As the old Chinese saying goes, “when the autumn wind blows, the crab claw grows itchy,” meaning, of course, that the fall is the perfect time to eat crabs especially at the height of their maturity during September and October. However, some expats, accustomed to huge sea crab claws, might be a little bemused by the time and energy spent on enjoying such delicate and tiny crustaceans.
Methods of cooking savory hairy crabs can be found everywhere in newspapers, magazines and online. The Global Times has uncovered some innovative recipes that go beyond the usual “steaming and vinegar” method.
Crab in wine sauce
Although Cantonese and Ningbo residents have their own styles of cooking wine-preserved crabs, the Shanghainese prefer their own unique dish known as da zhaxie.
With a shiny, translucent appearance, this recipe has a rich wine flavor.
The thick crab meat has a smooth, bittersweet taste that is also salty, yet fragrant.
Authentic Shanghai crab in wine sauce is uncooked, so the first priority is to make sure the crabs are fresh and robust.
To meet safe standards of hygiene, the crabs should be soaked in water for several days until all the sand and mud has been removed. They should then be soaked in 52 degree kaoliang spirit for several days in order to be fully sterilized.
Then boil some water, add some sugar and pepper, and mix with yellow rice wine and some baijiu (spirits made of grain) after it cools down. Find a clean pot in which to grind some ginger, green onion and orange peel at the bottom, and then put the lid on and leave in the refrigerator for four days.
Stir-fried crab roe
For people who don’t have the patience to dismember a crab, the following dishes are the easiest way to enjoy this delicacy. Such diners can eat mouthfuls of crab meat or roe to their heart’s content without worrying about having to slurp it out from fidgety shells and claws.
October is the best month to enjoy the roe of the male – and it’s a taste that many Chinese gourmands would almost die for. Comprising at least 30 male crabs’ roe, this dish is extremely creamy and thick. According to the manager surnamed Feng, of the Shing Lung Hong – a restaurant that specializes in crab – in Jiujiang Road, Huangpu district, it only takes a chef three minutes to extract all the meat from a single crab. And fried plainly with green bean vermicelli, the dish is not too oily.
The ingredients are simple – only fried roe and green bean vermicelli – and the only oil used is crab oil, which is refined from crab roe and egg. Note that all the roe must be removed from the crab on the same day, otherwise it may start to develop an unpleasant fishy smell overnight.
Steamed crab claws
The two crab pincers contain the largest amount of meat, and boiled in chicken soup, the crab claws taste tender and sweet while retaining their natural flavor. “We have eight staff taking the meat out every day,” said Feng. With at least 30 claws in every dish, it’s not cheap at 380 yuan ($59.51), but it really saves a lot of time and effort for hairy crab novices.
Crab in rapeseed oil and salt
Though this dish is more prevalent in water towns like Xitang in Zhejiang Province, it still embodies the fresh and delicate character of hairy crab. The crab is cut in half and has a saltier flavor than usual with a fragrance of rapeseed oil.
The method of cooking here doesn’t involve removing the meat from the shell as above. Clean the crab and cut it in half, grind some slices of ginger in a dish and add a sprinkling of salt. Then place the crab, cut side down, onto a dish, add some chili and drizzle rapeseed oil and some water over it. Steam until it turns a golden color.
If you want to buy hairy crabs and try a recipe at home, Tongchuan Aquatic Product Market is an ideal place to buy hairy crabs. Offering the freshest seafood in Shanghai, this market is also the first choice of many restaurants for their raw ingredients. Here are some tips from one seafood stall owner about how to pick a perfect hairy crab:
A robust crab should be very responsive to stimulation. Touch its eyes, and if it fights back this means it’s a strong specimen.
Turn it upside down. Crabs that can quickly turn themselves upright again show particular energy and athleticism.
Observe the crab’s outward appearance. Bluish-tinged crabs with hard shells are the best. Heavier crabs, naturally, have more meat.
October 21, 2011 Global Times, By Liu Sheng