Crab pepper fry (Nandu milagu varuval)

Crab pepper fry is a South Indian (Tamil Nadu) seafood delicacy, infused with fennel seeds powder and black pepper powder, which makes this crab dish mouth-watering and packed with flavours. You can guess from the name itself, Crab pepper fry (Nandu milagu varuval), that it is peppery and hot. Crab pepper fry is not completely dry but is semi dry with thick gravy coated on the crab.

I have used nice, heavy and meaty blue crabs, which were cleaned by my fish monger. The crabs were halved after its two big claws were separated. Any crab dish at my home has to be special, as it cannot be eaten in a hurry. Crab is usually made only in weekends or in holidays. We also have to eat it carefully, otherwise its claws can hurt us. Recently, it has become my son's favourite seafood along with prawns, which has made the process tiring for his Dad as he now has to remove the meat, watch him eat, and then do the same for him. It takes time and patience, but well worth the effort. My crab pepper fry goes well with just plain white rice and rasam, but we just mix that very spicy hot masala with a squeeze of lemon on rice and enjoy.

Preparation time: 15 mins

Cooking time: 45 mins

Cuisine: Tamil Nadu

Spiciness: Spicy, hot

Serves: 3 to 4


  1. Crabs (blue crabs) - 2
  2. Oil – 5 tbsp
  3. Onion (medium, chopped) – 2
  4. Tomatoes (chopped) – 1 1/3 cup
  5. Cloves – 5
  6. Green cardamom – 5
  7. Cinnamon stick (3 inch pieces) – 2
  8. Ginger and garlic paste – 1 tbsp
  9. Green chillies (slit) – 3
  10. Chilli powder – 2 to 3 tsp
  11. Black pepper powder (freshly and coarsely ground) – 1 1/2 tsp
  12. Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
  13. Fennel seeds powder - 1 1/2 tsp
  14. Curry leaves - 25
  15. Salt - as per taste
  16. Water – 1/4 cup
  17. Coriander leaves (chopped) – 1/4 cup
  18. Lemon wedges


  1. Cut the crabs into half, separate the big claws and rinse thoroughly in water. Keep it ready.
  2. Take a wide vessel or kadai, add oil and when hot add whole spice, cloves, cinnamon and green cardamom. Let it splutter for 2 to 3 seconds and then add onion. Stir well and cook for 4 to 5 mins until they are translucent and soft.
  3. Add ginger and garlic paste, saute for 2 mins. Then add tomatoes and cook for about 3 mins.
  4. Add chilli powder, turmeric powder, mix well and cook for about 3 mins on a medium flame or until the tomatoes are soft and blended well with the onion mixture. If the spices are burning, add a little water and cook. You can close the lid and cook. Stir in between.
  5. Add crabs and mix well in the onion mixture. Add salt and water, mix again. Cook for about 2 mins on a high flame. Then close the lid and cook for about 4 to 5 mins until the crab shells turn pink.
  6. Open the lid, add curry leaves, 1 tsp black pepper powder (freshly ground and a little coarse), 1 tsp fennel powder, green chillies and mix well. Cook for about 3 to 4 mins on a medium flame. Stir the crab masala in between, so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom.
  7. You can see that the oil starts separating from the crab masala on the sides and this is when the pepper crab fry dish is almost ready.
  8. At this stage, check the seasoning and taste the masala. The crabs should be cooked and masala is well incorporated in the crab (the crab has absorbed the flavour). Add coriander leaves, stir for 2 to 3 mins and switch off.
  9. OR

  10. If you like the dish to be darker in colour as I do, then continue below.
  11. Add coriander leaves, 1/2 tsp pepper powder and 1/2 tsp fennel seeds powder and mix well.
  12. Simmer for 5 to 8 mins, with the lid closed. Stir in between. Switch off.
  13. Serve Crab pepper fry with plain rice and rasam. Alternatively, you can squeeze some lemon juice on the crab pepper fry and serve it with rice - it tastes yum.


  1. When using green chillies and chilli powder, the spiciness depends on how hot they are.So, adjust the amounts accordingly.
  2. You can avoid green chillies and reduce chilli powder, if you want, as it is quite hot.
  3. You can add a little water in the end and cook, if it is too dry or masala is getting burnt.
  4. The heat can be switched off, as soon as you get a semi dry consistency or fry type consistency for your crab pepper fry.