Hong Kong may not have falling leaves or Pumpkin Spice Latte Fever, but October does bring with it a smorgasbord of new flavours and ingredients. And one particular local highlight is a rather furry little fellow: Hairy Crab.
Officially the Chinese mitten crab, its less flattering nickname stems from its fur-adorned legs but fear not, the pearl of its palette is found inside the body in the sweet, creamy roe. The crabs are a delicacy in Shanghainese cuisine, but did you know that their seasonality is dictated by the Chinese lunar calendar? Now there’s a fun fact you never knew you needed.
Hong Kong has developed a love affair with the crabs and their short-lived season only adds to the allure. Eating them has become an art, with dedicated platforms created to educate first-timers and travellers on how to get the most from the coveted crustacean. Yes, there is a Youtube for that, the Internet is a wild place these days.
Break them apart, reassemble them, only eat the insides… They sound more frightening than they are, but if you are new to the crab game you can take a breath. We have some insider tips on how best to enjoy the delicacy at its peak.
Jowett Yu, Ho Lee Fook
I get so excited about hairy crab season! It is kind of the epitome of ‘short and sweet’. The crabs can be hard to come by in Hong Kong, but there are certain Shanghainese-specific purveyors in the city who can source the best quality, for a hefty price tag. Especially the female crabs, they are the prize winners. The crab world knows what’s up.
I first ate hairy crab with my dad when I was a kid, maybe 10 years old. The sight of their hairy legs was a shocker, but once they were cooked and ready to eat I changed my mind. Dad steamed the crabs and served them in their purest version: with ginger and black vinegar. This is the traditional recipe and you know what they say – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Working in the industry now, I see chefs conjure up convoluted dishes revolving around the crab but I think they just end up losing its essence. If I were to put it on a menu, and maybe I will, it would be simple. The legs are too much work, it’s all about the roe! Creamy, rich, delicious. Give it to me on noodles or tofu with black vinegar for dipping. Nothing more. Just remember to steam them upside down so that the roe does not drip out!
Yen Chan, La Vache! TST
Hairy crab is a delicacy in Chinese dining, mostly because they are only available for a short season after they migrate from the lakes towards the ocean. They can sometimes be priced at over $700 per kilo for authentic, premium crabs! There is a hairy crab market in Hong Kong during the season, but I will usually visit my Shanghianese suppliers for the best produce. It is funny that such an expensive creature is best enjoyed with nothing but vinegar for dipping but their natural flavour is so incredible and they are so juicy on their own. My first and fondest memory is having a ‘hairy crab festival’ dinner with about 12 of my friends at home. All we did was talk about hairy crab, cook hairy crab, eat hairy crab. Any longer and we would have turned into hairy crabs!
Keen to elevate your crab experience with a wine pairing? Our group sommelier, Arnaud Bardary, has some recommendations:
Huangjiu, known as Chinese Yellow Wine, has almost 3000 years of history and is one of the oldest wines in the world. The umami taste is unique to Yellow Wine, which presents very ripe or confit fruit flavours, honey and nutty characters. They can be very complex and have a robust ability to pair with bold flavoured foods, especially seafood and mushrooms. Although originating in China, many regions are starting to utilise the same processes in creating this intensely coloured wine. There are some exceptional variations, such as Bressan from Italy and Movia from Slovenia, with Movia Lunar Chardonnay 2008 making a particularly beautiful pairing with hairy crab.
Have these little morsels got your tastebuds tingling? How about taking a trip around the world with our guide to Italian truffles or journey to Sri Lanka with Chef Gizzy’s Chicken Kothu recipe, the perfect cure for the day after a big night.