July 24, 2019

The Yummiliciousness of the Mud Crab 清蒸奄仔蟹

chinese, immature female, Mud Crab, recipe, steamed, virgin, yim chai, 奄仔蟹, 清蒸, 青蟹
By Published: 2019-07-24
While doing research for our Soy Sauce Marinated Crab 醬油醃蟹 post I got pleasantly sidetracked on to the very interesting subject of the mud crab 青蟹 (which is the type of crab we decided to use for our soy sauce marinated crab.)  The more I looked into the information on the mud crab the more various names for the crab kept popping up.  

Lots and lots of names...it was crazy.  What was going on?  How many names could one crab possibly have?  

Well, it turns out that this humble looking green shelled mud crab 青蟹 has specific Chinese names for many stages of its life, each stage offering a different yet equally yummilicious taste and textural experience.  It's so amazing the different offerings this little crab has to offer to the seafood lover!

chinese, immature female, Mud Crab, recipe, steamed, virgin, yim chai, 奄仔蟹, 清蒸, 青蟹,
The mud crab before cooking

The mud crab season is from May to Oct-November so it's the perfect to to seek out these delicious crabs.  The different stages of the mud crab for excellent eating are:

-The mud crab at its youngest stage is called the water crab 水蟹 and the meat is tender and sweet and suitable for congee and soup.

-The next stage is the stage of crab we are showcasing today (we'll discuss more in a bit), the virgin immature female crab or "yim chai" 奄仔.  This is the female crab before mating and the crab bodies are chock full of immature roe, a golden gorgeous kind of crab cream...OMG...so good!  Most definitely suitable for salivating over and gorging upon!

-The most familiar stage of the mud crab is that of the mature crab, wherein the male mature crab is known as the 'meat' crab, or 肉蟹, and the female mature crab is known as the 'roe' crab, or 膏蟹.  The meat crab is packed full of sweet meat while the female also has an abundance of gorgeous red orange roe.  I'm sure all crab lovers have tried out both of these.

chinese, immature female, Mud Crab, recipe, steamed, virgin, yim chai, 奄仔蟹, 清蒸, 青蟹,
The cooked mud crab turns a bright red
The following two stages do not necessarily happen in order but occur around the molting and mating cycle of the mud crabs:

-A stage known as peeler crab stage, 重皮, when the crab forms a soft shell inside the hard shell in preparation for the molt, basically having two shells, one hard one soft, at the same time.  This stage of the crab is sought after for the eating of the soft shell inside.

(Of course there is also the soft shell stage, in which the molt has occurred, the hard shell is gone and the soft shell has not yet hardened.  I love soft shell crab!)

-The last stage is the most rare and sought after stage.  The "butter" crab stage 黃油蟹 is similar to the virgin immature female crab or "yim chai" 奄仔 stage except it is more...more enough to command seriously high prices.  

The now adult female is in the spawning season (from June thru August) and likes to gather and sunbathe in the warm sunlight water of shoals.  The crab cream is heated through and thus permeates the entire crab with a red gold cream, even the claws!  

I have never had one of these beauties but fervently hope in the near future to afford one!

chinese, immature female, Mud Crab, recipe, steamed, virgin, yim chai, 奄仔蟹, 清蒸, 青蟹,

So, going for the poor man's gold (as in very extremely yummy but still affordable), we return to the virgin immature female crab or "yim chai" 奄仔.  This crab is stuffed with an abundant amount of golden crab cream, not as much as the "butter" crab 黃油蟹 but quite a lot as you can see in the photo above.  

It's a bit pricey but affordable for the occasional treat.   Better than the roe crab, actually it's soooo crazy good it gives me shivers just thinking about it...

chinese, immature female, Mud Crab, recipe, steamed, virgin, yim chai, 奄仔蟹, 清蒸, 青蟹,

If you want to try this seafood treat ask for the virgin immature female crab or "yim chai" 奄仔 at your local trusted seafood vendors.  We got ours at our neighborhood local wet market (sorta of like a farmers market).  

You'll want to look for a clean looking crab (clean indicates younger crabs) with pinchers that are sharp and clear (indicates less use and thus a younger crab.)  

The most important thing to check for is the rounded dome on the underside of the crab.  This dome will indicate a female.  The dome on the immature female will be clean and smooth, smaller and less hairy around the edges than that of a mature female.  (And if you're interested the male crab has a tower shape instead of a dome.)

My 老公 got interested in my crabby research as well, recalling going along with his father to pick up a couple of fresh caught "yim chai" 奄仔 crabs at the Macau pier upon debarking ship.  They would bring them along to their hotel where the restaurants would prepare the crabs for them and they would feast on the yummilicious crabs that very night.  

He had forgotten all about that memory until it came up in my research and then of course we had to go out right away to find some for ourselves.  And who knew that such a delicious seafood treat awaited us?  Thank the great and good seafood gods that brought us to such delights!  

This has got to be the best ever way to...die, die must try!...eat crab!

chinese, immature female, Mud Crab, recipe, steamed, virgin, yim chai, 奄仔蟹, 清蒸, 青蟹,
Okay, that's just delirious, amirite?
Steamed Immature Female Mud Crab Recipe

Prep time: Cooking time:


  • 2 live immature female mud crabs 奄仔 
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce for dipping
  • 1 small chili, chopped (optional)


Clean crabs with a brush under running water, keeping any ties on.  Dry completely then put crabs in freezer for 10 mins or until the crabs have fallen asleep (i.e. stopped moving).  

Boil water for steamer.  When water is boiling, put crabs (with any strings or ties removed) on to a plate, bellies down, and place in steamer.  Steam for 15- 20 mins, depending on the size.  Remove from steamer.  

Using a cloth or pot holder to hold the crab, flip over and remove the dome by lifting up and breaking off.  Flip over until right side up and grab the top shell edge at the back of the crab and lift off and remove, placing the top shell upside down on serving plate.  From the body of the crab remove the grey gills and discard.  

Use chopper to chop the crab body in half and place on serving plate.  Serve hot with your handy dandy crab cracker pickers and a small dipping plate of soy sauce with chopped chilies.  Enjoy!



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