For years I didn’t get what the hype surrounding Hairy Crab is all about. Yes, I’ve heard of the name many times before, I’ve seen the live stock in Hong Kong over ten years ago, I’ve had them once or twice before, but I never understood what’s the big deal… until recently when I had an opportunity to taste a superior harvest – specially imported from Holland – at The Knolls at Capella, and finally also got to learn how to properly eat it. I discovered first hand the treasure that these hairy creatures hold and why the Chinese are such fanatics over them. There’s also a distinct method on how to maximise the enjoyment of these furry palm-sized crustaceans! Turns out you can’t just crack the shell open and devour every bit as you would with other crabs. Keep reading…
Hairy Crab, aka Chinese mitten crab (Chinese: 大閘蟹) and Shanghai hairy crab (Chinese: 上海毛蟹) is a medium-sized burrowing crab that is named for its furry claws which resemble mittens. This crab is an autumn delicacy in Shanghai cuisine and eastern China. It is prized for the female crab roe, which ripen in the ninth lunar month and the males in the tenth. The crab meat is believed by the Chinese to have a “cooling” (yin) effect on the body, therefore it’s customary to sip on a cup of hot ginger tea after eating hairy crabs.
Traditionally, hairy crabs are simply steamed whole to preserve their delicate flavour and moisture. Nothing else is added, no additional ingredients or spices or other flavorings. The meat is then eaten with a dark vinegar dip which enhances the natural crab flavor. At a glance, a hairy crab looks really puny and I used to wonder what’s there really to be eaten and savored here? Doesn’t even look like there’s any meat. That’s what I thought, with a dismissive scoff, in the beginning anyway…
I, of course, was very wrong. Turns out good things come in small packages and not only is the meat succulently sweet, what makes the hairy crab such a prized delicacy is the abundant rich, creamy golden roe. Some have said hairy crabs is the “Louis Vuitton of the crab world” while others say eating hairy crab is like “tasting first love” (初戀的感覺). Ha! If you ask me, I can only say it’s #betterthansex.
Look at this beautifully steamed Dutch Hairy Crab. (I really wish you all can taste this.) It’s extremely decadent, sinfully creamy and totally worth its weight in gold.
When my lips touched the roe for the first time and the lushness hit my tastebuds, I was totally blown away. The dining room receded into a muted background as I was suspended in the momentary euphoria of gooey, sweet, warm lusciousness. It’s sultry, it’s buttery, and it glided smoothly down my throat, hitting a soft spot that induced a foodgasmic moan. Then I found out later hairy crabs is an aphrodisiac, ah… no wonder.
Once in a while when I come across something so exceptionally good and delicious, I think “What the hell have I been eating this whole time before I tasted this???”. Yep, this was a moment like THAT and bliss enveloped me like a cozy toasty blanket on a winter day.
Both male and female hairy crabs have roe (LOTS of it), but there’s a difference – the male roe is creamier, buttery and lava-like while the female roe is denser, darker in color and more solid (crumbly). Can you tell in the photo above, which is male and which is female?
Ans: Female = bottom. Male = top.
Which one do I prefer? I enjoyed both tremendously but I’ll take the male any day.
Essential tools needed to enjoy a hairy crab. I mentioned earlier about how there’s a distinct method to eat it and so I put together a quick 6-step visual instructions below to help you savor hairy crabs like a pro.
If hairy crabs weren’t so leung aka “cooling” I could go on all night suckling, sucking and nibbling – in other words, making love to every itsy bitsy morsel. And I’d have more than one too, gimme an entire basket! How many hairy crabs have you guys ever had at one go before?
Now that I’ve tasted creamy gold though, I am determined to have more as soon as I no longer feel nauseous on a daily basis (I’m prone to feeling yuck these days as my body is undergoing some changes). Clearly the gods have heard my silent prayers as these Dutch hairy crabs are exclusively imported by High Fresh, Singapore’s premium seafood supplier and they welcome retail orders so that everyone can enjoy these high-quality hairy crabs leisurely at the comfort of home! *screamsss*
As I’m a hairy crab noob, I inquired what’s so special about these Dutch ones compared to say, the Chinese ones. I was told that people have been eating hairy crabs farmed from Yangcheng Lake throughout the years – purportedly the best tasting one that’s received the stamp of approval from gourmands everywhere. However, since supply haven’t been able to keep up with demand, many unscrupulous suppliers have taken to transporting hairy crabs from elsewhere and letting them soak in Yangcheng Lake for a bit, then marketing them as Yangcheng Lake hairy crabs and fetching exorbitant prices. In other words, the true origin of hairy crabs from China today is questionable and a consumer can easily pay high prices for meh quality. Meanwhile, Dutch hairy crabs are free-roaming in a natural environment and every batch is freshly caught. Broken down in simple ‘ecosystem’ chain sequence, to me that would mean:
Natural environment = clean waters = well-fed crabs = happy chubby crabs = sweet succulent meat and abundant roe = my happy, chubby, well-fed belly. :)
Good, because anything inferior to what I’ve just tasted would be profane.
Initially I didn’t believe there would be such a big difference in quality and flavor between Dutch and Chinese, so I went for hairy crab (from Yangcheng Lake, according to the waitstaff) at a Chinese restaurant with my mom and sis on a separate occasion. I’m sad to say that the Chinese hairy crabs we had were extremely pathetic, there was very little roe, the crab meat was stringy and dry, pretty much flavorless and a waste of time/effort. Yangcheng Lake, Schmangcheng Lake. Never again! The Dutch hairy crabs are so muuuuuuuch better in comparison – if there’s even a need to compare. Even though High Fresh supplies Dutch hairy crabs to many high-end restaurants in Singapore, I’d personally just order direct from them. That way I can take my time going all out caveman style with both hands at home, and the sink for washing up is nearby.
Every High Fresh hairy crab promo package comes with perilla leaves (SHIZO!!! YUMMMMMMMMMZ), homemade vinegar dip, and ginger tea too. *rubbing palms in anticipation*
THE KNOLLS AT CAPELLA
Since hairy crabs are in peak season now and all the way through December, many Chinese restaurants are serving them – in traditional plain steamed style. Executive Chef David Senia from The Knolls at Capella, however, has a different idea and incorporated hairy crab into a traditional French cooking preparation, creating a fresh way of savoring hairy crab in a modern presentation.
Baked Dutch Hairy Crab Béchamel
Chef Senia, a Frenchman, deconstructed the delicacy, where the crabmeat and roe are removed. Béchamel, the grandmutha’momma of many French sauces, has been given a fresh crustacean twist in this indulgent dish. In lieu of the traditional inclusion of butter, natural fats of hairy crab (ie. the roe from male hairy crabs) is mixed well with milk, flour, crab meat, female crab roe, and shizo leaves. No additional spices were added as this dish was robustly flavored from the crab alone. This is then baked and served in a crab shell topped with crab roe and flanked by two shizo leaves to resemble, right, a crab. Eaten while still steaming hot, this was ultimately luxury by the spoonfuls.
This dish is made such that it is easier for guests to enjoy the whole crab without having to slowly pick out all the meat. Priced at $64++ per serving, it is available until 30 December 2014 as part of The Knolls’ Asian selections a la carte menu. Pre-orders are required at least 24 hours prior to ensure availability.
You know why you need to pre-order, right? Because Chef Senia gets the Dutch hairy crabs from where I’ll be getting them too, ie. High Fresh – and I intend to order a bajillion directly from this supplier for my own consumption. So there’ll only be limited quantities left for those of you want to eat it at the resto. :p j/k, j/k~