Chettinad Nandu Masala– Crab Curry in the Chettinad Style

Serves 4 – 8

Just thinking about this amazingly rich and delicious crab curry makes my mouth water!  You would expect such a lip-smackingly yummy and complexly flavoured dish to be difficult to make with a long list of exotic and expensive ingredients.  However, this is a very easy dish to make and comes together in a less than half an hour.  The best part is that most of the ingredients, with the exception of the crab, would be found in a well-stocked pantry or fridge.  If you do not have or cannot find curry leaves, substitute a handful of coriander leaves.  It won’t impart the same flavour, but it’ll accomplish the task of adding a bold, green flavour to the dish.  The paste for the dish is something that can be called a ‘mother paste’ for Chettinad cooking.  You can use it as the base for many curries.  The Chettinad Shrimp Masala uses a similar base with the addition of coriander and tomatoes.  It’s an easy to make paste since it requires no cooking.  You just have to throw in all the ingredients into a blender or food processor and voila, the base for your Chettinad curries is ready.  The Chettinad district is in the Tamil Nadu state of India and is widely known for its delicious and aromatic cuisine.  The Chettinad style of cooking is famous throughout India for boasting some of the most sought after recipes and this crab curry is no exception.

This crab curry is thick and saucy with a beautifully balanced flavour that’s enhanced by the natural flavour imparted to it by the addition of the crab.  I’m using Dungeness crabs, but you can substitute with blue swimmer crab if this is not available.  Ensure that you crack the claws prior to cooking so that as much of the flavour from the curry can be absorbed into the succulent flesh.  I’m also using coconut milk instead of scraped coconut for this dish.  Scraped coconut is traditionally added to the paste, but I find that coconut milk makes not only a smoother curry, but also a much tastier one.  If you can, extract your own coconut milk for this dish as this brings out the tastiest results, but if you can only find canned coconut milk then that’s alright as well.  Do not use any other type of milk.  This is one of my absolute favourite dishes and it may just become your favourite so let’s get started.

Chettinad Nandu Masala– Crab Curry in the Chettinad StyleChettinad Nandu Masala– Crab Curry in the Chettinad Style Chettinad Nandu Masala– Crab Curry in the Chettinad Style Chettinad Nandu Masala– Crab Curry in the Chettinad StyleChettinad Nandu Masala– Crab Curry in the Chettinad Style

Chettinad Nandu Masala – Recipe


  • 2 large Dungeness crabs, cleaned, cut into quarters and claws cracked and separated (or 4 blue crabs, cleaned and cut in half)
  • 2 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 tsp. mustard seeds
  • ½ tsp. fennel seeds (optional)
  • 2 medium sweet onions, chopped
  • 2 tsp. ground dry red chilies
  • 1 ½ tsp. ground coriander
  • 3 tsp. good quality garam masala or biryani masala, divided
  • ¼ tsp. turmeric
  • ½ tsp. pepper
  • Salt, or to taste
  • 2 tomatoes, pureed
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp. tamarind pulp, seeds removed and dissolved in ½ cup warm water
  • 1 cup thick coconut milk
  • 1 tsp. fenugreek seeds
  • ½ – 1 tsp. sugar
  • Curry leaves, to garnish

In a blender or food processor puree the following ingredients together until smooth (add a little bit of water if necessary):

  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2” piece ginger, chopped
  • 1 sprig curry leaves, leaves separated and stem discarded
  • 4 – 5 green chilies, chopped


  1. Once the crab is cleaned and cut, sprinkle liberally with salt and set aside to marinate.
  2. While crab is marinating, heat oil in a large, heavy-bottom pan set on medium-high; add mustard seeds and fennel seeds and sauté until they start to splutter.
  3. Add onions and continue to sauté until soft.  Add the garlic/ginger/green chili/curry leaves paste and sauté until the mixture no longer smells raw, 2 – 4 minutes.
  4. Mix in the tomato puree and cook until the mixture comes to a boil.
  5. Reduce heat to medium and add the ground dry red chilies, 1 tsp. garam masala, coriander power, turmeric and pepper and sauté until most of the moisture evaporates and the oil starts to separate, 4 – 5 minutes.
  6. Add the crab and ensure that the masala coats the crab pieces well and sauté for about a minute.
  7. Add water, cover and cook for 5 minutes.  Uncover, add the tamarind mixture, mix well until combined, cover and continue to cook for another 5 – 6 minutes or until crab is cooked through.
  8. Add coconut milk, stir and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the rest of the garam masala, sugar, fenugreek seeds and cook for another minute.  Taste test and adjust seasoning if required.
  9. Turn heat to low and cook until desired consistency is achieved.  If you want a thin curry then 3 – 5 should be fine.  For thicker curry, leave on low heat for about 10 minutes and if you like it somewhere in the middle like me, then 7 – 8 minutes.

Chettinad Nandu Masala– Crab Curry in the Chettinad StyleChettinad Nandu Masala– Crab Curry in the Chettinad Style20140726_122144

Remove to serving bowl, garnish with curry leaves and serve with cooked white rice or pittu.  The extra time at the end the curry spends over low heat is what allows all the flavours to mingle, which makes for a supper yummy, finger licking good crab curry.  If you like Chettinad dishes, also try the Chettinad Chicken Curry as well.  For a thinner crab curry, try the Jaffna Style Crab Curry recipe or try both and see what you like.


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