If you ask Chinese people what makes their mouths water in autumn, Chinese mitten crab would be top of the list. The seasonal delicacy is precious, umami and nutrition-inspired with large quantities of proteins, calcium, vitamins and crab erythropoietin. For instance, the vitamin A, vitamin B and phosphorus content is 6 -10 times higher than that of fish.
What is Chinese mitten crab?
Chinese mitten crab, known as Chinese hairy crab, is named for its furry claws. The crab inhabits rivers, estuaries and coastal lakes across Northeast China’s Yalu River near the border between China and North Korea, to the Chiu-lung River in South China’s Fujian province.
The Chinese began breeding mitten crab a thousand years ago. The lakes around East China’s Yangtze River provide impeccable conditions for the rearing of mitten crab. The best of the best are the ones from Yangcheng Lake, followed by Taihu Lake, Gucheng Lake, and Changdang Lake.
Mitten crab depends on fresh water and breeds in the ocean. Every year in the late summer or early autumn, the grown-up mitten crabs start to migrate from the Yangtze River to the oceans. It is the perfect time for the fishermen to catch ripe mitten crabs and to nurture newborn mitten crabs. When the eighth lunar month arrives, female mitten crabs filled with tasty crab roe are ready to be served. After the ninth lunar month, it’s the turn of the male mitten crab to be savoured in crab paste.
The history of Chinese mitten crab
Archaeological studies indicate that Chinese have been eating mitten crab for over 5000 years. Archaeologist found a large number of leftovers among the ancients of the Yangtze River delta. Later in Tang Dynasty (618-907), the mature mitten crabs from Yangcheng Lake were considered valuable tributes to the rulers of emperors. In addition, a book of Legendary Mitten Crab in the Song Dynasty (960–1279) narrated that East China’s Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces have great mitten crabs, and the ones from Yangcheng Lake in Suzhou were better with 0.5 kg in weight.
In fact, Chinese mitten crabs were introduced to Europe in the early 20th century and to the United States decades ago.
Choosing Chinese mitten crab
The 120 sq.km - Yangcheng Lake consist of two parts-West Lake and East Lake. Because the West Lake is situated in the town Bacheng within Kunshan city, mitten crab there is known as the Ba Cheng Yangcheng Lake hairy crab. Meanwhile, the East Lake lies in the city of Suzhou, so its crab is known as Suzhou Yangcheng Lake mitten crab. You can distinguish the authentic crabs by the independent codes certificated by the respective authorities from Bacheng or Suzhou.
Not only are the wild mitten crabs of Yangcheng Lake sought after, but those cultivated by national scientific research institutes and private bases are also favoured. How should you select an excellent mitten crab without a certificate? For example, the crab shell must be shiny dark green, with a protruding navel and a cheliped is full of fuzzy furs, moving energetically.
Unlike other types of crab, mitten crabs are thought by some to be an invasive species given how quickly they reproduce and spread into new habitats. Despite being a delicacy in China, they are often seen as a pest in the West due to their remarkable ability to survive. Like all crab, Chinese mitten crab is packed with protein and is an excellent source of minerals, particular zinc, iron, copper and phosphorus. Crab meat is also thought to protect against heart disease and support the immune system.
Cooking Chinese mitten crab
Chinese mitten crabs combine well with other ingredients, but there are three most classic recipes in Eastern China.
Steamed crab recipe
Wrapped the mitten crab tightly and place in a bamboo steamer with ginger, perilla leaves, salt, and Chinese Shaoxing wine. Then steam it in the cooking pot with water. After the water boils, you still have to steam it at least 20 minutes. Before serving, prepare some sauces and Chinese Shaoxing wine to pair with.
Crab brewed in orange recipe
Prepare the orange: remove the flesh but leave a little of the juice. Fill the empty orange with mitten crab roe and meat. After covering the orange, put it into the cooking pot with Shaoxing wine and vinegar. Finally, once the crab is cooked, pair it with aged Chinese vinegar and salts to enhance its flavour.
Liquor-soaked crab recipe
The liquor sauce takes time to prepare. First of all, mix a handful of salt, onion, ginger, cinnamon, star anise and pepper with water. Secondly, put the liquid into the cooking pot to boil for a while. After getting rid of the impurities and cooling, proper Kaoliang spirit and sugars are added into it. Keep the crab alive in fresh water for 2-3 days. Wait until the crab clears on its own, remembering to add some salt to the crab navel. Finally, put the cleaned crab or steamed crab into the prepared liquor and store it with a seal for 10 days.
Tips on cooking Chinese mitten crab
- In Chinese cuisine, mitten crab is most commonly paired with ginger or aged Chinese vinegar, often in the form of a dip.
- Crab should not be eaten with fruit that contains tannins, particularly persimmon or haw, sometimes used in Chinese medicine.
- The Chinese believe mitten crabs can be overly cooling for the body and should be consumed with warming Shaoxing wine or a cup of ginger tea.
- Ensure the crab meat is cooked thoroughly.
- Don’t overlook the legs; they are delicious stir-fried, with asparagus for example.