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A bowl of spaghetti with crab sauce
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5 from 3 votes

Spaghetti with Crab Sauce

This recipe is a two-step process: Making the sauce base and then the sauce itself. You can make the base a day ahead if you'd like. Any crab will do here, but I use a combination of red crabs, rock crabs and Dungeness crabs. The only tricky ingredient here is ouzo, which is a Greek anise-flavored liquor. Most liquor stores have it, but you can sub in sambuca, raki, Pastis, Pernod or any other anise-flavored liqueur. Still can't find it? Go with brandy; that's what my brother-in-law does.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time2 hrs
Total Time2 hrs 15 mins
Course: Main Course, Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: crab, pasta sauce
Servings: 6 people
Calories: 494kcal
Author: Hank Shaw



  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • Shells from 2 or 3 Dungeness crabs or 4 to 6 large rock crabs, or 8 blue crabs
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Tops from 1 fennel bulb, chopped
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup ouzo


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped fennel bulb
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup ouzo
  • A 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups of the crab sauce base
  • Tabasco garlic-pepper sauce to taste, or other hot sauce
  • 1 cup cooked crabmeat
  • 1-2 pounds dried spaghetti
  • Chives, green onions or parsley to garnish


  • To make the sauce base, put the onions and olive oil in a stockpot and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent, about 6-8 minutes. Add the crab shells and the garlic and stir to combine. Use a potato masher to smash the crab shells into small pieces. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes.
  • Add the bay leaves, the tops from the fennel bulb, ouzo and a healthy pinch of salt. Add enough water to cover everything by 1 inch. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 hour. Turn off the heat and pick out as much of the solids as possible, making sure you save the liquid. Strain the liquid through a paper towel set in a colander. Reserve.
  • To finish the sauce, heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or other large, wide pot over medium-high heat. Saute the onions and chopped fennel until they are soft and translucent, about 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute.
  • Mix in the tomato paste and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring often, until it darkens and turns the color of brick. Add the ouzo, the tomatoes and 2 cups of the crab sauce base. Stir well and bring to a simmer. Taste for salt and add the Tabasco to taste. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time.
  • Boil your pasta. Once the pasta is ready, add the crabmeat to the sauce and stir gently. Mix the pasta with a little of the sauce, then portion it out. Top with more sauce, and garnish with chives or parsley.


Once you make this sauce, it will last up to 3 days in the fridge before it starts to get funky.


Calories: 494kcal | Carbohydrates: 62g | Protein: 15g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 22mg | Sodium: 101mg | Potassium: 321mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 10IU | Vitamin C: 5mg | Calcium: 54mg | Iron: 1mg