Credit: Earl Carter

Grilled mud crab with curry butter

David Moyle is a chef. He is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.

Credit: Earl Carter

I was lucky enough to recently find myself on an immense cattle station in the Gulf of Carpentaria with a group of friends.

This particular station runs Brahman cattle, the seemingly naturalised breed that is in abundance in the north. Curiously, this breed amounts to just a very small percentage of domestic consumption. Observing the practice of land management in this unique climate, with effectively zero soil input and very gentle herd management, made me wonder why it isn’t more popular, if only from an ethical perspective.

We camped, fished, hunted and gathered among the broad biodiversity that existed on the property. As it was the end of the wet season, there were huge and complex river and freshwater systems teeming with barramundi, mussels, crazy birdlife and mud crabs.

Anyway, mud crabs!

The most common way to dispatch crustaceans is to plunge them straight into the boiling pot. There are two major issues with this – they suffer badly and also in the stress they tend to shoot their legs off as a defence mechanism and absorb the water. Crabs have a complex central nervous system and it has been proved a myth that putting them into boiling water is humane.

The best way I have found is to place them in a freezer for one hour before turning them on their back and pulling the tail flap out to expose the central meeting point with the “sternum”. I then punch a sharpening steel into the chest to no deeper than two centimetres. It’s a completely unscientific approach but the result speaks for itself.

Wine pairing:

2017 Mallaluka riesling, Canberra district, ($27) – Mike Bennie, wine and drinks journalist


Serves 4

  • 2 live mud crabs
  • 10ml grapeseed oil
  • 2 shallots (minced)
  • ½ tsp Keen’s Traditional Curry Powder
  • 20ml fish sauce
  • 100g cultured butter
  • 30ml lemon juice
  • salt
  1. Once the crab has been dispatched as described, cut the body through the centre line between the legs. Remove the head shell – with a movement from back to front is best and cleanest – before removing the gills and gut. The “mustard” is the yellow-coloured paste-like substance in the body, effectively the liver. Retain this by removing it gently with a spoon. Pull the claws off and you should be left with four parts – two sections of leg and the two claws.
  2. Place the claws first onto a gentle heat over a grill and keep rolling them around for five minutes, ensuring the heat is evenly placed. Then add the legs to the grill as these will cook faster. All up, the crab should need to cook for about 12 minutes.
  3. While the meat is resting prepare the sauce. Place the “mustard” into a pot and cook in the oil until it begins to melt. Stir regularly.
  4. Add the shallots for one minute before adding the curry powder and the fish sauce. Then add the butter in small quantities at a time until it is all emulsified. Finish with the lemon juice and season with salt.
  5. Crack the claws using a mallet or your favourite novelty crab crackers. I find this dish is best eaten directly by picking the meat as you eat it. Use the sauce as you desire, either by slathering it on top of the meat or by dipping as you go.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 1, 2018 as "Up for crabs".

For almost a decade, The Saturday Paper has published Australia’s leading writers and thinkers. We have pursued stories that are ignored elsewhere, covering them with sensitivity and depth. We have done this on refugee policy, on government integrity, on robo-debt, on aged care, on climate change, on the pandemic.

All our journalism is fiercely independent. It relies on the support of readers. By subscribing to The Saturday Paper, you are ensuring that we can continue to produce essential, issue-defining coverage, to dig out stories that take time, to doggedly hold to account politicians and the political class.

There are very few titles that have the freedom and the space to produce journalism like this. In a country with a concentration of media ownership unlike anything else in the world, it is vitally important. Your subscription helps make it possible.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

Use your Google account to create your subscription