EVERY year during the months between May and October, glistening and boiled bright red stacks of spiced crayfish are a delicacy found across China, not only for foodies to consume during their leisure hours on summer nights, but also for soccer fans to gorge on with some bottles of iced beer. Some even commend it as the best choice for gatherings, as diners who eat them have to put aside their cellphones and use both hands to focus on peeling the crustacean.
Qianjiang, in central China’s Hubei Province, is known as “the home of crayfish,” where the creature has proliferated across the city’s fertile land and a large network of rivers and lakes, provide it with an ideal habitat to thrive in. In ancient times, the Chinese people developed a mode of growing rice while cultivating crayfish in the paddy field. The harmonious coexistence highlights the wisdom of Chinese ancestors.
In Qianjiang, braised crayfish is the most popular dish. To prepare it, you need to pour the crayfish into a wok, stir-fry them with seasonings, and then add in some beer which can remove the smell of the crayfish and also make the food savory. But the more important thing in making the dish is the use of an adequate amount of oil – at least 250 grams – and the cooking time in the covered wok should be a little over half an hour. The aromatic, glistening, bright red crayfish, with a blended fragrance of the fresh meat, the cooking oil, and dipping sauce can tickle the palates of every diner.
In parallel with Qianjiang, Xuyi County in East China’s Jiangsu Province is also renowned for its freshwater crustaceans. The plump crayfish in the Hongze
Lake’s high-quality water usually grows to a bigger size, with a thin shell, and has clean and tender meat.
For a gourmet, 13-spices crayfish is the top choice. The 13 spices are not a mixed seasoning available in supermarkets, but the mixture of 13 different dried scented medicinal herbs and spices. They include star anise, fennel, galangal, sand ginger, white pepper, cumin, amomum villosum, Sichuan pepper, angelica dahurica, orange peel, nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon. Preparation is done by tenderizing the meat with a blending formula of these spices, stir-frying them on a big fire for a couple of minutes, and then a plate of the most popular snack is ready to be served. Crayfish grown in the Dongting Lake in Hunan Province’s capital city Changsha is famous for both its quantity and quality. Spicy crayfish is generally served with mala – a hot and numbing flavor. A pot of broth stewed with pork bone, soybeans, and chopped pepper sauce has a very distinct and compelling fragrance. To prepare it, you need to brush the crayfish’s head and belly until it is clean. Preheat the pan, add oil and spices to stir-fry the cleaned crayfish.When the aroma comes out, pour in the broth and stew till the crayfish’s color turns to a glossy red and the broth thickens. Remove the pincers, pry open the shell, and pluck out the tender white meat, dip it in the spicy broth, and then savor the numbingly spicy taste which gives diners a pungent taste with tingly numbness and a tantalizing fragrance.