Chilaw Crab Curry
Skiz Fernando, Rice and Curry, Sri Lankan Home Cooking (Hippocrene)
Serves 4 to 6

5 large crabs
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 to 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper powder
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
about 1 teaspoon salt (to taste)
1 tablespoon raw rice
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 tablespoons shredded coconut
5 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, chopped
1 sprig curry leaves
1 tomato, chopped
2-inch (5-cm) piece pandanus (optional)
1 bunch murungu leaves (optional)
1 cup (250 ml) water
1 cup (250 ml) coconut milk
2 tablespoons tamarind fruit, soaked in 1/4 cup (65 ml) water


1. Wash the crabs thoroughly and remove the gills. Using a large knife, split them down the middle, cracking the legs so gravy can penetrate.
2. Toss the crabs with turmeric powder, cayenne powder, allspice, and salt. Set aside.
3. Roast the rice, peppercorns, and cumin seeds together. Remove and set aside.
4. Roast the coconut until brown, then grind with the roasted spices, garlic and set aside.
5. Heat oil in a medium-sized pot. Sauté onions, curry leaves, tomato, pandanus, and murungu leaves.
6. Add crabs and 1/2 cup of the water. Cover and steam over high heat for 15 minutes.
6. Combine rice mixture with the remaining water and coconut milk and add to pot. Stir
and simmer for 10 minutes.
7. Strain seeds from soaked tamarind and add liquid to pot. Simmer an additional 5
minutes so the gravy is dark and rich. Serve.

Got a question about an ingredient or technique here? Email Fernando directly.

For more food stories head to Fork in the Road or follow us on twitter. Find me at @tejalrao or trao@villagevoice.com.

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Auria Abraham
Auria Abraham

Absolutely beautiful.  My mother is from Sri Lanka so I grew up with this kind of cooking.  

Tejal Rao
Tejal Rao

Thanks for leaving a comment! I read some great recipes on your blog and noticed your local source for pandan leaves. Sharing it with our readers here in case they're hunting: Bangkok Center Grocery, 104 Mosco Street.