As my plane landed in Darwin on a recent holiday, I couldn’t wait to try making one of the local traditional recipes: Chili Mud Crab. Mud crabs (called “muddies” by locals) are found in the estuaries and mangroves of the Northern Territory and are known for their huge claws, which produce ‘bucket loads’ of tasty meat. The crab that I used for my dish weighed about 2.6 pounds (1.2 kgs).
Darwin’s food is highly influenced by Asian flavors due to its proximity to Southeast Asia, therefore giving birth to dishes such as Chili Mud Crab. One interesting fact: during the gold rush of the 1880’s, there were more Chinese living in the Northern Territory than European-born people!
To prepare your Chili Mud Crab (you could also use Blue Swimmer or Dungeness crabs) , you first need to remove the legs and claws from the crab’s body, then crack the claws open at several places to make it easier to eat the meat later on.
Remove legs and claws from crab’s body
Next, place your thumb underneath the triangular-shaped abdominal flap and lift off the bottom part of the crab’s body. You will now see the crab’s spongy lungs; remove these and any of the ‘gooey’ roe.
Remove the spongy lungs from the body
Chop the crab’s body into four sections using a cleaver. Then, chop the onion, chili, garlic and ginger and you’re now ready to assemble the dish in a wok or large pot.
For the final assembly, sauté the veggies in hot oil in the wok or pot, then add the tomato purée, chili sauce and white wine. Pop the crab pieces into the wok, cover with a lid for about 10-15 minutes on medium-low heat until the meat is cooked and the crab shells turn red. Garnish with coriander (cilantro) and prepare to get your fingers a little dirty as you eat!
I loved visiting Darwin with the balmy tropical air, the Asian influences and the proximity to national parks such as Kakadu and Litchfield. I was sad to leave Darwin and the beautiful sunsets, however I will return again one day to make more dishes using their wonderful mud crabs!
- 1 Mud Crab, segmented (or other type of fresh, uncooked crab)
- 2-3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, diced
- 2 tbsp ginger, diced
- 1 red chili, seeded and diced
- 2 cups (500 ml) tomato purée (passata)
- 3-4 tbsp chili sauce
- ¼ cup white wine
- Coriander (cilantro)
- Separate the crab into pieces; first remove the claws and legs of the crab by twisting and pulling them from the crab’s body. Using a cleaver, separate the claws at the elbow joint then crack them open in several places to reveal the meat.
- Lift the abdominal flap on the underside to open the crab’s body; remove the ‘spongy’ lungs and clean the roe from the shell. Using a cleaver, chop the body into quarters. Set all body parts aside.
- Set the wok or large pot over high heat; add the olive oil and sauté the onion, garlic, ginger and chili several minutes until soft. Reduce heat to medium and add the tomato purée, chilli sauce and white wine; let simmer for several minutes. Add the crab pieces and turn with a spatula until all pieces are fully coated with the sauce. Cover with a lid and let cook for at least ten minutes until the crab meat is fully cooked and infused with the chili sauce. Garnish with coriander (cilantro) - goes well served on a bed of rice.
- Adjust the seasoning to your individual taste- if you like more heat, add more chili or chili sauce to your liking.