Huffpost Taste

Chili Crab

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Chili Crab

Chili Crab
Suet Chong
Provided by:
total prep
We came up with this sweet, sour, and spicy version of the crab in chili sauce you see all over Asia just before opening fatty Crab. And I'm happy to report our customers dug it, boldly grappling with the crab to get at the meat and sagely sopping up the sauce with toasted white bread. To reward this courage and wisdom, we switched from blue crabs to Dungeness crabs, which yield a better meat-to-effort ratio. Still, this dish is seriously messy, so when you eat it, don’t wear your good T-shirt.

Sambal is ubiquitous in Malaysian cuisine, served in bowls at the table at every meal to be spooned on everything but ice cream. The composition and flavor varies from region to region, and from cook to cook, though every version packs some fieriness form chilies. This fish-funky version is named for the ingredient that gives it its pungent backbone: belacan ("BLA-chan"), or dried shrimp paste. To make the sambal, you've got to toast the belacan. If you have an exhaust fan or oven hood, be sure it's on high.

Reprinted with permission from Eat with Your Hands by Zakary Pelaccio, 2012. Published by Ecco, an imprint of Harper Collins.


  • 2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
  • 3 shallots, thinly sliced
  • One 4-ounce jar crab paste, preferably Por Kwan brand
  • 1 teaspoon Sambal Belacan (see recipe below)
  • 1/4 cup sriracha sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons tomato puree
  • 3 tablespoons ketchup
  • 2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • Salt
  • 4 live Dungeness crabs, about 1 pound each
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 4 slices thick-cut white bread, preferably from a Pullman loaf, toasted and halved diagonally
  • 2 teaspoons belacan, toasted (dried and fermented shrimp paste)
  • 8 long red chilies, such as Anaheim or Hungarian Wax, stemmed
  • 5 fresh red Thai bird chilies, stemmed
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed and peeled
  • Juice of 1 to 3 limes
  • Sea salt


  • MAKE THE SAMBAL BELACAN: Use a mortar and pestle to pound the toasted belacan, chilies, and garlic to a coarse paste, pounding each ingredient thoroughly before adding the next. Add lime juice to taste and season with salt to brighten the flavors. Store the sambal, covered, in the refrigerator. Bring it to room temperature and freshen it with more lime juice before you use it.

  • MAKE THE GARLIC-GINGER PASTE: Use a mortar and pestle to pound the ginger, garlic, shallots, and crab paste to a paste, pounding each ingredient thoroughly before adding the next. Then add the sambal belacan, pound again, and set the mixture aside.

  • MAKE THE SRIRACHA LIQUID: In a mixing bowl, whisk together all the ingredients, from the sriracha through the tomato paste.

  • Bring a large stockpot of salty water to a boil. Rinse the crabs well (they should be lively) under cold running water. Drop the crabs into the pot and cook for exactly 5 minutes, starting the timer the moment the water returns to a boil. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the crabs to a rack to cool.
  • When they’re cool enough to handle, put them on a cutting board. Using your thumb and forefinger, pull off the flap on the underside of each crab (pluck off any little gill bits too) and discard them. Then use a large chef’s knife to cut each body in half. Rinse the bodies under running water as you remove and discard the entrails. Use the back of of your knife blade (the dull side) to gently crack the claws. Transfer them to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.

  • Heat the peanut oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic-ginger paste and cook, stirring, until aromatic, about 3 minutes. Add the sriracha liquid and bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and stir to let some of the heat dissipate. Wait another 30 seconds or so and add the butter, piece by piece, stirring constantly. When all the butter has been added, slowly drizzle the well- beaten egg into the pan, whisking constantly to incorporate smoothly. The chili sauce should be thick but pourable, like gravy.
  • Add the crabs to the chili sauce and toss them so that they’re well coated.
  • Put two crab halves in each of four serving bowls. Pour some of the steaming hot chili sauce (enough to coat the crabs generously) into each bowl. Sprinkle each with a good handful of the cilantro leaves. Serve with toast triangles to soak up the sauce you leave behind after scarfing up the crabs.