Vietnamese crab with tamarind sauce

I love reading cookery books, mainly to inspire rather than follow slavishly. Except when it’s a style of cooking that’s new to me or a cake recipe which generally needs the proportions of ingredients to be reproduced in balance with each other to achieve a good rise.


I’ve had time recently to catch up on some tv watching and have been enjoying a series from about 2009, Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey. Coincidentally, I was also given a copy of the book which a pal passed on to me. Serendipity or what? I was particularly interested in the first two chapters, Cambodia and Vietnam. They are not countries I’ve ever visited, and apart from an amazing vegetarian Vietnamese meal many years ago eaten with some friends on a trip to Melbourne,  I don’t know very much at all about the food.

I was surprised by the simplicity of some of the recipes,  using few spices or flavourings, but all looking like they would really pack a punch in terms of flavour.  My mum and I decided to cook together and after buying a huge cooked crab from the local fishmonger, we made this beautiful crab with tamarind sauce. When I make it again (and it won’t be long) I’ll use 2 or 3 large crab claws per person rather than whole crab as the type we get here was perhaps not the best suited to this dish. Much as I love eating with my hands and slurping, a lot of the meat in the body cavity was lost in the sauce during the brief cooking and the spindly legs were fun but don’t have a lot of meat. The flavour however was incredible and I’d imagine it would be great too made with large prawns or even scallops.

Ingredients (serves 2 generously)

  • 1kg raw or cooked whole crab, broken up into pieces
  • Vegetable oil for shallow frying
  • 1 tbsp tamarind concentrate
  • 2 tbsp Chinese rice wine
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped finely
  • 1 hot red chilli, finely chopped (or to taste)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of jaggery  (use soft brown sugar if you can’t get hold of it)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of fish sauce
  • Some crushed or ground white pepper
  • About three spring onions cut into 2.5cm lengths

If your crab is raw you’ll need to shallow or deep fry it for a minute or so until the flesh changes colour. Drain on kitchen towel.

We’re still picking the last few runner beans from our little garden

Mix the tamarind, rice wine and about 6 tablespoons of water together and set aside.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a wok or large pan. Add the chili and garlic and9 stir fry for about 30 seconds then add the crab, the tamarind mixture, the sugar, the fish sauce and the white pepper. Stir well,  cover and simmer for about 4 or 5 minutes.  Add the spring onions, cover and cook gently for another minute then put it all onto a large serving platter (we served straight from the wok garnished with more spring onion) and get ready to get messy and enjoy!


27 thoughts on “Vietnamese crab with tamarind sauce

  1. Tasty! I haven’t seen that Rick Stein series but will try to find it. The Management did say that Chalky would have been left behind to prevent becoming part of the menu 😂. Cruel man.

  2. It’ll be prawns for me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen crabs in our local fish shops. It will be an interesting shopping trip to track down some of the ingredients that I don’t have in my pantry.

  3. Oh Tanya – welcome to my world! Of absolute delight and nought is fancy nor fussy nor difficult to prep!! OK: from Down Under – ‘Chinese rice wine’ cooks just like dry or medium sherry; ‘tamarind’ comes in a variety of forms – just read how to reconstitute; I mostly use brown sugar . . . well, I would add another teaspoon of fish sauce . . . crab is delightful but any seafood really would do . . . have fun!!

  4. Absolute heaven on a plate for me! We might visit Vietnam and Cambodia next year – oh I do hope it comes to pass so I can venture down the road of foods I too haven’t enjoyed before.
    Have a glorious and happy week friend.
    Love from Nairobi.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  5. I saw this the other day but didn’t have time to stop by. 🙂 Sounds yummy! One for the son to cook, I think! Although I did manage an apple sponge and astounded myself as I never bake. Had to do something with all the apples from next door. 🙂

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