We are mid way into Hairy Crab season, which runs from September to December. While I haven’t figured out why exactly these funny looking crabs have create a frenzy amongst all my Chinese friends (there are even poems written about the crabs), I have figured out that the right sized crabs from the right lake and prepared the right way really can be worth the money and the time.
To truly understand why Chinese are passionate about their hairy crabs I went to the origin of the “best hairy crabs”, Yangcheng Lake. The place is filled with a multitude of restaurants on the water, which honestly all look alike to me. But once you step inside, see the crab cages, watch them being pulled out of the cages and then tying them up… well, it’s worth it. Were these the best hairy crabs I’ve eaten? I think so. They definitely were the largest, and size matters. After fighting with the shell to get to the delicate pieces of meat and juicy roe, you want the taste to be worth all the effort. Although pricey, it truly is a Shanghai tradition that everyone needs to try at least once.
Hairy Crabs (also known as Dazha crab or Chinese mitten crab) are so named because their front claws have a thick mass of hair. While the crabs are considered the main delicacy of a meal, they usually do not appear in a traditional Chinese meal until the very end, but before the watermelon.
Everyone tends to have his or her own style in tackling the crab to get to the meat. Most agree to eat the legs first while they are still hot. Then rip off the bottom shell, tear out the lungs, and eat pretty much everything else. The orange part (be it soft or hard) is the roe and considered the best part. Crabs are considered to be yin (cold foods), so to balance it you eat them by dipping into vinegar with ginger and drink huangjiu (Chinese yellow wine).
The most famous hairy crabs come from Yangcheng Lake, about an hour from Shanghai. These crabs are considered to have the very best flavor although rumor has it that the original species went extinct in the early 1990’s due to over fishing and the current species is actually from Japan.
When you arrive at the lake there are a ton of restaurants on the water that all appear to look the same. My friends have been going to the same place for over 10 years and have never been disappointed. The name of the restaurant is very generic but it is located in the north section, entrance #6, warf #26. Tel: 0512-57654668 (No English)
For more info, please click here.
How to Savor:
Choose your crab
Pick the most alert and menacing crab with the largest pinchers for delectable dining. Also, females have roe and extra padding – that delicious yellow fat that makes the crab so tasty.
Pull off the legs
Do this first to keep the crab body meat warm. Slowly tear off the crab’s legs in a downward motion. Perfect this technique and you’ll be rewarded with intact chunks of soft white meat instead of tiny pieces.
Remove the shell
So as not to drench yourself in crab juice, while firmly holding the rear end of the crab, gently pry the shell open. Aim away from yourself and others. Inside you’ll find the roe.
Savor the meat
Break the crab’s body in half and then in quarters to extract the meat inside. Do not eat the crescent shaped lungs or intestines. Chopsticks may help separate the meat, but feel free to suck away like the locals.
Steamed Hairy Crab with signature ginger and vinegar
The Westin Bund Center Shanghai, 88 C.Henan Lu
Tel: 6335 1888
Poached Hairy Crab with Avocado, Tomato and Blood Orange Vinaigrette
Napa Wine Bar & Kitchen, 57 Jiangyin Lu (by Huangpi Lu)
Tel: 6318 0057
Braised Bamboo Pith with Hairy Crab Roe
China Kitchen, 1F Hyatt on the Bund, 199 Huangpu Lu (by Wuchang Lu)
Tel: 6393 1234 x 6318
Organic Egg with Hairy Crab Eggs, Potato Emulsion and Spicy Parsley Pistou
El Willy, 20 Donghu Lu (by Huaihai Lu)
Tel: 5404 5757
Hairy Crab Empanadas with Mango Salsa
Maya, 2F Shanghai Grand Plaza, 568 Julu Lu (by Shaanxi Nan Lu)
Tel: 6289 6889