Chettinad Pepper Crab Masala

Chettinad cuisine is known for its aromatic, tasty and spicy non-vegetarian dishes in South India (Tamil Nadu). Lip-smacking Chettinad Pepper Crab Masala is a treat for all seafood lovers with its freshly ground spices that liven up your senses. 

Chettinad cuisine is one of the spiciest cuisines in India and brilliant varieties of delicacies. The preparation and presentation is simple with a complex blend of well-balanced authentic flavors. The fiery base or gravy is best served in a dry like gravy, as the moisture content reduces sufficiently to intensify flavors. 

The ingredients used in this Chettinad Pepper Crab Masala imparts a unique flavor with all the freshly ground spices and the aromatic fresh curry leaves. This gravy enhances the taste and  nutritional value of the crab itself. 

Crab contains incredible health benefits as it's packed with nutrients, essential fats, and minerals that our body needs to function normally. From selenium, omega-3 fatty acids to protein and vitamin B is a good addition to your diet. The combination of ginger, garlic and pepper along with crab also treats cold and throat infections. For more health benefits of crab please click here.

Most of the chettinad cuisine non-vegetarian dishes are eaten with rice or rice based accompaniments such as Dosa, appam, idiyappam and idli. This Chettinad Pepper Crab Masala is a perfect dish to enjoy when combined with steamed rice. Their meals are also accompanied with sips of buttermilk to tone down the heat. Trust me this combination will take you straight to the foodie heaven if you have a spice loving palate. 

The toughest part is keeping your hands clean as you eat it. Plenty of napkins is recommended, please no cracking tools. Indians use their strong teeth to crack the shell and fingers as tools. The more messy the better for you to enjoy this finger-licking crab masala is the right way to relish it thoroughly and leisurely. 


Category:Main, Gravy
Cuisine: South Indian (Chettinad)
Level: Medium
Spice: High
Serves: 4

Nutrition Facts
Servings 4.0
Amount Per Serving
calories 282
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 14 g22 %
Saturated Fat 5 g26 %
Monounsaturated Fat 5g
Polyunsaturated Fat 2 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 140mg47 %
Sodium 861 mg36 %
Potassium 640mg18 %
Total Carbohydrate 8 g3 %
Dietary Fiber 3 g10 %
Sugars 3 g
Protein 30 g60 %
Vitamin A10 %
Vitamin C24 %
Calcium2 %
Iron11 %
* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.

1. Crab/ Nandu- 1.5 pounds
2. Red Onion (finely chopped) - 1 large
3. Tomatoes (finely chopped) - 2 nos
4. Ginger - 1 inch
5. Garlic - 4 cloves
6. Chilly powder - 1 teaspoon
7. Turmeric powder - 1/2 teaspoon 
8. Coriander/ Dhania powder - 2 teaspoons
9. Chettinad Masala or Garam Masala - 1/2 teaspoon(check notes)
10. Mustard seeds- 1/8 teaspoon
11. Black Peppercorn - 1 teaspoon
12.Cumin seeds - 1/2 teaspoon
13. Coconut (grated or sliced) - 1/2 cup 
14. Curry leaves - 2 strands. 
15. Salt to taste
16. Oil - 2 tablespoons
17. Water - 1/4 cup

Chettinad Masala:
1. Cumin seeds - 1/4 teaspoon
2. Fennel seeds - 1/4 teaspoon
3. Cardamom - 2 nos
4. Cloves - 4 nos
5. Kalpasi (stone flower) - 2 nos
6. Maratti mokku (dried flower buds)  - 2 nos


1. Wash the crab thoroughly (Check notes) and pat dry.

2. In a dry pan on low heat, add all the Chettinad masala ingredients and roast for few minutes until it releases aroma. Cool and grind to a powder consistency.

3. In the same pan on medium heat, pour in 1 tablespoon of oil. Once heated, add peppercorns and cumin seeds to splutter. Add ginger, garlic, chopped onions and saute until translucent.

3. Add turmeric, chilly, coriander powder and the freshly ground chettinad masala to the above and give it a good stir.

4. Now add the chopped tomatoes and cook until wilted. Remove from heat and cool. To this add the grated coconut and grind to paste for the masala. 

5. In the same clean pan on medium heat add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, once heated add the mustard seed and 1/4 teaspoons of peppercorn to splutter. Add 1 strand of curry leaves and the masala paste. 

6. Cook it stirring occasionally until it turns brown. Gently drop the crab and stir for the masala to coat well onto the crab. Cover with a lid and cook for 10-15 minutes.

7. The crab tends to ooze out the moisture, you may add few spoons or approximately 1/4 cup of water if required to prevent from burns. Cook until the moisture evaporates and to see a gravy consistency.  Crab takes approximately 10-15 minutes to cook depending on its size. Add remaining 1 strand of curry leaves as garnish and remove from heat. 

8. It is best served hot with steamed rice, roti or idly.


1. Wash the Crab and remove unwanted gills if any and rub well with turmeric and rock salt to clean. I always have the outer shell and internal parts removed. Remember the meat is white and remove anything that is discolored. Wash again with clean water and pat dry with a paper towel. I also like to pull off the legs and claws for the crab meat to absorb the masalas more efficiently.

2.  You may substitute the Chettinad masala with garam masala but it will have subtle change in flavor. Roasting the whole spices in low heat helps draw out fat-soluble flavor compounds and triggers complex reactions that improves their aroma.

3. Some crabs tend to be a little salty so watch out for your salt quantity. You may reduce the spice level by reducing the chilly powder quantity.


  1. Looks so tempting Amudha. Love the pictures.

  2. I love crab especially south indian style. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I was looking for this recipe. Glad I found yours, will keep you posted on the outcome.


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