Every year between October to December is the peak harvest of hairy crabs, the small freshwater crustaceans that thrive along the Yangtze River around Shanghai, mostly concentrated in lakes such as Yangcheng Lake in Jiangsu province. Also known as Chinese mitten crabs, these small delicacies are most easily recognised for the furry gauntlets surrounding their claws. Every year crab aficionados keep track of the crabs’ availability & go all-out for feasts featuring these steamed crabs as well as dishes prepared with their meat & roe.
Sold fresh & trussed with wet straw or thin ropes, hairy crabs are highly seasonal & are fantastic enjoyed over dinner with family & friends, where everyone gathers at the table enjoying the creamy crab roe & harvesting sweet flakes of crabmeat from their shells & legs. A Chinese traditional saying of “round abdomen for the ninth month & sharp abdomen for the tenth” indicates the order in which female & male crabs reach their optimum quality for consumption.
Female crabs have a round-shape flap on their belly, & they are liveliest with the highest storage of fat earlier in the season. The roe, golden yellow in colour with the consistency of a savoury custard resembling sea urchin, is considered the best among aficionados. The male crab comes into maturation later, & their bellies have a sharp, pointy flap. The ‘roe’, which is white & has a starchy paste-like consistency, is actually crab milt that has a thicker, almost cream-cheese like feeling; however, its flavour is not as strong as shirako, or cod milt.
With much anticipation for hairy crabs & the luxurious dishes incorporating their roe available at the city’s most notable restaurants, here are some pointers that all hairy crab lovers should know in order to enjoy them to the max in the comfort of their own home.