It's that time of the year, people. The mooncakes are now replaced with the flooding of hairy crabs from China. Before you grab your utensils ready and your hands dirty, do look into the options of hairy crabs when dining out. Many restaurants are serving special dinner sets and deals for these prized crustaceans, and we have arrived at Man Wah, where a collaboration with Shanghai's Cheng Long Hang Crab Palace Restaurant (上海成隆行蟹王府) runs from October 27 to November 14. While the promotion is days away, we offer you a sneak peek into the luxury of crabs and their roe and the many inspired dishes created by Chef Man Sing Lee, chef de cuisine of Man Wah.
This time last year, the same collaboration between Cheng Long Hang Crab Palace Restaurant in Shanghai and Man Wah was held, as the chefs from the former were invited to Hong Kong to feature their hairy crab dishes. The promotion was a sold-out. This time around, the promotion runs slightly differently, showcasing still the restaurant's steady supply of hairy crabs, but the twist lies in the dishes which are creations by Chef Lee of Man Wah. "We did some research while visiting Hangzhou, Suzhou and of course, Shanghai earlier this year, and we got inspiration from these dishes from both Shanghainese cuisine as well as traditional Cantonese cuisine," explained Chef Lee. "While we showcase the best of hairy crabs of the season, we would not want to lose focus in applying them to dishes where Cantonese techniques are featured." Dishes featured at this Hairy Crab promotion will showcase hairy crab meat harvested from hairy crabs that weigh around 4 taels. Each crab will be steamed and then dissembled and have their meat hand-picked out from their shells. The amount of crab meat harvested from each crab would amount to about one-quartered of its original weight. Also, only male crabs were chosen for the meat-harvesting, since the crab roe from male crabs tend to be creamier and their meat more tender and fresher in taste as opposed to female crabs in comparison.
We began our crab feast with two standing signatures of Man Wah - "Crispy Mushroom Juliennes" (香醋脆素鱔) and "Shanghai Style Smoked Fish, Five Spices" (五香薰魚). Literally translated as "crispy vegetarian eel strips", shiitake mushrooms were julienned and deep fried until crispy, resembling deep fried strips of eel tossed lightly with black vinegar, a regional favorite.
The "Shanghai Style Smoked Fish" isn't really smoked, but slices of cod fish that were deep-fried and macerated in a sauce made with sugar, wine, spices, ginger and scallions. As the mixed flavours from the sauce penetrate into the fish, the flavours fused and create notes of smokiness.
"Chinese Wine Marinated Crab" (王府醉蟹)may be an acquired taste, not just because of its dark and glossy appearance, but also because the crabs were marinated in Chinese wine at its raw state and served as they were, wine-soused but deeply flavorful in each bite. Chinese wine and crabs have been a perfect pair and this certainly marks a good beginning of a crab-feaflaktured meal.
Crabs are not only featured in the dishes at this promotion, but also the element of entertainment as staff members from Shanghai's Cheng Long Hang Crab Palace Restaurant are invited to Man Wah for a performance of de-shelling each crustacean in less than 3-minute's time. Impressive a performance indeed, as the staff swiftly dismantle the anatomy of the crabs into different parts, and quickly they harvested the meat from the shell, body, and legs, and the most impressive of all, arranging the bodily pieces back into a crab-shape without losing a beat.
Returning customers to Man Wah will know of its popularity of baked custard tarts - jiggly egg custard encased in flaky pastry shell. Here Chef Lee improvised and made the best use of the pastry in "Crab Meat Served in a Pastry Shell"(蟹粉盞), where the same pastry is used to make a pastry shell and filled with meat from crab legs at the base whilst topped with crab roe at the top. This baked concoction may be bite-sized, but the creamy crab roe, combining with the firm crab meat, fills the palate with a burst of crab-ness in each bite.
"Braised Shanghainese Cabbage with Crabmeat"(蟹粉津白) was served to us while being warmed at the base. Chef Lee explained that the Shanghainese Napa Cabbage was cooked slowly until it has broken down into juicy bits, and served with a crabmeat sauce. The sweetness of the cabbage helps lightening up the heaviness from the crabmeat and roe sauce.
Shanghainese cuisine has been known to showcase a variety of strong flavours. Yet with hairy crab dishes usually only feature the crab meat or crab roe as the main star, which is why "Stir Fried Hairy Crab with Rice Cake and Salted Fish" (咸魚年糕毛蟹)comes as a surprise and becomes a highlight of the evening. Chef Lee selected a salted fish variety found hear in Lau Fu Shan (流浮山) to go head-to-head with the flavorful hairy crabs.
The crabs are coated lightly with flour and deep fried before they are added to the pot for a brief braise with stir-fried mixture of salted fish, edamame, and chewy glutinous rice cakes. After moments of braising, the mélange of flavours fuse together as the creamy crab roe mixes with the salted fish, as all of these wonderful flavours are absorbed by the rice cakes.
Another highlight of the evening is the "Premier Crab Roe on Steamed Rice" (禿黃油撈飯). A signature from last year's menu popular enough to make its way back into this year's menu. The Premier Crab Roe is harvested from both male and female crabs, all combining the golden creamy roe with little chewy bits in every bite. The Crab Roe, together with the flavourful oil, marks an enticing climax to the evening.
After an array of wholesome hairy crab dishes, the night is coming to a close with a dessert named "Shanghai Breakfast" (上海早點). It is a creation by Chef Lee and his team on a playful twist of breakfast items featured on a traditional Shanghainese breakfast, which consists of soy milk, glutinous rice cake (粢飯糕), and Chinese fritters(油條). In this plated dessert we saw glutinous rice cut and pan-fried until crispy on the outside and chewy inside. The breakfast soy-milk now takes form of an ice cream (豆漿雪糕)made with extra-thick homemade soy milk, whilst the Chinese fritters come in crispy slices that adds a crunchy element to the ice cream.
The Hairy Crab Promotion menu at Man Wah runs from October 27 to November 14. Interested parties should book early as spaces are limited.