I rarely go to Delhi anymore! Back when we moved to the suburb of Gurgaon over 12 years ago (yes it existed back then!)... there were precisely three places to eat out at. A mithai and chaat place (sweets and snacks!), a very sad little food court (well the perceptions of food courts 12 years back was a dining hall with counters of various cuisines, as various as Chinese, Indian, Mughlai and the unavoidable south Indian!). We would order the tandoori chicken from the Mughali counter and the Channa Bhatura from the Indian counter and eat the chicken with the bhatura’s (very popular fast food meal in Kuwait). The third was an obscure American Diner that opened in the industrial hub of Udyog Vihar way before it’s time! There was no way this joint could survive only on office lunch crowd. A crowd that swore by their moms or wives tiffins and found anything above Rs. 30 per meal preposterous. This place served curly fries and bacon and cheese burgers for godsake, in the heart of jatland! So we either went close by and ate garbage (it was!) or drove to Delhi for a decent meal. Eventually we had to find something in between, so I decided I would food shop in Delhi and make big meals at home. It has worked ever since.
We now have dozens of restaurants, fine dining, fast food, exotic cuisines, the works but I still head out to Delhi for the ultimate in shopping fun, to buy ingredients! So here I was in Delhi, just out of a pretty decent meal at Swagath in GK II (Delhi). We had a portion of fried pomfret, chicken chettinad and Kerala parota, all of which were good but!!! Yes, there is a but! The fried pomfret could do with less batter, I could barely taste the fish, not even the oiliest parts, the chettinad curry had too much raw pepper which is unusual for Malabar pepper, however the Kerala parota (that’s what they call it!) was superfluous. I like redemption factors like the ‘parantha’ was to this meal but all in all, it was a 5/10 and that’s sad for a place like Swagath. A part of me strongly believes some restaurants are better off as single entities, they can retain so much more for so much longer.
Back to the tandem of this story, I was in Delhi and like most blithering foodies, I was already contemplating dinner (secretly acknowledging that it would be better than lunch!). I was about 2 kms from my favourite fish market and I had Ashok with me (our man Friday, been with us for 25 years, awesome cook, safest chauffer we know, loving member of the Pratap family). Ashok is Bihari so he can super bargain and pick fish really well. I bought a kilo of gorgeous, silver, firm as hell mackarels, a whole red snapper and a kilo of tiger prawns (not size wise, that’s a bit of a myth, buy king prawns for size and tiger for the ultra flavoursome striped ones that are usually medium sized). Ashok bough Rohu (obviously!), Surmai fillets for dad and ended up talking me into picking up 4 beautiful, live crabs! On that drive back I had leftover chicken chettinad, Goan sausage (my lunch buddy’s present), crabs, prawns and 4 types of fish in the car. So when I got home Andy already knew of the loot and he had decided we will have crabs for dinner, which I had 40 minutes to make... I was late enough already!
Cooking crabs in curries is super easy. Don’t make things hard for yourself just get the fish guy to clean and cut. Get the guy to take the claws and legs off (Andy uses a wrench!) and leave the body whole. Make sure you wash them well, don’t leave them soaked in water. Always buy live crabs and cook them as soon as you kill or get them killed (hey that’s reality, let’s concentrate on how yum they will be!).
4 medium crabs, total weight 1400 gms
2 large onion, sliced thin
6 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 tbsp grated ginger
2 tbsp vinegar (palm vinegar would be great but apple cider vinegar will do)
1 ½ tsp cumin powder
1 ½ tsp coriander powder
1 ½ tsp red chilli powder
1 ½ tsp garam masala
1 ½ tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt (u can add more once the curry starts cooking)
3 tbsp cooking oil
3 cups of coconut milk, I use a litre of coconut milk, I use 4 sachets of Maggi coconut powder or 4 tetrapacks of coconut milk. If I am lucky to get dessicated coconut then I do four runs in the mixer to get enough for this dish)
Mix all the dry powders, the salt and sugar into the vinegar and keep aside. Heat oil and brown the onions, ginger and garlic. Add the vinegar paste (keep the heat low throughout) and mix well. Fry the masala for about 4-5 minutes and then pour in 2 cups of coconut milk, bring to a boil and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add the crabs, claws and all. Pour in the rest of the coconut milk, check the salt, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Serve piping hot with steamed rice and papads.
This is such a popular meal in our family that have a ritual, we cover the table or the bed (sometimes meals like this warrant rampant TV watching or a good movie!) with newspaper because we will be messy! Use the back of a spoon to break open the big claws, the legs are all chewy and the body is easy to break in half, just hold in both hands and break through the middle like a large cookie. Enjoy!