Cangrejo Reventado (Burst Crab) in Huanchaco, Northern Peru
A Crab Dish That’s Bursting With Flavor
The best thing that we ate in Huanchaco was definitely the Cangrejo Reventado. This is one of the most famous dishes in Huanchaco, but we nearly missed trying it.
Cangrejo Reventado translates to “burst crab.” It is a dish from Huanchaco featuring smashed crab cooked with the shell in a stew of ají amarillo, garlic, chicha de jora, and beaten egg. The crab is traditionally is served with yucca.
I woke up on the fourth day of our trip, thinking about crab. I’m not sure how I first learned about this wonderful dish. Perhaps, I read about this dish somewhere a couple years ago. I just know that it suddenly surfaced in my head as The Thing I Must Do Before We Leave1.
A quick Google led us to La Perla del Pacifico a few blocks away.
To be honest, this was not the most Instagrammable dish, but it was absolutely delicious. Sometimes the dish is made with the crab left intact, but smashing it just the right amount brings out the flavor and makes it easier to pick out the crab meat from the shell2. Of course, if you smash it too much, it becomes impossible to separate the shell from the meat.
The richness of the dish evoked my childhood memories of eating curry crab in Thailand, though the principal peppers and herbs are completely different. The heavy use of garlic and other aromatics certainly helps bridge the two eating experiences half a world apart.
For some reason, Cangrejo Reventado wasn't heavily advertised when we were there. It’s certainly not a secret. As we walked by restaurants along the main avenue, people would call out “ceviche, ceviche, ceviche,” but there was no mention of Cangrejo Reventado. I thought that perhaps the reason was that crab wasn’t in season. However, that did not seem like the case-the crab tasted super fresh and the fisherman we met on the beach was bringing in more even more delicious-looking crab.
Mariela and I uncannily have the same taste when it comes to food. At the end of the trip, I tried keeping a poker face and asked her what she thought the best meal of the trip was. She said the “definitely the crab.”
Recreating the Flavor At Home
We had debated buying crab to take back to Lima in our suitcase, but after doing the rough calculations, we decided it was too much time door-to-door. We also vowed that we’d bring a cooler next time. A couple of weeks later, the deliciousness of the cangrejo reventado still lingered in our minds. We headed to Chorrillos market in Lima and added crab to our usual shopping list.
Mariela and I have completely different cooking styles. I looked up a bunch of recipes online which ended up filling a dozen tabs and compared them to the recipes in Gaston Acurio’s PERU cookbook and América Latina Gastronomía (Spanish version of The Latin America Cookbook). And Mariela? Well, she actually cooks.
Since we both never made the dish before, I tried to provide some helpful tips I gained from my research. Eventually, Mariela told me that even though she never cooked Cangrejo Reventado, she had prepared shrimp from the beach in a similar style while growing up in Huaral. The main thing I learned from hanging out in restaurant kitchens was how to stay out of the way. With this in mind, I promptly retreated from the kitchen and started writing this post.
Needless to say, the results were spot-on. This is probably a dish best eaten among couples or close friends. We dug in with our hands which smelled like garlic and pepper afterwards3. It was totally worth it.
Thank you, subconscious. I forgive you for some of my recurring school dreams … some, not all.
I love the instruction in the PERU cookbook: “Pound the crabs with a meat tenderizer until the shells are crushed but not completely destroyed.”