Chili Curacha Pasta


I have mentioned before that my husband’s family hails from down south our little archipelago. From a lovely city called Zamboanga to be exact. I’ve been there twice before, the first time carrying with it the particularly happy memory of getting engaged. It is a place not often visited by the average local tourist, who you will most often find in one of the idyllic beaches in the Visayas region (the middle portion of our islands). But Zamboaga City holds many charms for those who venture onto her doorstep.

Zamboanga City is sassy jewel cozily ensconced between sea and mountain, which in my book is the most enviable position for a city to be in. It has a pristine island off its coast whose shore is the palest pink. Remnants of Spanish rule cling sultrily at every corner. More than any place that I have visited in the Philippines, it is really Zamboanga that has the atmosphere of an old colonial stronghold. You can feel it in the air, taste it in the cuisine, and hear it in the language – a Spanish-Filipino patios called Chavacano.

And it is home to curacha, a deep water crab particular to the region. Its bright red-orange shell (which remains the same whether live or cooked) and large, slightly hairy body may look a tad monstrous to some, but all I see is the moist, sweet meat within.

This curacha was a much-appreciated gift from my father-in-law, flown in to us from Zamboanga. C picked up the cooler from the airport and rushed home where little C and I made quick work of its bindings. I couldn’t imagine how little C would react to these creatures but the hyper-exaggerated combination of excitement and terror made me kick myself for not taking out my video cam.

When we are gifted with these prime specimens we usually have some simply steamed and work at them tirelessly with our hands until every last bit of meat is in our tummies. There were so much of them though, and a couple were just huge, so I decided to pick the meat off a few and freeze it for later use. This pasta dish was the result of some of that meat…a splendid result!

Chili Curacha Pasta

  • 250-300 grams linguine
  • Olive oil
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 400-gram can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes (more or less depending on how spicy you like it)
  • 250 grams curacha meat (or any crab meat)
  • 100 ml heavy cream
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • Optional: greens for garnish – I used wild rocket but I think basil would work well too.
- Cook the linguine as per package instructions (don't forget to salt the pasta water!). Save some of the pasta water.

- While the pasta is cooking, heat a couple of generous glugs of olive oil in a pan.

- When the oil is hot add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions are soft and translucent.

- Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and chili flakes, and stir. Let this cook for about 10-15 minutes, until some of the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes are thick and pulpy. Add a couple of swirls of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and let this cook a couple minutes more.

- Add the crab meat and stir. Cook this for another 5 minutes or so until the meat heats through and the flavors meld. Taste and adjust seasoning. If that sauce looks like it’s drying out add some pasta water.

- Add the cream and stir. Cook for a minute or so and adjust seasoning on final time.

- Toss with the cooked pasta noodles, adding the sauce a little at a time. You may have some sauce leftover. Alternately you can serve the noodles and sauce separately.

Unlike most crabs, whose best meat is in its claws, the curacha’s meat is concentrated in its body. I still remember the first time I tried one and it seemed like every time I hungrily poked my fingers into its body more and more meat came out. The meat itself is sweet and soft and absolutely delicious.

This is a simple crab pasta with chili, tomato, and cream…made just a little more special by using our beloved curacha. I threw in some wild rocket at the last minute to add a touch of green. Adjust the chili to suit your taste and feel free to experiment with the greens/herbs you use. I am thinking of making a version with fennel…what do you think?

I still have some of the picked curacha meat in the freezer and I am just itching to use it. Any suggestions? :)