Saturday, November 10, 2018

First Crab of the Season

A combination of weather and government bureaucracy issues meant hairy crab season still hasn’t arrived even at the end of October – something unheard of for as long as I remembered (crab season usually began in early October). But the other day I managed to enjoy my first hairy crab this year, courtesy of some friends’ friend who organized a crab feast using Shanghainese hairy crabs she directly imported from the source.

Dinner was at Sang Kee in Wanchai, a place that we went occasionally and enjoyed the many delightful, classic Cantonese dishes. But this time the menu was entirely different than what we usually had and they were equally good, if not better. We began the evening with a few appetizer dishes that we ordered as extra, just as we were waiting for everyone to arrive and we wanted something to go with our wines. The deep-fried squid is always my favorite dish here and it never disappoints, but I also loved the slices of pig's ear with Szechuan chili peppers (麻辣豬耳), a cold dish served in tapas-like portion. I thought that’s perfect to go with some champagne, with the acidity and slight sweetness went well with that spicy kick.

Of course, the highlight of the evening was the steamed hairy crabs, which arrived in a well-organized pile on a huge platter. They were not the biggest crabs I have had but they came in pretty decent size (5-6 taels, or around 200g each) and steamed just right. I felt the delicate meat and the creamy golden roes were so tasty (and with a hint of umami sweetness) that I didn’t need any additional condiments. Of course there were plenty of Shanghainese Huadiao yellow wine (aged 15 years and kept in traditional canisters) to go around with the dish. And the crabs were so good that many of us asked for a second round, served towards the end of our meal.

We also had a couple other crab dishes. The deep-fried shrimp and crab meatball (蟹粉炸蝦丸)was based on the traditional version using mashed shrimp meat for the bouncy flavor, but this time crab meat (and some roes) were added, giving it extra umami taste. That’s my favorite course of the night and I swore I could have munched on that non-stop. The sautéed pea shoots and mushrooms was coated entirely in the crab meat and roes mixed with gold flakes. Well I didn’t know whether the bling-bling gold flakes added anything to the overall taste, but certainly gave the dish extra credits for presentation.

All the other dishes were excellent - consistent with what I expected from this place. The chicken was cut into chunks and steamed with mushrooms and maca (a Peruvian herb said to have the same medicinal value as ginseng) inside a giant lotus leaf, and the meat was perfectly tender and juicy. The sautéed giant prawn was served with fried vermicelli underneath taking in all the intense flavor from the gravy sauce made from the meat jus of the prawns. We couldn’t have enough of those noodles so we asked for an extra portion to refill.

There were also other traditional dishes such as a pair of steamed fish with julienned meat, and the stuffed tofu and soft bean curd sheet (similar to Japanese yuba) served in superior broth. Fried rice was our last savory course of the menu, and it’s done with a mix of Chinese sausages. It’s usually not the course to highlight in any Cantonese banquet meal but this one stood out with great flavor.

We were pretty stuffed by the time we finished the fried rice and the extra round of crabs, but this didn’t stop us from asking for congee as an encore course. After all the restaurant is famous for their congee with bits of rabbitfish (known locally as lai mang 泥鯭) served in casserole. And we put on an extra touch of picked crab meat in our bowl for even better taste. We also found the perfect pairing of “white sugar cake” (the old-school Cantonese dessert made of glutinous rice flour) and a glass of sauternes. The slight acidity in the dessert provided just the right balance to the sweetness from the wine. That was just one of the many other bottles that were opened and poured throughout the evening.

When? October 25 2018
Where? Sang Kee Restaurant, 2-3/F, 107-115 Hennessy Road, Wanchai
Menu Highlights? Deep-fried Prawn and Crab Meatballs 蟹粉炸蝦丸
2006 Chateau Branaire-Ducru, St Julien
2014 Domaine Dominique Laurent Vosne-Romanee 1er Cru "Les Suchots"
Champagne R&L Legras Blanc de Blancs Brut Grand Cru NV (en Magnum)
Champagne Palmer & Co Blanc de Noirs NV
2015 Domaine Auffray Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons
2010 Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes

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