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Chinese Stir-fried Crabs - I don't get it...

Somebody straighten me out, please...

I went to a buffet today and tried, among other things, a couple of choice pieces from a pan of stir-fried "crabs with ginger." The crabs, of course, were in chunks - I chose a whole carapace plus one of the more sizeable sections of legs/body.I checked, and these were representative examples, maybe even prime choices, from a full pan (not everyone else's rejects).

Now, bear in mind, this is on the East coast, where we get Maryland blue crabs - a famous regional food in their own right, and a Maryland crab feast is famous among Chowhounds, but I have never troubled with those because it's so hard finding the meat - I'm hungrier after dining on crabs than I was before the meal. So I'm prepared to believe that maybe the problem is me.

But these Chinese crabs seemed utterly devoid of any meat. Nothing at all in the carapace, NOTHING. And the legs were easy to crack, with elusive tiny shreds of meat inside that the stir-frying had welded inextricably to the shell. Going after any meat through the body section was equally unrewarding - I got maybe a scrap the size of my fingernail, and nothing more.

WHAT AM I NOT GETTING HERE, PLEASE!?!? Do people just love sucking the sauce off empty crab shells? Is there some technique where you work the goodies out in your mouth and spit out the 95% that remains? (Ewwww...)

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  1. If it was at a buffet, then I would suspect the overcooking in mass quantities made for a poor dish. I also doubt that the place was spending top dollar on ingredients. Probably the crabs were poor quality in that they were essentially picked over before even being cooked by the supplier as ones not long for this world. I know that I hate getting bluecrabs from some marts in Chinatown where they toss in a few recently dead/dying crabs per dozen thinking they won't be noticed! That or the crabs were empty fleshed because they were using up their own body mass for subsistence, or the crabs were off season.

    1. If you get a chance to visit Singapore, the first thing I would suggest you try is not durian or Hainanese chicken &rice but crab. Chilli (sg) crab or black pepper crab are king there. There are restaurants whose reputations based on their unyielding ability to dish out massive platters of incredible crab. The somewhat large crabs are reputed to come from Sri Lanka - like a Dungeness crabs that have been under the guidance of Barry Bonds' trainer. They're prepared in a wok - a huge wok - and takes but a few minutes to prepare. Any longer than a few minutes would only degrade the crab.

      Yes, diners do love sucking the sauce off the shells and sopping up the rest of it along with the bits of garlic, herbs, and other seasonings with pseudo-baguettes, but the real bonus is that the crab parts that are supposed to have meat really do. Big succulent sweet pieces that take varying degrees of effort to gain access to. Like any other crustacean, it is best served with the shell on, and the rewards that you'll reap are steaming moist meat that trembles with sweetness that will make you roll your eyes back as your brain goes into overload. Your badge of courage will be your shirt which will be covered with splotches of sauce, crab pieces, and crab juice.

      The buffet you went to obviously is not run by nor patronized by Singaporeans. And if by chance it is, they should be ashamed of themselves for tarnishing the image of their fellow citizens.

      1. Judging something from a buffett, is what you are not getting. I am telling you, one whiff of the aroma from a plate of Bay Fung Tong Crab is enough to drive some people into estacy.

        1. The crabs I have eaten in Chinese places have been deliciously plump, with plenty of meat in the body and legs. I'd suggest going to a well-regarded restaurant in your area and ordering off the menu. Buffet offerings are usually sub-par.

          1. It may have been a bad buffet (I've heard that happens). Might have been something less than Grade A crabs. But most likely you just don't like crab.

            1. Wayne, I live in your area and I think I know which buffet restaurant you went to; I go there all the time. I do like the crabs there, but, then again, I do like crabs. The Chinese way of eating crabs has never been about consuming quantities of crab meat. It's more a leisurely picking out the meat, savoring the fragrance, and sucking the meat and juices and sauces off the shells. Think about the Chinese love of sucking on savory chicken wing tips and licorice-seasoned watermelon seeds -- very little substance, very much procedure.

              My big brother just does not "get" crab. He does not have the patience to pick out all the meat, and then there's so little of it. That's why he prefers lobster. I think the world is divided into lobster-eaters and crab-eaters.

              1. Yes people love sucking the sauce off of the crab shells, yes there is a technique to work the goodies out.

                If you have questions about crab, wait until you try chicken feet or duck's tongue.

                It isn't about quantity, it is about flavor and texture.

                1. Why type of crabs were they? Dungeness? Orange shelled (when cooked?)

                  Just wondering what kind. On the west coast, in SF, dungeness aren't in season until Nov. so what you will be small and I'm not sure where you get them. When in season, dungeness can be pretty big.

                  1. I think it's a buffet issue as others have pointed out. If you order a crab dish, in season, it's so succulent and meaty. You can suck the seasonings of the shell, too, but there's so much more than that. In a buffet, any decent piece is grabbed quickly. If you went to Lucky 3, I had to fight just to get a lo bak go and ended up with the pieces at the botttom. Not really fight since I'm passive which is why I ended up w/ just the pieces.

                    1. In my experience eating crab in Chinese restaurants and at home, there is no meat in the carapace (assuming that you mean the top shell) unless you count the tomalley. If you got the bottom of the body with the small legs, not much meat there either. What was the experience of your dining companions?

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: chocolatetartguy

                        What companions? I'm the only 'hound in a family of "why did you have to put spices in it Dad?" meat-and-potatoes, mac-n-cheese-in-a-box eaters. I'm dyin' here!

                        Ah, well ... better my own company than uncongenial company - I lunch alone every week or so at Lucky 3, to the point where I wlk in and they just point to "my usual table" (closest one to the door, for this old fat guy with a walker).

                        Anyway, thanks everyone for the great answers, all of them good! I think the bottom line is the comment that most likely I'm just not cut out to deal with crabs in the shell.

                        1. re: wayne keyser

                          I reread your original post and something puzzled me about the 2nd piece you selected "one of the more sizeable sections of legs/body." I have never seen such a piece. Usually all the legs are separated and the body cut in big chunks. I'm speaking of Dungeness here. I usually select the big claw or larger legs or a fat body piece. Plenty of meat.

                          Give it another try, but select more carefully. Eating crab in the shell is one of the better ways to go "animal."

                          1. re: chocolatetartguy

                            The local crab here is the Maryland Blue Crab - it separates into the top and two body-halves, and trying to dissect it any farther would make pitifully small pieces.

                            Picture a critter no larger than the palm of your hand (legs included).