Masak Lemak Ketam

by Aida Azizuddin Photography Riz Ainuddin on Wed, February 25, 2009

Crabs are one of those things you have to work for. So it's all the sweeter when you attain the juicy flesh. This gravy is rich and savoury with a spicy edge, an absolute perfect mate for a crab's sweet meat

Get into it with your hands and suck

I suppose you can call it Crabs cooked in Spicy-Coconut Gravy. Now everyone in my house likes, no loves crabs. My sisters when they come visiting thinks they've hit paydirt if I'm cooking it the day they mooch. Both my sons can eat it for lunch and dinner. Even my daughter who does not like seafood, sits for ages at the table cracking and sucking crabs. I, myself like the surprise of cracking it's tough shell and see if I've hit the flesh jackpot. When I eat it, I eat it on it's own. You just need to get into it with your hands. Best giler.

A crab that is bursting with soft, sweet flesh is one of life's simple joys.

I guess it's a big deal because as an everyday dish, it's not that commonplace. Most people opt to go out to enjoy crabs or think it's a bit too fussy to cook it at home. But it's actually really easy to cook with crabs and a 'masak lemak' gravy is the perfect complement for it.

So get yourself to the market and pick up some flower crabs or 'ketam bunga'. This type of crab is great for home-cooking as it's easier to get and has a softer shell so you can crack it with your teeth. It's about RM18-RM20 a kilo, cheaper than stone crabs or 'ketam batu'. These are the usual crabs you find at a restaurant. They have harder shells and more flesh.

Flower crabs are better for this dish because the flesh is sweeter and the meat more delicate.

Stone crabs have a more solid flesh and for a lack of a better word, are 'crunchier' and more filling. Because you probably have to crack and pound it with a crab hammer, it's also better with a thicker sauce because with a watery gravy like masak lemak you'll get sprayed. So back to the recipe. You need a pot with a lid. This feeds four but in my house it feeds two so just double up if you need a bigger portion.

3 flower crabs
2 red onions
3 cloves of garlic
2 cm fresh turmeric
½ inch fresh galangal
20 bird's eye chillies
1 stalk of lemongrass
1 turmeric leaf
3 pieces assam gelugur (dried tamarind)
200ml coconut cream
1½ tablespoons brown sugar (optional)
2 tablespoons oil

Blend onions, garlic, chillies, fresh turmeric and fresh galangal with some water until you get a pale yellow paste.
Heat oil and fry paste until fragrant (pecah minyak)

Put in lemongrass (that has been bruised), dried tamarind and turmeric leaf and stir it in
Add brown sugar and after that is well mixed, pour in the coconut cream
Let it simmer for 5 minutes then put in the crabs, add salt to taste
Close the lid so that the sweetness of the crabs will infuse the gravy
Let it steam and simmer for 10 minutes


Crabs are done when the gravy is bubbling and crabs turn red.

The gravy should be a rich yellow colour and the smell when you lift the lid should make you want to tear through the crabs like a starving animal.

Eat it while it's hot with white rice and some sambal belacan.

Chef Says:

If you like your gravy to be less thick, then add another 100ml of coconut milk to the gravy.

To determine if a crab is fresh, sniff. If it smells fishy then it's not fresh.

Choose a crab when it's at it's heaviest, this means it's got lots of flesh.

Build a relationship with your seafood seller. They will inform you if the pickings are slim and might even set aside some fat crabs for you if you frequent their stall often enough.

So how do you get the most out of your crabs? I say just practice and you'll get the hang of it. All my kids wanted to eat it so badly, they learnt to do it themselves in no time. I was too busy eating to bother extracting it for them.


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