Vietnamese Tamarind Crabs Recipe

Prep Time:
1 hour
Bake Time:
20 Minutes

Vietnamese tamarind crabs pack a flavor punch with every morsel of sweet crab meat imbued with tang from the tamarind, heat from the bird’s eye chili, and umani from the fish sauce. 

Recipe By: Vy Tran of Beyond Sweet and Savory

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  • 4 pounds live rock crabs 
  • 2 tbsps olive oil 
  • 4 shallots, sliced 
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped 
  • 1/2 tbsp peppercorns 
  • 1 cup tamarind sauce 
  • 4 bird’s eye chilis, sliced and extra for serving 
  • ¼ cup basil leaves 
  • ¼ cup cilantro 

Tamarind sauce: 

  • 1 cup tamarind water 
  • ¼ cup fish sauce 
  • ¼ cup sugar 

Tamarind water: 

  • 4 ounces tamarind paste 
  • 1 cup boiling water 


  1. To make the tamarind water, soak the tamarind paste in boiling water for 5 minutes breaking up any chunks with a spoon. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Pass the mixture through a sieve to get the tamarind water. 
  2. To make the tamarind sauce, in a bowl whisk together tamarind water, fish sauce, and sugar until well combined. 
  3. To prepare the crabs for steaming, freeze the crabs for 1 hour to immobilize them. 
  4. Put the crabs in a large pot. Add about an inch of water. Close the lid and steam them for 8-10 minutes. Remove the crabs from the pot with tongs. Give them a rinse under cool water to clean all the debris off. 
  5. With the heat turned up to high, in a large wok, add the oil, garlic, scallions, and shallots. Saute over medium heat for 1 minute or until fragrant. 
  6. Decrease the heat to medium-high. Add the peppercorns and crabs and toss for 2 minutes. 
  7. Pour the tamarind sauce over the crabs and cook for another 3 minutes. 
  8. Add 2 tbsps basil leaves and chilis and cook for another 2 minutes. 
  9. Remove the crabs and transfer them to a serving plate. 
  10. Let the sauce cook on high heat for 10 minutes until it reduces and becomes thicker. 
  11. Pour the sauce over the crabs. Garnish with more basil, chili, and cilantro and serve immediately. 
Vy Tran
Saute Pan