Crab Claws with Mae’s Alavar Sauce
Crabs claws in a aromatic, mildly spiced with coconut milk and crab paste sauce.
What is Alavar Sauce?
The recipe is inspired by a dish from Zamboanga in Mindanao, Southern parts of the Philippines. Locally the dish is known as ‘Curacha con salsa Alavar’ or Curacha in Alavar sauce, it’s made with Spanner crabs and coconut sauce with crab fat and spices. This dish was invented by Maria Teresa Camins Alavar and is available at their Seafood restaurant in Zamboanga. Maria also sells sauces and are sold all over the Philippines. The recipe for the sauce is a well-kept family secret so we can only assume what it is in the sauce, that being said, this dish is a variation to the traditional dish ‘ginataang curacha’ spanner crab in coconut milk. Which has less ingredients and different colour but equally tasty.
“Zamboanga’s cuisine is rich, its offerings a melting pot of flavors with Spanish, Malay and Muslim influences. Though its fare is not much different from that of the rest of the country, its local ingredients and cooking techniques make it unique” said Lifestyle Inquirer
I wanted to make my own version that I can share to my friends and family (of course to you too!). I thought it turned out very well! My girls are not a fan of seafood but they like this, I think that win win! haha!
Let’s talk about ingredients
I used crab claws because I saw them in Billingsgate and though wow I gotta cook that for myself! Alternatively you can use prawns or any shellfish you want. If you want to make it with some fish, that is also a good ingredient to use. I would probably fry the fish first but you don’t have to do that. You can also use prawns and a whole crab if you like.
Annatto or achuete is a popular ingredient in Filipino cuisine, it’s not necessary as it’s more for aesthetics rather than flavour. It’s a natural red colouring which you will see in many Filipino cooking. It comes in a powder or seeds. If you find annatto seeds you can make some annato oil. Please find the instructions below.
Using a pestle and mortar, I pounded the spices like ginger, garlic and turmeric for the flavours to come out even more while cooking. I crushed the lemongrass too! I didn’t pound the onions as it makes me cry but you can pound that too if you can handle it.
I couldn’t get hold of crab fat in the UK so I substituted it with crab paste that I bought from Waitrose. You can use any crab paste available to you.
Lastly I used chili pepper but you can use any chili available to you and you can make it hotter or not have any chili at all, it’s really up to you on how you want to make this that suits your palate, make it to suit your taste and the people you are serving the dish to.
How to make Annatto or Achuete To make annatto oil, heat 1 cup of oil (or coconut oil) and 80-100g seeds. You can lessen the amount of oil if you want to have a more tense red colour in the oil. Leave it cook for 10 minutes on low heat, strain the seeds and keep the oil in a container.
How to make annatto oilHeat 1 cup of oil (or coconut oil) and 80-100g seeds. You can lessen the amount of oil if you want to have a more tense red colour in the oil. Leave it cook for 10 minutes on low heat, strain the seeds and keep the oil in a container.
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Using a wok or a large pot, heat some oil and cook onions for 2 minutes. Add ginger, garlic, lemongrass, turmeric and cook for 3 minutes.
Pour coconut milk, annatto mixture, add crab fat, salt and ground pepper. Mix them well and bring it to a boil.
Turn the heat low and add the crab claws. Pour some sauce over the claws, leave it simmer for 20 minutes with the lid on. Every so often, pour more sauce over the crab while simmering so that the flavours will go inside the shell into the crab meat.
Using a tong, take the crab claws out and place them in a serving dish leaving the sauce still in the wok to reduce for 5 minutes.
Turn the heat off, pour the sauce over the crab clause, garnish your dish (if you want) and it’s ready to serve.