Shen’s Singapore Chilli Crab

We’re moving towards warmer weather, which means prawns, bugs and crabs. It’s time to start thinking about the Christmas dinner table, about what you’re going to cook that’s different. We have access to the most succulent mud crabs in Queensland, so here’s an idea how to cook it. I’m going to put aside my North Queensland ways of tossing cooked crab meat in a salad with slices of avocado and mango with a simple orange dressing to try something spicier: Singaporean chilli crab.


Chilli crab is one of Singapore’s greatest culinary achievements, listed by CNN as one of the ‘World’s 50 most delicious foods’. Crab smothered in a spicy chilli-tomato gravy, the dish is traditionally eaten with bare hands (and who cares about the mess), diners crack the shell with their bare hands and pick out the juicy meat. Then they mop up the gravy with doughy buns.

Few would realise that the dish has a relatively short history. In 1956 Cher Yam Tian, who had spiced up steamed crabs for her husband, began selling them to Westerners from a cart (and later a restaurant) on the East Coast of Singapore. Although the recipe has changed over the years with the addition of fresh chilli and egg, it’s just as popular as when it was first created.



International guest chefs Adrian Lee from Hong Kong and Shen Tan from Singapore chose crab as their dish of choice at the recent Taste of Tweed Festival.

Chef Shen Tan @MadamTans cooked Singapore crab with a lighter, healthier twist. Here’s her recipe (according to my notes).

Singapore Chilli Crab


1 mud crab cleaned and broken into pieces

Vegetable oil


3 large red onions

4 cloves garlic

2cm ginger

2 tbs sambal belachan (a blend of shrimp paste, chilli and lime)

1 tbs Coriander powder

1 stalk curry leaves

1 tin chopped tomatoes (400g)

Sauce (mixed together)

2 tbs sweet chilli sauce

2 tbs ketchup

1/2 tbs light soy

2 tbs fish sauce

1 tbs sugar

1 tbs Chinese rice wine vinegar

1 tsp sesame oil

1/2 cup chicken stock

1 tbs hsiao hsing wine

2 tsp corn starch (make a slurry)

1 egg (beaten)

3 stalks spring onions for garnish



  1. Prefry the crab in oil in a wok until the shell turns red, but the crab is not quite cooked all the way through.
  2. Fry the rempah in oil until fragrant and the blend splits. (Onions, garlic and ginger are the Singaporean equivalent of mirepoix, Shen says. The shrimp paste gives an important umami element to the flavor, not just the taste of salt. Extra rempah can be refrigerated for a week or so, or frozen until needed.)
  3. Add tin of chopped tomatoes and fry till softened and reduced.
  4. Add sauce ingredients to the rempah and add the pre-cooked crab.
  5. Add corn starch to sauce then beaten egg.
  6. Turn onto a platter and top with chopped spring onions as garnish.