March 25, 2021

Recipe: Chilli blue swimmer crab

For a hands-on Easter feast this year, pile platters high with beautiful South Australian crabs – the spicier the better – along with finger bowls, napkins and plenty of ice-cold wine.

serves 6

Tomato sauce
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1-2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 stems basil, leaves removed and saved
1 long, mild red chilli, finely chopped (adjust to taste)
6 anchovy fillets, roughly mashed with a fork
1 x 680g jar tomato passata
6 ripe tomatoes, blanched, peeled and chopped
1 each red and green chilli, cut in half lengthwise
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 green (raw) blue swimmer crabs
Olive oil, for cooking
Chilli oil, purchased or homemade
Reserved basil leaves

To make the tomato sauce, place the oil, garlic and basil stems in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook for 1-2 minutes without allowing the garlic to colour. At this stage, add the chopped chilli and mashed anchovy and continue stirring until all the anchovy has melted.

Add the tomato passata and the chopped fresh tomatoes and simmer gently for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. After about 15 minutes, add the halved chillies. Have a taste and season with salt and pepper. Set aside. The sauce can be made a few days beforehand and kept, covered, in the fridge. 

It’s best to prepare the crabs over a sink. Raise the triangular flap on the underside of the crab, pull it across and over to take off the outer shell and discard. Thoroughly clean the body, removing the feathery gills. Repeat with the remaining crabs. 

Using a large knife or scissors, cut each crab down the middle. 

Cook the crabs in a large, wide-based saucepan in the warmed oil over medium heat. Increase the heat to high and stir vigorously. Continue cooking until the crab starts to turn an orange colour.

At this stage, remove the basil stems from the tomato sauce, and add sauce to the crabs over medium heat. Cover the pan. The crab will take about 25 minutes to cook and gradually change to a bright orange colour.

Using tongs, take the crabs out and place on a large serving platter. Ladle over enough sauce to coat, then drizzle over some chilli olive oil and reserved basil leaves to serve. Serve with finger bowls on the side.


This recipe first appeared in the November 2018 issue of SALIFE magazine.

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