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Seasons’ Eating: Gulai Ketam dan Nenas (Crabs and Pineapple in Spicy Gravy)

2012 September 27

By Amri Abuseman

Fishing Boats

Petaling Jaya, Malaysia – Greetings from the other side of the world!  I have been here in Malaysia for nearly two weeks and am still trying to adjust to the heat and humidity.  While here, my family and I have been traveling to the northern coastal regions of the country to visit our extended family members, and sample food from those regions.

In general, fish and seafood are abundantly available and are the main source of protein.  Before refrigeration technology came along, fish and seafood were all consumed fresh.   Leftovers are turned to long-term sustenance by drying, pickling or fermenting to produce cooking ingredients like shrimp paste, fish sauce and shrimp crackers.

On the east coast of Malaysia one can still find traditional fishing villages and I was lucky enough to visit one this time around.  The fishing season for small-scale fishermen is from March until late October before the northeastern monsoon hits. These days the traditional perahu (boats) have been replaced by lighter and faster versions made from fiberglass and packed with an outboard motor. But, like the fishermen of old they still head to sea as the sun rises over the horizon.

The first idea that came to mind when I saw Karleen’s Whole Wheat Peach and Pineapple Muffins was to share my family’s recipe for Gulai Ketam dan Nenas (Crabs and Pineapple in Spicy Gravy).  Pineapples are grown locally in Malaysia and available year-round.  The crabs used in this recipe are flower crabs (portunus pelagicus), found in the coastal areas around Southeast Asia.  Shrimps or dried salted cod (bacalao) can be substituted in this recipe.

The local markets here are one-stop-shops where you can get both wet and dry ingredients, all of it extremely fresh.  For example, coconut milk, a staple in Southeast Asian cooking, is freshly grated and squeezed on request.  In addition, you can also get prepared foods like nasi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk served with hot chili sauce), fried noodles and traditional cakes at the markets for breakfast.

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Gulai Ketam dan Nenas (Crabs and Pineapple in Spicy Gravy)

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

Yield: 5-6 servings


  • 6 large crabs (cleaned and cut in half)
  • 2 medium pineapples
  • 4 onions (pureed)
  • 3 shallots (thinly sliced)
  • 2 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)
  • 4 Tablespoons of fish curry spice mixture (coriander, chili, cumin, tumeric, fennel, fenugreek, pepper)
  • ¾ cup coconut milk
  • 5 green chillies (for garnish)
  • 4 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Water

Cooking Directions

For the pineapple

  1. Peel the pineapple and remove the thorns.  Then, slice the pineapples into slices 2 inches thick.
  2. Add two cups of water to a pot with the sliced pineapples and cook until the pineapples are soft (about 15 minutes).
  3. Drain the water and leave the pineapples to cool.

For the gravy

  1. In another pot, heat the vegetable oil and add the sliced shallots and garlic.  Sautée until they turn golden yellow.
  2. Mix the fish curry spice mixture into a thick paste with 5 tbsp water.  Add the paste to the pot and stir.  Then, add the pureed onions and simmer for 15 minutes.
  3. Add two cups of water to thin the gravy and bring it to a boil.
  4. Add the crabs to the gravy and cook until they turn red (takes about 10 minutes).
  5. Add the cooked pineapples and coconut milk and simmer for 10 more minutes.
  6. Finally, add the green chillies for garnish and simmer for another 5 minutes.

This dish is usually served with rice, enjoy!

Gulai Ketam dan Nenas