“Six Course Hairy Crab Prix Fixe Menu”
It’s hairy crab season and the first hairy crab tasting of 2014 goes to Hai Tien Lo (海天楼) at Pan Pacific Hotel. Chinese mitten crabs (大閘蟹), also known as Hairy crabs, are prized for their golden roe and traditionally in season during Autumn in Shanghai, China. The crabs derive their name from the dense, furry hairs on their claws which segregates them from other crabs, making them feel ostracized and yearning acceptance in society.
Well, my stomach gladly accepts them for who they are.
I’ve once again been invited to Hai Tien Lo to taste and introduce the ‘Golden Hues of Decadence Menu’, which encompasses 6 courses showcasing different preparation methods of the Hairy Crab.
Lobster with Hairy Crab Meat and Crab Roe in Thick Broth. We begin the meal with a thick broth generously laden with lobster and hairy crab. With both main ingredients being crustaceans, the flavours obviously complemented each other as well as added differing textures with lobster chunks and shredded crab meat. Just the right amount of starchy thickness, it’s a simple soup yet with depth.
Steamed Whole Hairy Crab with Perilla leaves. Time to get our hands dirty. At Hai Tien Lo, latex gloves are provided in case you’re uncomfortable digging crab guts out, but that’s half the fun. As an a la carte item, one Hairy Crab costs $72.
There’s a certain technique and know how on eating hairy crabs, and you always start with peeling the underside flap off the crab first.
Once that’s done, you can flip the crab back up and just peel the entire top shell off from the bottom.
Now, there are 2 things you want to remove (other than the shell of couse): the crab’s heart and gills.
After prying open the shell, it looks like an awful mess but the heart is somewhere in the center, nearer to the top. Use the tip of a crab’s leg to prod and dig it out. The heart should look like a square white piece of flesh and is deemed ‘too cooling’ by Chinese traditionalist. If you find it too hard to locate, bear in mind the price of a single crab, then ask a waiter to do it for you instead.
The crab gills are long, feathery-looking sponges on the sides near the legs. It’s pretty distinct to pick out from the head. The gills are omitted more for their bitter, odd taste rather than health reasons. It doesn’t hurt if you accidentally ingest any, other than hurting your taste buds.
Pan-Fried Sliced Grouper Fish with Crab Meat, Crab Roe and Minced Pork. All elements were pretty light and you can taste the individual ingredients distinctively. Firm against soft, I’d have preferred a bit more delicious crab roe sauce though as I was almost licking the plate like a hobo at the end.
Steamed White Cabbage with Dried Scallops, Crab Meat and Crab Roe. Generous shreds of dried scallop, there was a mix of savoury, salty and hint of spiciness in the gravy combined with the soft cooked cabbage which still retained some crunch. Very well-balanced and one of the highlights for me.
Wok-Fried Rice with Hairy Crab Meat and Fish Roe. The tobiko roe added a bit more seafood oomph to the fried rice, which had very subtle crab shreds and flavour. The ginger was quite unnecessary though, as the fried rice rather light to me.
Chef’s Signature Dessert. An assortment of watermelon, Longan custard-filled ingot pastry and a sweet soup (somewhat like cheng tng). The chef’s dessert changes according to well, the chef, so don’t expect the same thing when you visit. The longan custard pastry was worthy of high praise, with a very unique custard blend varying away from the typical lotus paste.
Delicate yet rich, enjoy premium hairy crabs at Hai Tien Lo under chef Lai Tong Ping with his masterful Cantonese creations. Even though every dish features the same ingredients, the menu is planned with enough variance that you won’t get sick of it.
The Golden Hues of Decadence Tasting Menu is priced at $168 per person (min. 2 diners required) and lasts from 1 October till 16 November.
Related Guide: Hai Tien Lo Dim Sum Buffet Review