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Eating and Drinking: How To Eat A Hairy Crab PDF Print E-mail
How To Eat A Hairy Crab

by: Tina Kanagaratnam

Shanghai’s favourite autumn activity is upon us: eating hairy crab. Poets pen verses on the joys of sipping wine and eating crab under an autumn moon; gourmands wait impatiently for eight months for the season to begin. These tiny, tasty crustaceans mature between the months of September and December, and the city goes wild – there is no Chinese restaurant without the crab, and none that cannot get more. Come to Shanghai this time of year, and you’ll be assured that eating hairy crab is a not-to-be-missed experience of a lifetime. But when confronted with one of the little beasties on your plate, how exactly do you tackle it?

Image To get the expert’s answer, we went to Chef Cheung Chi Fung, the Chinese executive chef at the Pudong Shangri-la. Chef Cheung has been preparing hairy crabs for more years than he cares to remember, and serves up only crabs from Yangcheng Lake. “The hairy crab comes from Yangcheng Lake originally,” notes the chef, adding that “these are the best tasting crabs anywhere!”

The first step to eating a crab is visual, explained Chef Cheung. Diners at Shang Palace select their dinner from the aquarium tanks. “Look at the crab,” instructs the chef, as a beady-eyed creature looks at me, “it should be flat, and when you look at it, it should look back at you – you want an alert crab.” I think I have one. Crabs selected, the chef will steam the crabs with ginger and herbs for just 20 minutes, and then the fun begins.

The steamed crabs, now a gorgeous shade of vermilion, are served with minced ginger and vinegar. Now’s the time to roll up the sleeves. “First, take the cover off,” he instructs, referring to the apron and top shell of the crab. This is where the roe is on female crabs, and hairy crab gourmands live and die for this. “It is truly an experience to be savoured,” says one.

Next, the crab legs are pulled off. “Snap the legs in two,” Cheung says, demonstrating with great relish, “and take a chopstick and push the meat out. Some people also suck the meat out,” he adds, not looking very approving at the idea. Then the meat inside the crab shell is savoured, although lest I fall in too greedily, the chef warns me to be careful of the cartilige that is mixed in there as well. Good, flavourful chunks of meat come from here, the sweet, fragrant taste and freshness coming through loud and clear. Everything but the lungs are eaten – the little fat sac, the intestines – and it is delicious. The moist chunks of meat in the claw are tackled with a delicate cracker, and after much chopstick-poking and digging, it’s determined that all the flesh on this little creature has been devoured.

Hairy crabs are “cooling” to the body, so the chef recommends a Hua Diao wine (sherry is a reasonable substitute) as an accompaniment. In Shang Palace, he serves a ginger soup dessert as a grand finale, to rebalance the body’s yin and yang. “Just like a professional crab eater,” he smiles, “they can put the whole crab back together after eating it. Just like that, your body must be rebalanced after eating the crab, as if you had never eaten it.”

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