Singaporean Chili Crab Recipe

Hard-shelled crabs are cooked in a flavorful sweet, salty, and spicy tomato chili sauce.

A platter of Singaporean Chili Crab.
Yvonne Ruperti

You can't visit Singapore without rolling up your sleeves and diving into a plate of iconic chili crab, Singapore's unofficial national dish. Crabs are served in a huge puddle of tomato sauce that's sweet, spicy, tangy, and often thickened with egg. Though the shells have been pre-smashed, you've got to dig in and use whatever tool you can find, like chopsticks or fingers (tiny forks are not handed out here) to suck out every morsel of succulent, sweet crab. Bibs? I've never seen one. This is not a first date kind of a dish.

Chili crab was created in Singapore in the 1950s by Cher Yam Tian. After experimenting in her kitchen for family and friends, her crabs became a hit, and her family opened their first restaurant, Palm Beach Seafood. Since then, the dish has become a staple on menus across Singapore, from hawker centers to fancy restaurants.

In Singapore, dining out on chili crab can be expensive, and we all know you're never going to get your fill on a meal of crab (except at the awesome Chinese buffets I'd frequent back in upstate New York where I'd stuff my face with snow crab legs). Cooking crab at home is totally the way to go. In Singapore, we use mud crabs from Sri Lanka, but any other crab should work, even soft-shell. Making this dish at home allows you to adjust the sweetness/heat level, and the rich seafood flavor that comes from cooking the crab right in the sauce is unparalleled to any I've had in a restaurant.

Recipe Facts

3.5

(16)

Active: 15 mins
Total: 15 mins
Serves: 2 servings

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Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon (8g) cornstarch

  • 2 tablespoons (30g) water

  • 7 tablespoons (104ml) peanut oil

  • 2 to 3 whole shallots, minced (about 1/2 cup)

  • 1 1/2-inch knob ginger, grated (about 2 tablespoons)

  • 6 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 2 tablespoons)

  • 4 whole Thai chile peppers, minced

  • 2 whole Mud or Dungeness crabs (about 1 pound each), prepared (see note)

  • 2 cups (500ml) homemade or store-bought low sodium chicken broth

  • 1/4 cup (66g) tomato paste

  • 1/2 cup (125ml) hot-sweet chili sauce (see note)

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, to taste

  • 1 teaspoon sugar, to taste

  • 1 large egg, beaten

  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions

  • 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves

  • Rice or steamed buns to serve on side

Directions

  1. In small bowl, whisk cornstarch with 2 tablespoons water; set aside. In large wok with lid (or Dutch oven), heat oil over medium heat until shimmering. Stir in shallots, ginger, garlic, and chiles. Cook and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.

  2. Add crab pieces and broth. Increase heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Cover loosely and gently boil (decrease heat if necessary), until crab has turned red and is nearly cooked through, about 6 minutes.

  3. Remove cover and stir in tomato paste and chili sauce. Simmer 1 minute and season to taste with salt, sugar, or chili sauce. Stir in cornstarch mixture and bring to a boil to thicken.

  4. Remove from heat and whisk in egg. Stir in green onions. Ladle into serving dish, sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

Special equipment

Large wok with lid or Dutch oven

Notes

Notes: Crabs need to be rinsed well, cleaned, and cut into pieces. Check out this video by Sydney Fish Market on how to do it, or get your fishmonger to do it for you. I keep the creamy part inside the top shell for the extra crab flavor it lends to the dish. If using a wok with a lid, make sure it's supported well on the stove.

I used ABC brand hot chili sauce. I found that I didn't need to adjust my seasoning, but you may want to adjust so it has a balance of sweet, salty, and heat from the chiles.

Take care when eating the sauce—it may have bits of shell!