Jaffna Crab Curry

Jaffna Crab Curry in a Le creuset pot.

I was born in an Island – Sri Lanka; where I lived close to the beautiful, sun-bathed ocean. Growing up, seafood was a big part of my diet. Weekend rituals were, when my father went to the local fish-market and bring home the fresh catch of the day. Mom would clean and cook a feast of a seafood meal. Crab has been my family’s favorite. On the weekends when Crab was brought in, there was excitement in the house. The meal preparation was festive, and everyone was looking forward for the special meal.

My mom would start with a very traditional stew called “Odiyal Kool. It is similar to a seafood chowder; but with rich earthy flavor. Odiyal Kool is made from Palmyra-Sprout flour, and an assortment of seafoods, where Crab took the center stage. This was followed by a late lunch of Rice and special Crab Curry. Eating Crab is a complicated process for many including myself. But I had the privilege of eating the Crab meat without any hard work back then. My mom would sit and get all the meat out of the shell, while making it look so easy. Once you get into the habit of enjoying the delicate taste of the Crab meat and Crab curry, there is no turning back.

Since I am currently quite far away from an ocean or a warmer climate, the craving for this curry has grown even stronger. Whenever I have the luxury of finding Ocean Blue Swimmer Crab (previously frozen) at a local super market, I get so excited to make this Curry. It is about time I share my most favorite, most requested curry of all time – The Sri Lankan Crab Curry – Jaffna Style.

I have made this curry for my family and friends and everyone just simply fell in love with it, including my husband who was never a Crab curry fan before. Now I got some competition in the house for the last one in the dish.

Ocean Blue swimmer crab on a tray.

As much as we are going to go discuss about the key ingredients to make this curry, prepping the Crab itself is very crucial. First, we need to clean the Crab by removing the shell. Turn the Crab to its underside and pull the apron which will help you remove the front shell off easily. You can use the tip of a fork to easily lift the apron-part off. Then go ahead and remove the gills . See pictures below for reference. After that you need to snap-off the tip of the legs as well as the fins. This step is crucial, to getting all the juicy gravy and the flavors absorbed into the Crab meat. Remember Crab meat is sparse in that shell and we do not want to waste anything that is left edible. If you are using Frozen Crab that comes packed in a box: most of the time it will come well cleaned. Just make sure that the gills, tip of the leg and fins are trimmed. You can trim the ends by simply twisting and pulling it off with bare hands. No tools required.

how to clean a crab/ ocean blue swimmer crab.

Now let’s talk about the three main ingredients for this recipe; Curry Powder, Grated Coconut and Moringa leaves. If you do not have all the ingredients available, don’t you worry. You can still make this curry with my tried and tested substitute recommendations.

Ingredients for the crab curry. Moringa leaves, Coconut milk, spices, jaffna curry powder.

I use Jaffna Curry powder for this Crab Curry recipe which is a special mix of spices that is famous from Jaffna – a town in northern part of Sri Lanka. Jaffna Curry powder is like an all-in-one curry powder. It includes dried Red chili as well as all the other spices like Coriander seeds, Fennel, Mustard, Cumin, Fenugreek in different proportions. The specialty of the Jaffna curry powder is that the spice level is tailored for each individual household. You can perfectly switch it up with the regular Curry powder with the addition of Red chili powder to make this curry. Gotta warn you though, the end result will be different. But I can guarantee you that it is still worth your time and effort.

The next ingredient is Coconut. Grated fresh coconut or frozen is used to thicken the curry as well as to give the curry an earthy flavor. You will be roasting the grated coconut in a saucepan until you get it to a golden brown color. You know you got it to the right state when you start smelling a strong, sweet, nutty aroma floating in the air. Add in some dry spices, then it is time to grind it into a thick paste. We will be adding this paste into the curry when we are half-way through the cooking. This addition not only is going to make the curry extra special but unique too. You do not want to skip this step.

Roasted coconut and spices grounded using a Mortar and pestle.

Finally the Moringa leaves. Moringa leaves have an abundance of healthy benefits. It is the new superfood-kid in town. But it has been used for many years in tropical countries for medicinal and dietary needs. It is said that: adding Moringa leaves to the Crab curry, reduces the body-heat that could be resulting from consuming a high protein shellfish diet. I myself do not have access to Moringa leaves often. I have made the Crab curry with and without Moringa. It doesn’t change the taste significantly. It is meant for the after effect. If you are not using Moringa leaves, just make sure that you drink plenty of water afterwards on that day.

Cleaned and trimmed Blue swimmer crab inside a Le Creuset pot ready for cooking.

Once you have all the ingredients gathered and ready; it all comes together in one single pot. Did I tell you, like most of the seafood dishes, this Crab curry cooks really fast.

Red Le creuset pot with blue swimmer crab ready to be cooked into a curry.

Before you know it, you will be floating in the aroma of a mouthwatering Crab curry in your house. Since the Crab curry is so flavorful, I personally serve the Crab curry with a side of rice and salad. But you can also add in some mild curries like a lentil curry, or kale stir fry.

Jaffna crab curry served with side if rice, lentil curry and Gotu kola sambal.

Adjust your salt and spices before you finish off the cooking. This curry also can be made quite dry or wet depending on your preference by adjusting the amount of liquid you use (Water+ coconut Milk). I am personally a medium gravy kinda girl. I like some gravy with my Rice for lunch. Then I use the leftover curry for supper with some Bread/ Pittu/ Roti. Just to warn you though, this curry falls under a spicy/hot category. But, hey, it is not a rule. Like I always tell you – you are the boss of your kitchen. You can adjust the spice level based on your level of spice tolerance.

Jaffna crab curry in a Red Le Creuset Dutch oven.

Crab Curry

Serves 6 – 8 | Prep-time 15 mins | Cook-time 30-40 mins


  • 6 Medium size Blue Crab.
  • 1/2 Cup of Fresh Grated Coconut.*
  • 1 tsp Fennel Seeds.
  • 1 tsp Fenugreek Seeds.
  • 1/2 tsp Mustard Seeds.
  • 2 Tbsp of Tamarind Pulp.
  • 2 1/2 Cups of Water, divided.
  • 2 Green Chili Pepper.
  • 2 Medium Sized Onion, Sliced.
  • 3-4 Cloves of garlic Sliced.
  • 3-4 Tbsp of Jaffna Curry Powder.*
  • 5-7 Curry Leaves.
  • 1 – 2″ Pandan Leaf (Rampe).
  • 3/4 Can of Coconut Milk.
  • 1 Cup of Moringa Leaves.*
  • Salt to Taste.


  • Clean, trim the Crab and wash few times in clean water.
  • Take a large, heavy bottom pan. Place all the cleaned Crab inside the pot and keep aside.
  • Take a saucepan, add in the grated coconut and roast until it starts to turn into light golden brown color (6-8 minutes)
  • Add in the dry spices – Fennel Seeds, Fenugreek Seeds, Mustard Seed to the roasted coconut stir and roast for 2 more minutes. Take the saucepan off the stove, transfer the mixture into a bowl to cool down. Then using a food processor/Mortar and Pestle, grind them to a fine paste. Do not add any water.
  • Take a small bowl, add 1/2 a cup of water. Soak the tamarind for a few minutes to make the tamarind water/paste.
  • Slice Onion, Garlic, Green Chili into thin slices and add into the Large Crab Pan. Add in the Curry leaves and Pandan leaves as well.
  • Now add the Jaffna Curry Powder (or Curry Powder + Red Chili Powder), Water, Coconut milk, Tamarind water, Salt into the pan.
  • keep the pan on the stove in medium setting. Cover it with the lid.
  • After about 15 minutes into cooking, add in the Coconut mixture and continue cooking for another 15 minutes.
  • Now taste-test for salt and finish the curry by adding in the Moringa leaves (optional).
  • Serve and enjoy.


  • Blue Ocean Swimmer Crab / Blue Crab works well for this recipe. You can slice the Crab into 2 pieces or can cook it as a whole. I usually decide it based on the size of the Crab and the meal I am planning to serve it with. You can try making this recipe with other varieties as well e.g., Snow Crab.
  • You can use Fresh grated Coconut / Frozen grated Coconut. You can also use Unsweetened desiccated Coconut. If using desiccated coconut, soak it in 2-3 tsp of water for few minutes before roasting it.
  • Jaffna Curry Powder can be replaced with Regular Curry powder. Substitute by using a combination of 1 Tbsp of Curry powder + 2 Tbsp of Red Chili Powder. You can adjust the Chili powder measurement as per your level of spice tolerance.
  • Moringa Leaves is optional which can be removed from the recipe.
  • General idea on the amount of liquid needed to make the curry: (Water/Tamarind water/ Coconut milk) you need your liquid ingredients to submerge the Crab. If you need more of a wet curry, you can add in some extra water.

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