Flower crabs are a feast for all the senses - and you needn't shell out a fortune for them
Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee
Although I grew up eating large, sweet-fleshed Dungeness crabs, which were readily available in the winter in California, I’ve come to appreciate the many varieties of crab sold in Hong Kong. Among my favourites are flower crabs, so named because of the pretty pattern on their shells. The largest flower crabs are rare and extremely expensive, but the smaller ones sold in wet markets are an affordable luxury.
Steamed flower crabs with glutinous rice (pictured)
360 grams glutinous rice
200 grams long-grain rice
1 tsp fine-grain sea salt
30 grams dried shiitake mushrooms
30 grams medium-sized dried shrimp
6 laap cheong (Chinese air-dried sausages)
2 fresh flower crabs, with shells about 12cm at their widest point
Spring onions and fresh coriander leaves, for garnish
Put the glutinous rice and long-grain rice in a ricecooker bowl and rinse it in several changes of cool water. Mix in the salt, then add enough fresh water to cover the rice by 2cm. Refrigerate for at least eight hours, then add about 250ml of water to the bowl, place it in the rice cooker and steam (you might need more or less water, depending on the freshness of the rice). When the rice is ready, keep it on the “warm” setting of the cooker.
Soak the shiitake mushrooms and dried shrimp in warm water until the mushrooms are pliable. Drain them and squeeze as much water as possible from the caps. Trim off and discard the mushroom stems, and cut the caps into 5mm cubes.
Put the laap cheong in a bowl, place it on a tiered steamer and cook over simmering water for 10 minutes. Drain off the fat. Cut the sausage lengthwise into quarters then slice it into 5mm pieces.
Heat an unoiled wok over a medium-high flame, add the laap cheong and stir-fry until it’s lightly charred in spots. Add the shrimp and mushroom and stir-fry briefly. Add these ingredients to the rice and mix thoroughly.
Prepare the crabs. Scrub them quickly under cold running water. Use a long, sharp metal skewer to poke the crabs between the eyes. Pull off the top shell of each crab then invert it (so the tasty, gooey bits don’t fall out) and set it aside. Remove and discard the feathery lungs from the crab body and pull out the heart. Cut each crab body into quarters.
Spread three-quarters of the glutinous rice mixture onto a bamboo mat that fits into a large (10cm to 12cm) bamboo steamer. Reassemble the crab bodies so they look whole and place them on the rice. Arrange the back shells upside down on the rice. Put the lid on the bamboo steamer then place it over simmering water in a wok. Steam for 10 to 12 minutes in the covered wok.
When the crabs are cooked, put the back shell over the crab bodies, so they look like whole crabs. Cut the spring onions into 1cm pieces and scatter them over the crab and glutinous rice. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve immediately.
Leftover glutinous rice can be made into delicious snacks. Shape them into 1cm-thick pancakes and panfry them in an oiled skillet until the surfaces are crisp.
Flower crabs with lemongrass, chilli and coconut milk
4 fresh flower crabs, about 1kg in total
50 grams fresh ginger
3 large garlic cloves Half a medium-sized onion
2 red banana chillies, or another type of large mild chilli
3 lemongrass stalks, juicy core only
3 spring onions 30ml cooking oil
45ml fish sauce
165ml coconut milk
Fine sea salt and finely ground white pepper
Kill and clean the crabs using the method described in the first recipe. Quarter the crab bodies but leave the top shells whole.
Peel the ginger then lay it on a cutting board and crush it with the side of a cleaver before cutting it into rough pieces. Chop the garlic. Slice the onion about 3mm thick and the chillies about 5mm thick. Bruise the lemongrass core by lightly crushing it with the side of the cleaver, then cut it into thin rounds. Cut the spring onions into 3cm pieces.
Heat a wok over a high flame then add the oil.
When the oil is hot, add the ginger, garlic, onion and chilli to the wok. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the lemongrass, crab pieces (including the top shells), the fish sauce and a light sprinkling of salt and pepper.
Stir-fry briefly to combine the ingredients.
Cover the wok with the lid, turn the flame to medium and simmer for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the coconut milk and spring onion then stir constantly over a medium flame for a few minutes, or until the crab is cooked.
Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings, if needed. Scoop the ingredients onto a large, shallow serving dish and serve with steamed white rice.