Spicy crabs

As a teenager I’d take weekend trips to Kemari jetty for a night-crabbing cruise with friends. Once out of the harbour, we would throw lines in and “fish” our crabs for dinner. The boatmen then served up a feast of fresh “tawa” (pan) cooked crabs with red chilli masala mopped up with naans. The rustic presentation and simplicity of the spices is deeply etched in my mind, and though the boatmen would never share their recipe, I have created this from memory.

First make the ground spice blend by grinding the bay leaves and red chillies with the cumin and coriander seeds in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle until finely ground.

Heat the oil in a sauté pan with a lid over a medium heat. When hot, add the garlic and stir-fry for 2–4 minutes until light brown. Add the ground spice blend with the lemon juice and stir-fry for 2 minutes until the oil begins to rise to the top. Don’t let the garlic and spices burn – you may need to add a few splashes of water to prevent this from happening.

Add salt to taste and the Kashmiri chilli powder and cook for a further 2–3 minutes. Add the steamed crab and stir through. Cover with the lid, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and heat through for 3–4 minutes, not any longer.

Garnish with lemon wedges and chopped coriander leaves, and eat with naan.

tamarind tree smallFor more recipes by Sumayya Usmani, see Summers Under The Tamarind Tree, Recipes & Memories From Pakistan, Frances Lincoln, out now.

By Sumayya Usmani

Serves 2–4


  • 2 bay leaves
    2-3 dried red chillies
    1 tsp each dry-roasted cumin and coriander seeds
    3-4 tbsp sunflower oil
    2 garlic cloves, crushed
    Juice of 1 lemon
    Salt, to taste
    ½ tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
    1 crab, humanely killed by your fishmonger, steamed and claws detached
  • To garnish
    Lemon wedges
    Fresh tender coriander leaves with stems, chopped

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