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October 13, 2011

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There's more than hairy crab to savor this season

CRAB lovers can indulge in other crustaceans while they wait for freshwater hairy crabs to reach their peak of delectability. Gao Ceng describes eight mouthwatering dishes made with five kinds of sea crab.

Autumn has arrived and the peak hairy crab season is coming. It's only the middle of October, but many restaurants have already launched their hairy crab menu.

Actually, the golden time to serve hairy crab is from the end of October to the end of November when the cold northwest wind blows, the crab roe then becomes rich and the meat turns firm and sweet.

For hairy or mitten crab aficionados, there are still around 10 days to wait. So what crustaceans can we eat now? Besides hairy crab from freshwater lakes, is there any other crab option?

Here we introduce five different sea crabs - huge king crab, fatty gao crab, delicate snow crab, sweet flower crab and tasty and cheap Dungeness crab.

They live in different oceans and parts of the sea and each has its own unique flavor and texture. Of course, they can be prepared in many different ways.

Using those five crabs, we have discovered eight mouth-watering crab dishes in the city.

Gao crab

Gao in Chinese literally means roe and butter. Gao crab is a female mud crab found mainly in estuaries of Asia and Australia and containing large amounts of buttery roe. Chef Bird Kei, executive Chinese chef of The Portman Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, says the roe usually makes up a third of the total weight of the crab.

Crabs can weigh up to 3.5 kilograms, with a green or brown shell around 24 centimeters across.

The taste and texture of crab varies in different producing areas. Crab from the Philippines is known for its creamy roe and sweet meat. Chinese gao crabs have thick and firm meat but are lack of sweetness.

The warm, shallow seas around Hong Kong are a prime area for mud crabs. In the hot summer, the females spawn in the warm sea near the city. The intense sunshine produces physical changes inside the crab shell: The roe turns from solid green into fluid orange. Those crabs with fluid roe have creamy, butter-like flavor. Hence, Hong Kong locals call them "butter crabs."

Generally, the crab is cooked intact, with its shell on, so it does not lose fluid roe, says Chef Bird. This cooking method also retains the seawater locked inside the shell, providing the best natural seasoning.

We recommend:

? Gao crab congee

The congee is served in a clay pot to enhance the texture and flavor. The orange roe and its yellow butter are nicely melted in the white congee, giving the dish a golden color. The fragrance of sweet rice and mild crab roe stimulates the appetite. The congee has a smooth and silky texture, with a sweet taste from the roe and a salty taste from the seawater.

Where to order: Summer Pavilion, The Portman Ritz-Carlton

Tel: 6279-8888

Address: 1376 Nanjing Rd W.

? Curried gao crab

This authentic aromatic East Asian gao crab is cut up and cooked with fragrant curry sauce, lemon grass, fruit and coconut milk. When serving, the crab should be dipped in the sauce. The flavor is rich, balanced between sweet and sour, and a little spicy.

"Although crab is naturally sweet, it can be given more flavors," says chef Wang Lei from 3-Top Restaurant Bar. "When making the curry sauce, I add more coconut milk with a sweet, milky taste to highlight the sweet and mild flavor of the crab meat."

After finishing all the crab, serve the savory curry sauce, which concentrates all the flavor and gao, with slices of French bread. Don't waste a drop.

Where to order: 3-Top Restaurant Bar

Tel: 5403-8625

Address: 47 Xinle Rd

Flower crab

This crab lives in estuaries of the Indian and Pacific oceans. East Asians call it "flower crab" because of the flower-like pattern of red-and-black stripes on its shell.

The thin-shelled crab has rich and sweet meat and is a favorite in Asian kitchens.

In Cantonese cuisine, it is often steamed, made into seafood soup or simply stir-fried to highlight the original sweetness of the crab meat.

In East Asian countries such as the Philippines and Malaysia, it's often cooked with strong spices and seasonings such as chilli and curry.

"However, no matter how we cook it," says chef Bird at The Portman Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, "flower crabs have an earthy taste covering their sweetness - that's because they are usually buried in the sand."

He recommends putting live crabs in a container filled with seawater for two days, letting the crabs expel sand, dust and grit.en


? Flower crab fried with spring onions and ginger

In this authentic Cantonese dish, the crab is first cut into around six pieces so that each piece can completely absorb the flavor of the seasonings. There's no fishy or earthy taste, but a strong crab flavor and fragrance brought out by the ginger and spring onions.

The crab meat is moist and sweet. Chef Bird offers a tip when serving: dip the crab in a little vinegar to bring out the sweetness.

Where to order: Summer Pavilion, The Portman Ritz-Carlton

Tel: 6279-8888

Address: 1376 Nanjing Rd W.

Dungeness crab

This large common crab, generally growing to 20 centimeters across the carapace, is native to both coasts of North America. It has a wide, brown shell, long white legs and plenty of firm meat. It can weigh up to around 700 grams.

The front pair of claws, used to attack and defend, contain meat that is especially firm. It has little roe and the meat is not very sweet, but still tasty. It is often fried with other seasonings and ingredients.

On the east coast of North America it's often made into crab cakes. In Singapore it's made into famous Singapore curry crab; in southwest China's Sichuan Province, it's cooked with chilies.

Compared with many other crabs, Dungeness crab is much cheaper because it's much more abundant. Hence, it can also be found in snack stalls and small restaurants.

In Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, there's a small restaurant called Xi Kuai featuring Dungeness crab that's made into noodles, soup, congee, fried rice and curried crab.

It only costs around 60 yuan per serving.

We recommend:

? Maryland crab cakes

This is a traditional American dish from the east coast where it's combined with sauteed potato, bread crumbs, egg white and shrimp. Then it's all deep fried, producing a rich and balanced tastes and textures.

Although crab cakes are traditionally deep fried, chef Albert Thoeny bakes the dish to make it healthier and less oily.

The outside tastes crispy and has a pleasing, smoky flavor; the mashed mixture inside melts in the mouth. A sauce of ginger, garlic and lemon juice highlights the flavor and also balance the fishy taste of crab and shrimp.

It can also be dipped in tartar sauce.

Where to order: Park Café Kitchen, Shanghai Marriott Hotel Changfeng Park

Tel: 2215-6666

Address: 158 Daduhe Rd

King crab

The name of this North Pacific crab comes from its huge size. It can weigh from 4 to 10 kilograms and each leg can measure 1.8 meters. The crab loves the cold, deep sea around Hokkaido, Japan, and Alaska in the United States. The meat is mild, sweet and succulent in texture.

Japan is one of the biggest king crab-consuming countries. "We are addicted to its flavor so we always call it the 'gift from the north'," says Go Mouri, vice general manager of MoonSha Japanese Cuisine.

The Japanese people serve king crab all year but in different ways in different seasons.

In spring and summer, the meat is often made into cold dishes such as sashimi and sushi. In autumn, it is often grilled simply with sea salt. In winter, an entire crab is cooked with the shell in a big hot pot. All the flavor from the meat, the roe and the shell are cooked into a thick soup. Besides, the mild and creamy crab roe steamed with egg is popular in all seasons.

Many Westerners prefer cooking king crab simply, usually boiling it; the big legs and pincers are a favorite.

"The briny sweetness of the crab is enough to flavor the meal," says Albert Servalls, executive chef of The Langham Xintiandi.

We recommend:

? Roasted king crab with sea salt

We discovered this dish in Takumi, a newly opened Japanese restaurant featuring robata-grilled foods and sushi. A whole king crab weighing 2.6 kilograms (serving 4-6 people) is slowly roasted in the robata, a charcoal grill that can reach 900 degrees Celsius. It's mainly used to cook food thoroughly.

During roasting, the fatty roe and oil are gradually exuded from the meat; an aroma of sweet crab and fatty roe fills the air.

Grilling adds a slightly smoky flavor to the sweet meat. The sea salt is refreshing and also brings out the sweetness.

When serving, we recommend pairing the crab with hot saki. The Kagatobi Jyumai Dai Ginjo on the wine list has a fruity aroma and strong sweet rice flavor.

Where to order: Takumi

Tel: 5011-1167

Address: 4/F, Shanghai IFC Mall, 8 Century Ave, Pudong

? King crab with sauces

King crab can also be served raw, and Chef Albert says this is the best way to highlight crab's original sweetness and smooth meat texture. Diners preferring a rich flavor can pair the crab with lemon wedges, garlic mayonnaise, wasabi aioli (wasabi with garlic mayonnaise) and honey mustard.

Sommelier Benjamin Zhang recommends pairing the crab with Taittinger Prestige Brut Rose, Reims NV.

"The bubbling mouthfeel and elegant acidity of Rose helps highlight the sweet meat flavor and refreshing taste of the seafood," he says.

Where to order: CACHET, The Langham Xintiandi

Tel: 2330-2288

Address: 99 Madang Rd

Snow crab

Snow crab, also known as queen crab in Canada, is named because of its white flesh. It has long spider-like legs and a round belly. It lives in cold seas at a depth of at least 1,000 meters.

"The sea temperature determines the meat flavor and texture," says Go Mouri of MoonSha Japanese restaurant, adding that 0-3 degrees is the perfect temperature for high-quality snow crab.

Its flavor and texture are similar to those of king crab, but the meat is lighter and more delicate and the texture is more fibrous. The large claw or pincer is the prime part since the meat is firm and sweet.

Preparation varies. In Japan the meat can be made into sushi or tempura. Cantonese chefs love to fry the crab with sesame, chilies and garlic. In Europe, cooked meat is sometimes marinated in white wine and herbs such as basil and rosemary. In parts of the United States, the crab meat is mashed and made into crab cakes, considered a delicacy.

We recommend:

? Snow crab sushi and tempura

The meat of the legs and claw are served on top of sushi rice. The serving temperature is 37-38 degrees Celsius. The fibrous meat and sticky rice together give layers to each bite. The slightly sour flavor of rice vinegar balances the sweet taste of the meat.To make tempura, the crab is covered in batter made of egg, corn bread and wheat flour, and then deep fried. Deep-frying doesn't destroy the original taste of the crab but gives it a milder taste. The center of the meat is still raw and tender while the outside is well-cooked and firm.

Where to order: MoonSha Japanese Cuisine

Tel: 6329-2933

Address: 3/F, 5 Zhongshan Rd E1.


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