Having left Hong Kong, my home town for 3 years, it’s the first time that my recent visit fell into the Shanghai Crab season.
Yangcheng Lake (陽澄湖) and Tai Yu (太湖) are the most famous areas producing Shanghai crabs (literally meaning Big Gate Crabs). Each year from September and December is the best time for Shanghai Crabs.
Perhaps eating Shanghai Crabs are really time-consuming and a lot of foreign people may think it is tedious and skillful to eat them. Meanwhile if you are a crab lover, it would be worthwhile to try at least one time in your life time. There was one time some years ago that my ex-colleagues and I paid a visit to Shanghai and enjoyed eating the Shanghai crabs directly caught from Yang Cheng Lake. The whole dinner was just eating Shanghai crabs, it was really a lifetime and memorable experience, I hope I could repeat this trip again in the future.
The most common and easiest way to prepare the Shanghai crabs is simply by steaming. It is more enjoyable eating at home and at the same time much cheaper than in the restaurant. What’s more important is that, although it’s easy to prepare the crabs but it is very critical to buy the crabs from a reliable distributor. I was introduced to Wah Kee Wing Cheong Ho (華記永昌號) many years ago at work and I have bought Shanghai crabs from them ever since.
Main retail shop address:
G/F, 460 Lockhart Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Although I have not been their real frequent customer but they were so friendly and helpful this time as always that they had chosen the best quality crabs for me and my family was very happy and satisfied with the crabs.
Later I found out that their crabs are also distributed to c!ty’super (a high-end supermarket and retail chain in Hong Kong. They have a flyer which teaches people how to buy, choose and cook these crabs, very good resources that I have taken a copy, adapted and now share with you.
Usually in a slightly square shape which is about the size of a human palm. They range in color from olive green to dark brown and their golden brown claws are distinctive for their thick, dense covering of hair. The legs are about twice as long as the body. I prefer male crabs than to female crabs as the roe is much softer and tastier. Roe, 蟹膏 is the delicious yellow fat that makes Shanghai crabs so tasty.
- To check the crab’s freshness, simply knock on the crab’s shell. If its eyes respond and move, then it indicates freshness. The best crabs’ outer shells usually are dark green in color, and have a clear sheen.
- To distinguish the crab’s gender, turn it around and look at its abdomen. Female crabs have a round belly whereas male ones are recognized by its pointed belly.
- Buy crabs that have nice and firm legs as that generally indicates a meatier crab.
- The ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar is the best time to eat female crabs as they are full of protein and roe, while the tenth month is better for male crabs as they are full of roe and milt.
Shanghai crab is usually cooked by steaming.
- Wash the crabs in tap water by brushing briefly the legs and shell using a small brush. Keep the strings on the crabs, do not remove them!!!
- Boil water in a wok or steaming pan. Place the Chinese Dried Shiso leaves (紫蘇葉) into the the boiling water, this is to minimize the coldness (寒 涼), see also below and to get rid of the seafood smell from the crabs.
- Roughly steam the crabs for about 18-20 mins, depending on the size of your crabs. You can ask the shop assistants, they are always happy to explain you the instruction.
- Place on a plate with the abdomens facing upward, this is to avoid the yellow roe from losing from the crabs.
- The cooked crab should be a bright shade of red and is delicious when served with minced ginger, Chinese raw brown sugar and vinegar.
- Do not eat the crescent-shaped lungs or intestines.
- A Shanghai crab meal is better accompanied by warmed Shao Hsing wine (紹興酒) with a plum (話梅) added to the wine to enhance the taste.
- It is said that the Shanghai crabs are rather cold (寒 涼) (Chinese medicine) in natural, this can be balanced by having a hot ginger tea which is simply cooked by boiling slices of fresh ginger and brown sugar.
- There are no specific steps or rules to follow when it comes to eating a hairy crab. Yet the clever way is to remove the crab legs by twisting them until they come off.
- The bits that look like chrysanthemum petals are the crab’s lungs. Discard.
- The meat inside the claws can be removed by breaking the joint on the top with a pair of crab crackers.
- Under the yellow fat you will find a hexagonal white pump. It is the heart of the crab and is considered to have a “cold” nature (寒 涼) in Chinese medicine. Discard.
- Use both hands to open the crab shell and enjoy the delicious crab roe and crab paste.
Typically, Shanghai crabs are best served with good quality Shao Hsing Hua Tiao Wine (紹興花雕酒), namely vintage 10 years and onwards. Don’t drink the ones for cooking.
Information source and adapted from: Wah Kee Wing Cheong Ho & C!ty ‘Super
Thank you !