The Mexican term “a la diabla” literally means “to the devil”, and there should be something with a good kick of chilli to get you there. This recipe uses the heat of the habanero chilli along with the piquant flavour of guajillo chilli to make a rich paste that goes beautifully with shellfish. The avocado leaves impart a delicate and fragrant aniseed flavour.






Skill level

Average: 2.8 (33 votes)


  • 6 blue swimmer crabs, cleaned and cut into 4 pieces or 1 x 1.5 kg mud crab, cleaned and cut into 6 pieces
  • 100 ml vegetable oil
  • 200 ml fish stock

Chilli paste

  • 50 ml vegetable oil
  • ½ white onion, minced
  • 8 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 avocado leaves (see Note)
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted
  • 8 guajillo chillies, stemmed, seeded and lightly toasted
  • 4 tomatillos, roasted
  • 1 habanero chilli (seeds optional)
  • ⅓ cup chopped coriander leaves
  • 3 allspice
  • 2 limes, juiced


  • Garnish    
  • chopped coriander
  • lime cheeks

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


To make the chilli paste, heat a 25 cm frying pan over medium and add the vegetable oil. Add the onion and garlic. Fry gently for 3–4 minutes or until translucent. Remove and place in a blender. Wipe out the pan with paper towel.

Add the remaining chilli paste ingredients to the blender and blend for 2 minutes or until smooth.

Add another 50 ml of oil to the frying pan and place over medium heat. Add the paste and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Remove from the pan and reserve.

Add 50 ml of oil to a 35 cm heavy-based saucepan or large wok. When the oil starts smoking, carefully add the crab. Toss or stir until the colour changes, then add the paste and stock. Cover with a lid. Cook for 5–7 minutes or until sauce has thickened.

Remove from the heat and arrange the crab pieces on a platter. Garnish with coriander and lime cheeks.


• Leaves from some varieties of avocado tree have a strong anise flavour, but some may have little flavour at all. If they are flavourless or unavailable, use 1 fresh bay leaf in the place of 2 avocado leaves.