Having a severe case of homesickness over the weekend, I decided to attempt re-create one of my favourite Philippine Dishes. Crabs with “Alavar Sauce” . I am sure that outside the Philippines there aren’t many people familiar with the Alavar sauce. Some bloggers have referred to it previously, here and here. It’s a thick coconut gravy made with (I believe) roasted coconut milk and “secret” spices.
The recipe for this sauce is even more guarded than any national security secret so it was difficult to know where to begin recreating it. I decided to keep it simple and stick with the basic ingredients found in most Philippine cuisine – of course there was the “holy trinity” – onion, garlic and ginger and then coconut milk. Not just any coconut milk, but it had to be made from roasted coconut. And from there I added a few bits and pieces and came up with something pretty close -not yet there but just as delicious!
Note: For this recipe I made my own roasted coconut milk. Halfway through the process, I found myself muttering that I would never do it again. If you find the process below too tedious, don’t do it. Simply substitute with 250 ml coconut milk. But trust me, it is well worth it.
Procedure for Roasted Coconut Milk: It was a bit of a struggle because you first have to crack open a mature coconut (we call it niyog in the Philippines, it is the one with the brown outer shell). Once open you then have to crack the coconut down even further by placing it in a plastic bag, covering it with a tea towel and bashing as hard as you can with a hammer. Then, you have to try and pry the coconut pieces away from the shell (I used a sharp knife but I really would not recommend it because you can easily get hurt and I have battle scars on my hands to prove it). Once you have your meat, grind it through a food processor until coarsely ground and then toast over a pan, stirring constantly until it begins to release a fragrant coconut smell and starts to turn golden brown.
Return the toasted coconut to the food processor and add around 1 cup of hot water and grind until very fine. Place a sieve covered with a muslin over a bowl and pour the coconut on the sieve. Squeeze the muslin to extract as much milk as possible. This is called the roasted coconut milk.
Recipe (serves 2)
- 2 spanner crabs, cleaned
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons crushed ginger
- 2 tablespoons crushed garlic
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
- 2 large red chilies, chopped
- 250 ml roasted coconut milk
- 250 ml canned coconut milk
- salt and pepper to taste
- Heat the oil and saute the onions over medium heat until translucent and soft, around 10 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and saute until fragrant, a minute or two.
- Then add the turmeric and fresh chilies. Add the roasted coconut milk (if using, otherwise, add a total of 500 ml regular coconut milk) and season to taste.
- For a smoother sauce, blend using a hand held stick blender. This is optional.
- Lastly, add the spanner crabs and cook for around 7 to 10 minutes until the crab meat is cooked through.