The story appears on

Page B10

November 21, 2010

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature » iDEAL

We love hairy crab

THERE'S a famous Chinese saying, "When the autumn wind blows and the chrysanthemums blossom, the crabs will grow plump and prime." Hence, this time from October to December is the season to savor one of China's most sought-after delicacies - hairy crabs.

It's said that thousands of years ago, there was an invasion of strange creatures with greenish shells and sharp pincers with yellow hair - they were scuttling across fields and injuring farmers. People were afraid of being pinched in the dark so at night they firmly shut doors and windows.

One brave farmer was so angered by the creatures that he poured boiled water on some to kill them. The creatures stopped moving and turned red. At the same time, there was a tantalizing aroma, so the farmer broke the shells and ate some.

The rest is history, as they say, and the story is part of Chinese culture. The phrase "the first one to eat crab" is used to praise someone who is brave and enterprising.

Hairy crab (also known as mitten crab because of the hair on its pincers), has been popular among scholars and poets and thus its serving process became elegant and the setting romantic.

According to poems and novels such as "A Dream of Red Mansions," the room in which the crab is carefully served and elegantly decorated, ink-wash paintings, especially of crabs and chrysanthemum, adorn the walls and pots of chrysanthemum are placed in the corner. Herbal incense pervades the room.

Several friends, typically scholars, sit around a table, eating steamed hairy crab and often enjoying a crab feast along with warmed huang jiu, or yellow rice wine. Crab and yellow wine are traditionally paired.

An elegant crab feast also calls for a poetry contest in which scholars spontaneously create verse praising the beauty of the chrysanthemums in autumn, the delicate-tasting hairy crab and the general ambience.

Chinese philosophy and traditional Chinese medicine emphasizes a balance of yin (cold energy) and yang (hot energy). The crab is considered to be a "yin" food with a "cold" nature. Thus, it should be paired with something of a yang nature, such as yellow wine, which warms the stomach.

Another "warm" accompaniment for the tangerine-colored roe and crab meat is a sauce of vinegar, ginger and sugar.

Eating hairy crab, which is rather small, is a challenge, especially for Westerners who have never encountered it. Diners should be prepared to get messy. Chinese diners typically suck the very last drop of juice from even the tiniest segment of a crab leg. There's a lot of crunching, sucking and spitting and usually a pile of crab parts on the table.

Here are directions for preparing and eating hairy crab.

First, choosing a good crab.

The crabs from Yangcheng Lake in Jiangsu Province are the most famous; the lake is the equivalent of the Champagne region. Many bear a certification tag. They are costlier than other lake crabs. The best crabs have a green shell, white underside and pincers with golden "hair" or bristles. These are considerably smaller than ocean crabs.

Lively crabs are best.

Males are generally larger, with a smaller triangular underside; females have a broader underside. Most hairy crab lovers say size doesn't matter and consider the meat and especially the fatty roe of the female to be sweeter. Both male and female contain roe.

Second, steaming the crab.

According to Peter Cheung, executive Chinese chef of Le Royal Meridien Shanghai, the steaming time is extremely important. A hairy crab that weighs around 5 ounces (140 grams) should be steamed for 18 minutes; overcooking destroys the delicacy of the crab meat.

Third, eating the crab.

Since they are small, it takes several crabs and a lot of work and mess to make a meal. But it's worth it.

In addition to steaming, hairy crab can be prepared in other ways. Ancient Chinese traditionally held an crab feast every autumn, featuring different crab dishes.

This week Shanghai Daily describes a feast of five crab dishes from two restaurants.

How to feast on hairy crab - Prepare for a mess

Step 1. Tear off the legs and claws from top to bottom and eat them first so body meat and roe stay warm.

Step 2. Remove the shell. Pour vinegar sauce into the shell and eat the tangerine-colored roe.

Step 3: Remove the gills, lungs and the hexagonal heart, which are inedible.

Step 4: Break the body into two, dipping them in vinegar. Suck out the roe and pick out the sweet meat.

Pork and crab roe balls

Soft balls made of pork and crab roe are half-immersed in a soup with light meat flavor so the liquid permeates the tender balls. Using chopsticks, the diner divides the ball into several pieces; then, using a spoon, scoops up some soup and eats the pork-roe. The pork and crab roe have been completely mixed so the rich fatty flavors or meat and roe can be savored. Little additional seasoning is needed to maintain the ingredients' original flavor.

Braised bean curd with crab roe

When the cover of the dish is lifted, a strong, tantalizing aroma of fat, crab and soy beans fills the air.

The white bean curd, orange and yellow crab roe and green onions all make the dish look rich and colorful, like the autumn harvest season. The bean curd is silky and tender and absorbs the flavor or crab. Most of the roe has dissolved in the broth, but some pieces remain. Because there's so much crab roe, the dish smells a bit fishy but delightful.

Stewed broccoli with crab roe

The color of the dish is jade green from the lightly stewed broccoli and golden yellow from the roe. The aromatic broccoli tastes fresh and clear. The orange-yellow crab roe is made into a creamy puree and poured over the vegetable, adding richness to the broccoli.

Broccoli is rich in anti-oxidants, including vitamins C, B vitamins, iron, potassium and fiber.

Hairy crab and river shrimp

This dish is not just a soup, but also a collection of delicious aquatic animals. They include river shrimp, clams, bull frog legs and, of course, hairy crab.

Since so many distinctive ingredients are cooked together, they give off a strong and rich aroma and make a flavorful soup. To thoroughly enjoy the dish, it's recommended to first try a bit of the ingredients separately, appreciating the textures and taste of each. Then combine the ingredients to enjoy the harmony of flavors.

Crab meat xiaolongbao

This is the last course of our crab feast, but certainly not the least. Good crab meat xiaolongbao dumplings with fresh crab and balanced broth remind one of the first course of steamed crabs. The xiaolongbao are small and bite-sized. The white dumpling skin is thin and tastes smooth. The crab meat is tender and richly flavored with orange roe. The juice is light and clear, balancing the meat. The dish is served with a slightly sweet sauce of vinegar and sliced ginger.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend