Emirati Recipe: Boiled Crabs (Gab-goo-ba maa-fourd)

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Boiled Crab
Boiled Crab

I just LOVE-LOVE-LOVE crabs so was wonderfully surprised to see a crab recipe in Celia’s The Complete UAE Cookbook.

I’m not finicky (like my habibi) about using my fingers to dig out all the crabmeat goodness from the body and then licking my fingers at the very end (although I am mildly shy to do it in public unless everyone else is doing it). However, I’ve never prepared my own crabs before and was very excited to give it a go. I made this recipe in conjunction with the Emirati baked fish from last week.

About this dish, Celia writes:

This is a very seasonal modern dish using local crabs which are very tender. While crabs in city fish markets tend to be on the small side, those found on the east coast from the Gulf of Oman area, are much larger and sometimes tastier.

Crabs are in season for only four to five months of the year: the frozen variety may be substituted but the flavour may be lost in the freezing process. This dish is usually served in the evening as an hors d’oeuvre, and it is customary to eat it with the finger tips.

The shell and membranes are discarded before the legs and the body is opened and the flesh removed.


2-3 lbs (1-1.5kgs) crab
2-3 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon bezar
2 onions, chopped
5 whole loomi
1 teaspoon black pepper

I bought five nice-sized local crabs (0.695 kg) from Lulu hypermarket at 14.90 dhs per kg ($1.80 / lb). There were bigger crabs from Pakistan that the fishmonger was trying to sell me but I wanted to be true to the recipe so I opted for the local crabs.

I added all the spices and the chopped onion to a large stockpot filled with four quarts of water and brought it to a boil. I often wonder if I am supposed to do anything with the whole loomi before I throw it into the pot like prick it with a knife or fork to allow the flavors to come out better but the skin seems quite tough and for fear of injuring myself, I just leave it alone and throw it into the cooking untouched.

Crab Stock
Crab Stock

While waiting for the stock to boil, I washed the crabs but didn’t shell them as per the instructions. Even though I have watched my mom shell crabs countless times, I was really not looking forward to that part so was glad that I didn’t have to attempt the dreaded deed. For those who are interested, a nice demonstration on cleaning and shelling crabs can be found on Chef and Steward, another Dubai-based fooderati.

Once the stock came to a boil, I put the crabs in and simmered for 15 minutes. They turn red within a minute of being placed in the stock and I was worried that perhaps there was a typo in the recipe and that Celia meant 2-5 minutes instead of 12-15 minutes – but a quick Google search on crab boiling times quickly set my anxiety at ease.

Left: Uncooked Crab; Right: Almost Cooked Crab
Left: Uncooked Crab; Right: Almost Cooked Crab

After the crabs were removed from the stock and cooled, it was time to crack open those shells and and dig my fingers in! Celia says to discard the shell but some of the best parts of the crab can be found there as there is always tomalley hidden away on the sides of the shell that can be easily removed with a small spoon. And oh how I just love tomalley and I don’t care if other people think it’s gross!

Left: Cooked Crab; Right: Shelled Crab
Left: Cooked Crab; Right: Shelled Crab

I’m not sure if I was supposed to be able to taste the Arabic spices in the flavor of the crabs because I certainly didn’t. However, despite not tasting “Arabic,” the crab meat was sweet, tender, and delicious.

Scotch was at first apprehensive to try the local crabs and was worried that they would taste funny based on the stock I made but after a few pointers on how to best get the crabmeat out with his fingers, he eventually dug in and soon started to enjoy the taste and the experience. “Apprehension removed,” he said.

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Previous Emirati recipe: Baked Fish (Sa-mak bil fern)

Up next: Chicken and Rice (Machboos / Fogga)

Note: This post is part of my Cooking Local project

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  1. I love how fearless you are with your cooking. Live lobsters, crab! All things I love to eat, but am timid to prepare. Oh, and I heart tomalley too. It's the best part!

  2. LOVE THEM TOO, but not so bothered cleaning them myself 😉

    I still prefer chinese crab recipes, especially the dry chilli style (Kam Hiong)!