Expert Tips: How To Cook And Peel Hairy Crab Like A Pro

Cooked hairy crab in a bamboo steamer on a plate

Hairy crab — the prized delicacy that is only available from October to November each year. You’ll recognise it from its distinctive dark green shell (before it’s popped into the steamer, of course), and its fuzzy brown claws that earned the hairy crab its name. Loved for its natural sweetness and buttery roe, knowing how to cook hairy crab properly is key in enhancing the deliciousness of this dish. Here, we spoke to Head Chef Ng Sen Tio of acclaimed Cantonese restaurant YAN in National Gallery Singapore for expert tips on how to cook hairy crabs. 

How to cook the best hairy crab at home this 2023

Never handled live crabs before? Fret not! The trick is to keep the string ties on — so the crabs don’t scuttle off! — and clean the crabs one at a time. When ordering live hairy crabs, it’s best to cook them on the day itself instead of storing them in the freezer.

  • How to clean hairy crabs

live hairy crabs tied with a string
(Credit: Food Trails / Flickr)

Step 1: Prepare a basin of cold water and fill it with ice cubes. The icy water is essential to keeping the live crabs, well, alive.

Step 2: Place one crab (yes, still with the string ties on) into the icy bath. Use a stiff brush to scrub the crab gently, making sure to clean all sides.

Step 3: Rinse off the crab in cold water and flip it belly side up on the steaming dish 

Step 4: Repeat steps one to three with the remaining crabs 

  • How to cook hairy crabs: steamed hairy crab recipe

While there are many answers as to how to cook and enjoy hairy crab at home, be it with fried rice or stir-fried, one of the easiest (and most delicious) ways to savour the natural sweetness of the fleshy meat is by simply steaming it. 

According to chef Ng of YAN restaurant, “The flesh of hairy crab is naturally sweet and does not require condiments during the steaming process, unlike mud and flower crabs that are usually cooked with ginger, garlic or light sauce.” He shares a simple method on how to cook steamed hairy crab.   

steamed hairy crab in a bamboo steamer
(Credit: Yan Cantonese Cuisine / Instagram)

Recipe ingredients

  • 5  Hairy crabs (live), weighing up to 250g each
  • 5  Dried perilla leaves (one for each crab)
  • Black vinegar
  • 1 small block  brown sugar (one small block)
  • Minced ginger 

Recipe instructions

  1. Place a dried perilla leaf (available on nanhuamedicalhall) on the belly side of each crab. This will add fragrance to the steaming process. 
  2. As for how long to steam live hairy crabs (available on Mamago Sg), steam them at high heat for 25 minutes. Leave to cool.
  • How to cook hairy crabs: dipping sauce recipe

person pouring black sauce on plate
(Credit: CA Creative / Unsplash)

The hairy crab recipe is not complete without its dipping sauce that enhances its flavour. Here’s chef Ng’s guide on how to prepare a crab-solutely good one.

Recipe ingredients:

  • Black vinegar
  • 1 small block brown sugar 
  • Minced ginger

Recipe instructions:

  1. To prepare the dipping sauce, let the black vinegar (available on Shopee Supermarket) simmer at a low heat for a few minutes
  2. Add the block of brown sugar (available on Finefood Grocer Official Store) bit by bit, to your taste.
  3. Stir the mixture continuously until all the brown sugar is dissolved. Leave to cool.
  4. Serve the steamed hairy crabs with the dipping sauce. Add the minced ginger to the dipping sauce just before you dig in. The dish can be served hot or cold.
  • How to peel hairy crab without making a mess

Now that you know how long to steam and cook hairy crabs at home with this recipe, it’s time for the tricky part — knowing how to peel it, without making a mess! Chef Ng shares some handy tips on how to peel the notoriously challenging hairy crabs, so you can indulge this season in 2023 while keeping your fingers mostly clean at the same time.

peel hairy crab with yellowish roe
(Credit: Blue Bird Market Place)

Step 1: Remove the triangular/oval apron of the crab located on the underbelly and discard it. Remove the top carapace and set aside.

Step 2: Use a spoon to remove the non-edible crab gills within the body, which are the grey spongy strips on the sides, and discard.

Step 3: Break off the pincers and remove the legs by cutting them off with scissors. Set these aside. Holding the body with both hands, break it into two halves to reveal the meat and creamy roe.

Step 4: For the pincer claws, cut along the sides of the biggest segment to reveal the flesh within

Step 5:
The legs are divided into three sections. Cut off the sections at each joint. Cut off and discard the middle sections. Use the smaller sections to insert into the larger joint to push the leg meat out. You can also use a chopstick to coax the meat out.

Learn how to cook the best hairy crab in Singapore this 2023

Sometimes, keeping it simple really is best. Enjoy the hairy crab season in Singapore this 2023 with our easy tips and recipe on how to cook hairy crab at home! If you’re searching for live hairy crab vendors in Singapore, check out our guide on where to buy hairy crabs! Alternatively, check out our top picks on where to get seafood delivery in Singapore. For more easy recipes, read our list of quick air fryer recipes that you can whip up in a jiffy!

This article was updated on 5 October 2023. Additional research done by Caryn Tan.