Cua Xào Me (Dungeness Crab Sautéed in Tamarind Sauce)

2 live dungeness crabs, about 1 1/2 lb-2 lb each 
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic 
2 shallots, thinly sliced
6 kaffir leaves, bruised
1 tablespoon julienned ginger 
1 purple or white onion, cut into wedges 
1/2 lime, juiced
a handful of Thai basil leaves, coarsely chopped 
For Sauce:
1/4 cup fish sauce 
7 tablespoons brown sugar 
3 tablespoons tamarind paste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 - 1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce 

Preparing Crabs

To make it easy to handle crab, I put it in the sink and pour on sink hot water.  Clean the crabs (I used a toothbrush to brush the body , claws, and legs of crab) and rinse thoroughly.   Twist off the 2 main claws from each crab. Set aside.  Flip up the apron (a triangle-shaped of shell on the bottom of the crab) and use your thumb to break it off at the back of the shell.  

After you pulled off the apron, you will see a small hole between the body and the top hard shell, at the back of the crab. Hold the crab with the head pointing upwards.  Pull off the top shell by sticking your thumb into the hole, and lift up the top hard shell firmly. You can also use an oyster knife to pierce down through the hole. Pull the handle of the oyster knife sharply towards the back of the shell to remove the shell from the body.

The liquid that will come out from the inside of the shell is called crab butter. Reserve the crab butter.  Using a small spoon to scoop out the brown and corals from the inside of the crabs into a bowl. Discard the shell if you don't want to use it for presentation. 

Pull the spongy, feathery inedible gills off from both sides of the body and discard them. The mandibles are the mouth parts at the front of the crab. Break them off and discard. 

Using a cleaver, cut the crab into quarters and slightly crack the claws.


Preparing Tamarind Sauce

Place all of the sauce ingredients into a bowl, whisk together.


Cooking Crabs

In a pot, heat the oil. Add the garlic, shallots, ginger, kaffir leaves, onion and cook until slightly golden and fragrant.

Stir in the crab butter.  Add crabs and mix it well. Cook for a minute and add the tamarind mixture. Constantly toss the crab to ensure crab pieces are coated with the sauce. Cover and cook at medium-low heat for about 6 minutes, stirring often. 

Add lime juice and basil leaves, stirring well. Cook for another 2 minutes.

Adjust the seasoning if needed. It should balance the sour taste of the tamarind, the lime juice, and the sweetness from the brown sugar and onion. 



It's finger-lickin-good kind of food so don't be afraid to dig in. The crab sauce can be eaten with steamed rice or a loaf of French bread. Enjoy!