This Coconut Crab dish is one of my mom's specialties, It is mildly spiced and tangy from the Kokum- a kind of tamarind. It is mouthwateringly good and a childhood favourite. This recipe is common among Kerala households and is often made with prawns or the flaked white flesh of other fish like tuna or seer fish.
My mom always made this whenever she chanced upon fresh crab from our neighborhood fishmonger who would drive up with an icebox perched precariously behind his moped. Crab and Kari-meen (Pearl spot fish) were in high demand, and so we were always aware of the extra-special-ness of a lunch with either of these on the table!
She would usually make it the same way each time. Poaching the crab in a little warm water in which sour Kokum was soaked to infuse it with it's tangy flavour. The water was evaporated to ensure that every bit of the tanginess was absorbed by the crab, usually in a wide, shallow clay pot ( mann chatti) reserved for cooking seafood, that also imparted it's rustic earthiness.
|Kokum- used like tamarind to impart sourness usually in seafood dishes|
This process of cooking is termed Pattichathu, where delicate seafood is cooked in a little amount of flavorful liquid until all the liquid is absorbed and evaporated. She then stirred the tender meat gently, along with coconut, tempered spices and curry leaves over a low flame so that the flavours danced together harmoniously.
When I saw crabs at my neighborhood grocery store I was suddenly filled with all the memories surrounding my mom's crab dish and a deep craving for it, so I immediately decided to make it. Halfway through wheedling the flesh out of one crab and my hands were scraped red. I decided I didn't have to do everything exactly like my mom did, and left the rest of the flesh intact to crack open at the dinner table, which was actually kind of fun! The rest of the process is quite simple and you can make this with any kind of fish by flaking the meat, and is especially delicious with tiny shrimp. It is also one of the most magical things you can do to a can of tuna, along with this, although of-course it is most excellent with crab.
A new friend, the very lovely Jean from Lemon and Anchovies had been cooking with crab too, and I couldn't wait to see what she would make with it, especially since she mentioned homemade pasta and fried Meyer Lemons! To see what Jean made with her crabs go to her beautiful blog here. Isn't it great how one ingredient can be cooked in so many delightfully different ways? Never ceases to amaze!
Update: I thought this recipe deserves an illustration! ( Click to enlarge)
Njandu Peera Pattichathu ( Crab Shredded and Poached)
- Crab meat -1 pound or 500 gms of meat
- Kokum ( Kodampuli) – 3 pieces ( A kind of tamarind, available in Indian stores, else substitute with a marble sized ball of regular tamarind, if you can't find either, just squeeze some lemon before serving for some tang)
- Turmeric powder – 1/4 teaspoon
- Red chili powder – 1/2 tablespoon
- Grated coconut – 1 cup ( If using frozen shredded coconut like I do, thaw for about a minute in the microwave)
- Fresh ginger, peeled and grated – About an inch (Do not use store bought ginger paste instead, omit it if you have to)
- Thai green chillies slit in half – 6-10
- Warm water for poaching the crab and soaking Kokum- 1 cup for fresh crab (1/4 cup if using cooked crab)
Also if you are not used to spicy food, please reduce amount of red chilli powder and green chillies to suit your tastes
For the tempering:
- Coconut oil – 1-2 tbsp
- Mustard seeds - 1 tsp
- Cumin seeds- 1/4 tsp
- Garlic pods, each sliced in half – 8
- Small Pearl onions or Shallots– 3-4 (sliced thin or use half of a red onion instead chopped fine)
- Dried Red chillies – 3 ( or 1 tsp red chilli flakes)
- Curry leaves- 8 ( Optional, avaliable in Indian grocery stores. Do not substitute with curry powder)
- Sprinkle salt to taste
If you are using uncooked crab meat, soak the Kokum in about a cup of warm water in a pot or saucepan ( but preferably an earthernware mann chatti).
If you are using already cooked crab use less water, only about 1/4 cup, just enough to cover the Kokum pieces in a small cup.
Soak the Kokum until it softens and the water turns a brown colour- about 15 mins
Now add all the ingredients including crab meat with the kokum water and stir gently together- just to flake up the flesh a little.
Turn on the heat to a medium and bring the liquid to a gentle boil.
Cook, stirring very occasionally till all the water has evaporated
In a separate pan or skillet, heat the coconut oil and just before it begins to smoke, add the mustard seeds and wait for all of them to finish popping.
Cover with a lid to prevent the seeds from popping all over your kitchen!
Once it begins to slow down to just a few pops, add the cumin and stir until it turns brown and no longer smells raw. Careful not to burn or blacken them.
Add the garlic and lightly brown it, then the onions and golden brown them too.
Add the chilli powder and curry leaves together and switch off the heat just as curry leaves begin to stiffen up.
Now add the crab mixture to the tempering in the pan, salt to taste, and stir gently on low heat until the dish is completely dry and flavours are well combined.
Enjoy with rice and spiced buttermilk ( recipe follows)
Tastes best the day it's made.
For the spiced buttermilk
1 cup yogurt
1 cup water
3-4 fresh thai green chillies chopped
salt to taste.
Stir in a little water at a time into the yogurt whisking with a spoon constantly to make buttermilk ( or just use store bought buttermilk- which is usually a little more hard to find than yogurt)
Stir in the green chillies and enough salt to taste
Serve chilled or at room temperature, pouring over rice or drinking as is.
Although traditionally served with rice, I think this crab dish also tastes great with salad and a soft boiled egg. Even though this dish may sound complicated, the part that will take the longest is the shelling of the crab, and you can just use crab meat instead or even most white, flaky fish as mentioned above. Everything else is quite easy.