Wok-fried chilli crab recipe

Serve with bowls of warm water for guests to clean their fingers after cracking the claws
Serve with bowls of warm water for guests to clean their fingers after cracking the claws - Matt Austin

I once had a dish like this on a boat in Sydney, made with Australian mud crabs, but it works very well with our brown crabs. The more I make it the more it veers towards a Sichuan-style dish; Sichuan cuisine goes big on dried sliced chillies and fragrant Sichuan peppercorns but their presence is often for imparting flavour rather than to be eaten themselves (the heat would be too much for most palates). Here they are used generously but you don’t need to eat them all, just what you can tolerate!

You can start with a whole crab or just use crab claws (about 1kg) for this dish; either way, the pieces require cracking and picking at the table, so serve with bowls of warm water and lemon wedges for guests to clean their fingers.


Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 12 minutes




  • 1-1.5kg cooked crab

  • 2 tbsp rapeseed, vegetable or corn oil, for frying, plus extra for drizzling

  • 2 tbsp sesame oil

  • 2 tbsp sea salt

  • 2 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns

  • 3 tbsp roughly chopped or sliced dried red chillies

  • 2 tsp ground cumin

  • 50g root ginger, grated and finely chopped

  • 4 spring onions, chopped on the diagonal


  1. Set the crab on its back and twist off the large claws with your hands. Using a heavy knife, steak hammer or rolling pin, crack them just on the main piece of claw and at both joints to allow easy access when eating, but keep them intact.

  2. Remove the legs and set them aside whole.

  3. Using your thumbs or fingers to prise it apart, separate the crab body from the main outer shell. Pull out and discard the feathery gills from the body (known as dead man’s fingers).

  4. Spoon out the brown meat; you won’t use that here but keep it to use in a sandwich or on toast. The shell itself can be kept along with any other shells for flavouring a soup or sauce.

  5. Chop the main body into four pieces.

  6. Heat both of the oils in a wok or large deep frying pan.

  7. Add the crab claws, legs and body pieces and cook over a high heat with the lid on for 5 minutes. Then add the salt, peppercorns, chillies, cumin and ginger, along with another drizzle of oil, and cook for a further 5-6 minutes, stirring all the while.

  8. Lift out the crab pieces to a serving plate and add the spring onion to the pan. Cook for 30 seconds then scatter the pan contents over the crab and serve immediately.