Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I am Curacha (con salsa Alavar)

title
As I can see in the comments of my last post, a bunch of you already guessed that my crustacean visitor was a curacha from Zamboanga. It’s always a thrill to see such passion for local crustaceans. I’d love to give out prizes but I hope you will all be happy with a virtual-pat on the back for now…PAT-PAT :)

So yes, this not-so-little beauty is a curacha! (I have to point out here that many find this crab to be horrible-looking and scary, but that is a matter of perspective I think) It’s a very popular deep-sea crustacean found in the waters of Zamboanga, a province in the southern part of the Philippines, where spectacular seafood abound. It is likened to a cross between a crab and a lobster. Whether raw or cooked, it’s this brilliant reddish color. They say that curacha can only be found in the waters around Zamboanga, however, it seems that they are either the same as, or at least related to, the spanner crab or red frog crab that can be found in east and west coasts of Australia. Whatever the case, they are delicious and I am happy to share their provenance with my friendly Australian neighbors :)

I first tried curacha during a trip to Zamboanga in 2005 to visit my then-boyfriend’s (now-husband) hometown and, much to my surprise and delight, also to get engaged! Although the proposal was the highlight of the trip, the awesome seafood was also part of the wonderful experience that is Zamboanga. I am a big lover of crustaceans so I was eager to try the much-talked-about curacha and it did not disappoint. Unlike most crabs whose majority of meat can be found in their claws, the mother-load of the curacha’s meat is found in its body (although the claws also have meat). This one pictured here easily fed C and I to nirvanic fullness!

This fellow (and three of its siblings) arrived on our doorstep care of my father-in-law, who sent them from Zamboanga. He boils them fresh from the market over there, then freezes them and sends them to Manila. To say I was excited to receive them is an understatement. As I happily re-packed them in Ziploc bags (one in each gallon sized bag!), I already had the perfect way to prepare our first one. Another of C’s generous relatives gave us a kilo of Alavar sauce. A popular culinary highlight of Zamboanga, Alavar sauce is a deliciously secret blend of coconut milk and spices served and sold in Alavar Seafood Restaurant. Curacha with Alavar sauce is a dish not to be missed when visiting Zamboanga, a veritable institution really, so of course I had to prepare my first curacha this way.

title
Curacha con salsa Alavar*
  • 1 large curacha, boiled until just done (do not overcook!)
  • 500 grams Alavar sauce (approximate – depends on how sauce-y you want your dish…just a tip, the extra sauce is amazing on steaming hot rice!)
  • 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1-2 pieces sili pangsigang (long green chili – other chilis can be used, just adjust to your own heat factor)
  • Vegetable or canola oil

- Chop curacha in 2-4 pieces (first slice in half lengthways, then cracking it widthways is easy…which you can opt to do or not). Remove “lungs” (those weird finger-like things you also find in other crabs) and discard. Set crab pieces aside.
- Heat oil in a large wok or kawali. When oil is hot add garlic, onions, ginger, and chilis and sauté until onion is translucent.
- Add Alavar sauce and sauté for a few minutes until flavors meld and sauce is bubbling a bit.
- Add curacha pieces and toss until heated through.
- Serve immediately with hot steamed rice. Serves 2.

A few notes:
- I already had pre-boiled curacha, so this recipe reflects that. I’m sure it would be even better to cook the curacha directly in the sauce.
- Although Alavar sauce is delicious, I like to punch things up by adding extra spices and chilis.
- This is my first time to prepare this and I’m very open to suggestions!

If anyone out there makes it to Zamboanga, you must try this! Or if you have access to curacha and Alavar sauce in Manila (I hear they have a branch in Quezon city), make this dish post haste (although I’m sure if you have access to both then you already have made this)! The curacha’s body is filled with sweet and succulent meat. Just like the last time I had it, every time I poked my fingers in the shell more and more of the luxurious meat came out. It really is as good as all that. Aside from coconut milk and “secret spices”, Alavar sauce supposedly also contains crab fat. Now imagine that for a moment…crab in crab fat. Wait, it gets better (or worse, depending on perspective). As we are devouring this meal, C suddenly bursts out, “Omg! I think I found the aligue (crab fat)!” So make that crabfat found in the crab cooked in crabfat. There is only one place for that…on my rice!

I will leave you now to imagine what we looked like after this meal. Full to bursting, crab bits all over our hands, Alavar stains on our mouths, and a little bit incoherent. Not such a pretty sight let me tell you. Then again, that’s a matter of perspective.

*This is not Spanish. It's Chavacano, Zamboanga’s native dialect :)

43 comments:

Anonymous said...

I LOVE Alavar sauce! Thanks to a family friend who is an Alavar, we've been fortunate to always have this sauce in our freezers, ready to be defrosted and mixed with seafood, rice and fried chicken (yes!). I was so excited when I saw your title, thinking that you'd somehow taken the sauce apart and would now share the secret with us - but, alas, that sauce will remain a secret for now...

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

You do have the world's best father in law! This sounds fabulous. Wish I could partake!

veron said...

Oh...wow, I am getting so hungry just looking at the picture and reading your post " crabfat of the crab cooked in crab fat" OMG sheer heaven.

The Knittymommy said...

That's beautiful. I did not realize that C was from Zamboanga. Very cool. You're so lucky to have family who like to send you stuff every so often. You must have racked up really good points with your F-I-L.

Would it be possible to smuggle some Alavar sauce to me?

Marvin said...

whoa, those crabs must be huge to fill a 1-gallon size ziploc bag!

ChichaJo said...

Hi Anon! Nope, I am no closer to the secret of Alavar sauce! You are quite lucky and a step ahead of us all to have an Alavar family friend to keep you stocked :) Hmmm...how do you have it with fried chicken? Share please! :)

Hi Tanna! Hehe, thanks :) He is a sweetie :) Wish you could partake too!

Hi Veron! It was! Oh boy, my pants are paying for it! ;)

Hi KM! Thanks :) Yup, he was born there, and both sides of his family hail from there too :) I'm grateful for all their gifts...I sure hope I've got some good points going! :) We have to plan the smuggling well as Alavar sauce has a big "keep frozen" sign on the package...do you know someone going over there directly?

Hi Marvin! They are! And boy was it hard to wrangle the one I cooked in the wok...I felt like its claws were reaching out to me the whole time! It was like doing battle :) Had to summon my inner kitchen Jedi...

katrina said...

OHMYOHMYOHMYOHMYOHMY!!!!! Not just curacha, but ALAVAR SAUCE!!!!! There are not enough exclamation marks to convey how I felt when when I saw your post's title! I have not had curacha and Alavar sauce since they closed their Makati branch -- what -- 10 years ago? You are one lucky, lucky gal. I'm just thankful that I am very full right now, or you might just find me ringing your doorbell!

Anh said...

oh Jo, I wish I could taste this! It sounds sooooo delicious!

lynn said...

That is awesome! Your description of the curacha had me drooling. I so wish I could taste this in Zamboanga!

M.Tan said...

Sweet meat, siksik, and really not that frightful (all crabs and lobsters have that unworldly look about them). And the perfect base for heavenly Alavar sauce.

Are you experimenting with other sauces for the curacha? I saw on a blog recently a recipe for Hidden Crab, cooked and topped with a whole lotta garlic, chillis, so it was peeking out of it's mound.

wewe new said...

hello ms. jo,

i'm very happy that you featured our famous curacha and alavar sauce. i'm from zamboanga city, too. i hope to feature some of our restaurants in my food blog.

yikes...that picture had me craving for curacha right away...take care.

ChichaJo said...

Hi Katrina! You are too funny! But, yes, I agree, it is SO good :) I will let you know if I make this again (first I have to replenish my Alavar sauce supply) :)

Thanks Anh! I wish you could too :)

Hi Lynn! It is pretty awesome...if you make it to Zmaboanga give it a try :)

Hi M! I agree :) Unwordly...that what makes them so interesting to cook ;) Yes, I am going to experiment with other sauces for the others (another gata-based which is how our ninang from Zambo cooks it, maybe a garlic-butter one, and maybe a black pepper like Nena's)...that "Hidden Crab" sounds good though!

Hi Wewe! Thanks for dropping by :) It's my pleasure to post about such a fantastic meal as curacha with Alavar sauce! I'll check out your site for restaurants for my next trip there :)

Lynn said...

If I may ask, what camera do you use? Your photos are as great as the food you post.

christine said...

"a deliciously secret blend of coconut milk and spices" - swooon! I love spiced coconut milk - like how I make my squash , shrimp and some other vegetables like sitaw - but that one sounds especially intriguing and yummy! My mom's been buying crabs almost every other day now and I've done two different types of chili crabs with it. I want to try even more varieties. I want that alavar sauce! :)

Stephen said...

Wow, that sounds amazing. Those creatures are beautiful and I would love to eat one! ;)

ChichaJo said...

Thanks Lynn! I use a Fuji Finepix S1 Pro with a Nikon lens :) It is my dad's old camera...I am far from a pro and am still on "practice" mode so your comments do mean a lot :)

Hi Nens! It's quite yummy! I will let you know when I am going to get more :)

Hi Stephen! Thanks :) Glad to hear you think they're beautiful!

Kelly-Jane said...

What a huge creature, he (she?) looks like something from long long ago!

Susan said...

Stunning color--truly great photos! I really enjoyed this post.

Paz said...

Never heard of this. You did a great job cooking it. It looks delicious!

Paz

valentinA said...

wow, now I wonder why I'm the one who has to be allergic to seafood?!?!
Your curacha looks ever so delicious & what a bright orange-red colour!
p.s: I hope my father-in-law-to-be will be as generous as yours;P

ChichaJo said...

Hi Kelly-jane! It kinda does have a pre-historic look to it, huh? :)

Thanks Susan! These guys are a brilliant red-orange whether cooked or not!

Hi Paz! Thank you :)

Hi Valentina! Aw! I forgot about your allergies! I hope your future f-i-l brings you lots of sweets :)

aria said...

ahhhhh yum! such beautiful pics too, his eyes are watching me eeeek! he should be on my plate so i can stare him down before i devour, muah!! i bet he was deicious :)

ChichaJo said...

Hahaha! You are right Aria...he does have quite a stare :) And yes, he was very delicious!

mitch said...

hi there. mitch here....consider myself lucky. my boss gave me this curacha and alavar sauce too. and my family loves seafoods. and they love it more if i cook it for them.. its my first time to cook this so i surfed for some recipes and im glad i find this. thanks chichajo... this is very helpful. but i have to ask my love ones how it tastes really cause im.. errr allergic to crustaceans. Good thing my cooking turns out well. So practically, ill be watching them eat hehehe. have a nice day! godbless and take care. thanks again...

ChichaJo said...

Hi Mitch! So sorry to hear about your allergies! I'm sure your curacha was delicious though :)

jojo nicdao said...

where to buy crabs and sauce in manila?

ChichaJo said...

Hi Jojo! I heard that Alavar's (of Zamboanga) has a branch in Quezon City...I've never been so I don't know where exactly. As for curacha, I have seen these crabs in the market here but very sporadically...I don't know where to find a regular supplier...wish I could be more help!

Anonymous said...

I now know where the Alavar restaurant is in Quezon City: Scout Ybardolaza very near Sacred Heart Church in Kamuning. The restaurant is close to the corner of Timog and Sct. Ybardolaza. Just order the curacha (Php900/kilo prepared with Alavar sauce). The other fried things weren't as good.

ChichaJo said...

Hi Anonymous! Thanks for the info! :)

Anonymous said...

we call these crustaceans 'kusimay'in ilocano. they abound in the deep sea along the coast of northern luzon particularly claveria in cagayan.they do not grow as big as pictured to be 1 crab in a gallon bag 'tho.a six inch long one is considered big by our standards.other names include 'kona', 'samoan'crabs and are found all over the pacific coast (samoa, fiji etc)including australia.
a conservation initiative has been started in respnse to comments about baby 'kusimay' crabs being harvested indiscriminately. you can go to the photo gallery of the claveria, cagayan official website : lakay-lakay.com.

ChichaJo said...

Hi Anon! Thanks for all the interesting info! Nice to know they are found up north as well :) As for the harvesting of the baby crabs...I know what you mean! I see some curacha in the market here in Manila that are much smaller than normal and was wondering about that...

Rannie said...

Hi! My wife is a supplier of Alavar Sauce here in manila.
for those who want to order Alavar Sauce, contact us at 09172786917 or email me at randybards@yahoo.com

Also available:
Garlic Sauce
Alavar Bagoong “alamang”
Special Chili Sauce.

ChichaJo said...

Hi Rannie! Thanks for popping in and sharing with us that bit of info! Yay! Alavar sauce supplier in Manila...hooray!!!

Pinoy Buisness said...

My apologies to the owner of Alavar restaurant, i will now stop supplying Alavar sauce, Bagoong Gata, and Garlic sauce. I did not realize that there is an intelectual property rights for the said products. Again, i apologize and will promise that i will stop producing Alavar products.

Wena said...

Hello ...I am from Zamboanga city and been away for almost a decade...I miss the satti and everything the city has to offer...I love teh food in La Vista as well....thanks for writing about Zamboanga Hermosa!!!

Vaya Con Dios....hasta hotravez!!!!

ChichaJo said...

Hi Wena! Zamboanga is such a lovely place! I have a lot of wonderful memories from there, not the least being my engagement! :) I also love the satti!

Anonymous said...

sad...was having trouble looking for theyr branch in Ybardolaza QC, turns out they already closed down late last year. =( I am sooo craving curacha in alavar sauce.

ChichaJo said...

That is sad news! :( I hope some enterprising folk decide to sell it here again...

backpacking philippines said...

drifted here again while looking for curacha in the metro, the cooked one, and not the fresh curacha

if only i can go back to zamboanga city soon

ChichaJo said...

Hello Backpacking Philippines! Yes, would love to go back to Zamboanga and have this over there!

goldspark said...

Hi ChicaJo my search for curacha bgt me to your wonderful page. It's so engrossing, I can feel the enthusiasm of all curacha lovers on your page! Now, it's going to be on my 'must try' list when going to Makati this June. Must be heavenly.
From KL

Anonymous said...

they actually sell the alavar sauce in that alavar restaurant, so i guess we can purchase and get to try with that dish :)

Anonymous said...

Hi ChichaJo!:-) I just discovered your blog today through your Yahoo article (Asian stir-fry dish). Even for just a short period, I'm loving your blog already.;-) Curacha also abound in the waters of my father's hometown of Barcelona (here in Sorsogon province, the locals call it "pawik", maybe because of its resemblance to a pawikan). Our friends here in Sorsogon City loved it when they tasted it during one of our get-togethers here at home.:-) I'm now one of your subscribers/followers. I don't cook regularly but would love to try one of your recipes when my hubby comes home (he's a seaman).