The Filipino diet is rich in seafood to include shellfish and crustaceans. Crustaceans are commonly cooked with coconut milk. Most of the time, they are just steamed in their own juice or with beer or carbonated drink.
One of my favorite seafood dishes is the Crabs in Alavar Sauce. Zamboanga City, where I worked and lived for five years is famous for its dish called Curacha con Alavar Sauce. Curacha is a deep-sea crustacean found in the waters of Zamboanga, a peninsula in Southern Philippines, where amazing seafood abound. It is likened to a cross between a crab and a lobster with its bright reddish color be it cooked or raw. It is similar to the spanner crabs and red frog crabs found in the west coast of Australia. Alavar Sauce is another culinary highlight of Zamboanga. It is a delicious secret blend of coconut milk and spices served and sold in Alavar Seafood Restaurant.
I remember my first curacha con alavar in 2000 when I first visited Zamboanga City during my semestral break from college. The dish is so mouth-watering. Trained to be able to dissect the ingredients of a dish, just from tasting it, I tried to write the recipe for alavar sauce that year, not knowing that five years later, a colleague at Universidad de Zamboanga who has a friend who works at Alavar Restaurant will help me refine the recipe.
In this recipe, I won't be using curacha but rather king crab clusters.
- 2 clusters king crab legs
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup ginger, crushed
- 8 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
- 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 tablespoon curry powder
- 1 tablespoon annatto seeds (diluted in 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to extract the pigment)
- 2 large red chilies, chopped
- 1/4 cup crab roe paste
- 250 ml coconut milk (for making latik - coconut milk residue left when coconut milk is cooked until it turns to oil)
- 250 ml coconut milk (for the sauce)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Saute garlic, onions and ginger until the onion becomes translucent and soft, around 10 minutes.
- Add the turmeric, paprika, curry powder, oil from the annatto-oil mixture and fresh chilies. Add the latik, crab roe paste and coconut milk. Season to taste. Bring to a rapid boil. Lower heat and simmer for five minutes.
- Puree the sauce. (optional)
- Put the pureed sauce back to the pan. Add the king crab clusters and cook for around 10 minutes until the crab meat is cooked through.
- Serve over steamed rice.
- Serve over a bed of steamed bamboo shoots and spinach.
- Cook this dish with other vegetables such as bell peppers, carrots, spinach and bamboo shoots. My husband loves the veggies in this dish!
- Add some shrimp if in case you can't get enough of the crab meat!
Here's how to make latik:
1. Heat saucepan and pour in the coconut milk.2. Bring the coconut milk to a boil.
3. Stir the coconut milk until most of the liquid evaporate. This will take about 12 to 15 minutes per cup of coconut milk.
4. When the texture turns gelatinous, lower the heat and continue stirring. Oil should be separating from the milk at this stage.
5. Continue stirring until brownish residues are formed. Turn off the heat and place the latik in a container.