I have to admit I had never heard of Hairy Crab before I moved to Hong Kong. The first time it was served to me it was inside a dumpling that oozed out a creamy orangy-yellow substance and an orange oil rich in taste when I bit into it, but at the time I still didn’t know what was so ‘hairy’ about the crab.
Since then I have become more educated. I hadn’t realised I had been walking past these crabs (alive, uncooked and bound with what I assume might be bamboo for sale on the street )every Autumn. The uncooked crabs are a deep oceanic green colour, their bellies white, and their claws covered in thick bristly brown fur whilst their legs have a fringe of fur down their sides (hence the term hairy crab). They have a short season of availability – September and October seem to be the prime months in which to enjoy them. From the number of stalls on the street I guess a lot of people find them easy enough to cook and eat at home.
Whilst I love to cook I am not so brave as to tackle live crabs or lobsters, so I stick to the relative safety of restaurants. As I mentioned, I had tried the meat and roe of hairy crab in dumplings, but until recently I had never eaten an entire crab.
Knowing we wanted to try a good quality, properly prepared Hairy Crab friends of ours took us to Shanghai Lu Yang Cun Restaurant in WTC (World Trade Center), Causeway Bay.
The restaurant isn’t cheap, however during hairy crab season they run some good set banquets which include the hairy crab. We got to choose the size of the crabs and as with most live seafood in Hong Kong were asked to inspect the crabs before they were cooked to make sure we were happy with the freshness (ie that they were still alive).
Shortly afterwards the crabs returned to our table, no longer deep green, but a crisp bright orange colour.I was a little unsure what to do with this crab who now sat lifeless in front of me patiently waiting to be eaten. Fortunately the waiters were attentive enough to ask if we wanted them to open the crab up for us. Relieved I watched as the crab was broken apart and a piece considered bad to eat (I hazard to say poisonous) was removed before being placed back in front of me.
Donning rubber gloves and with the assistance of a small fork we began the delicate process of eating. This was not a meal to be rushed as the flavours were very rich. It was intriguingly tasty and left us feeling very satisfied despite the crab being fiddly to eat. I was surprised by how enjoyable I found the whole crab and I appreciate why it is a dish Hong Kong people are fond of. Because it was so rich in taste I am not sure I could eat more than one in a sitting. I’m trying to think of how to describe the richness … I suppose a savoury version of a good chocolate mousse? That sounds weird I know but it is definitely worth experiencing.
Pleasantly satisfied by the crab other dishes began to make their way onto the table.
I hate sweet and sour everything … normally. I will make the token gesture of trying and then avoid the dish for the rest of the night. Well blow me away if the sweet and sour fish (above left) isn’t the best darn sweet and sour sauce I have ever tasted. My token taste turned into outright enjoyment as I took several pieces of the fish meat, conveniently served like a blooming onion. I have no idea how they did it but this dish tasted as good as it looked and made a believer of me – sweet and sour CAN taste delicious in the right setting.
The noodle dish (above right) had an egg based sauce with yet more crab in it. Whilst not appealing to look at it was delicious. The flavours were subtle but worked well together with the noodles.
Continuing with the crab theme, we also had hairy crab dumplings.
The challenge with these suckers is the oil hidden on the inside. Hairy crab is naturally oily and this is intentionally encapsulated in the dumpling. The first bite is a tentative one with the bowl held underneath so as not to drop the orange liquid that drips out (for you will want to enjoy dipping something into it to lap it up), nor get it on your clothes. Hairy crab oil stains clothing with its orange hue and can been quite difficult to remove. (Don’t ask me how I know that. ;)) Consensus on the hairy crab dumplings? YUM! However, I think I enjoyed the crab out of the shell despite its fiddliness better – or perhaps it was because we were overindulging in the crab – you decide.
The restaurant was nice, the staff attentive and the food enjoyable. The cost was towards the expensive end of the spectrum however not unreasonable for the quality of the food served. Certainly somewhere I would take people to experience hairy crab for themselves.