Empress Dowager’s Crab is a Chinese dish that most of you have probably never heard of — a scrambled egg with an unusual but delicious twist. I have mentioned in previous blogs the hairy crab obsession in Shanghai, that has in recent years spread to other major cities in China. People make this scrambled egg to satiate the craving for hairy crabs when crabs are not in season, or not in one’s budget. Fable had it that the dish was invented one day when the Empress Dowager demanded to eat crab out of a whim. The royal chef had to improvise with eggs because there were no crabs to be found and he didn’t want his head chopped off.
The egg white is to imitate the taste and texture of crab meat while the yolk the flavor of the crab roe. Since the steamed hairy crabs are always eaten with a dark sweet rice vinegar and finely minced ginger, this dish uses the same unique combination of ingredients to trick the tastebuds into making the association with crab. When I was growing up, it was made with only eggs, ginger, vinegar, salt and sugar, but the fancier version nowadays includes diced fish or prawns. I used ling cod today.
I have always loved eggs no matter how they are prepared — soft boiled, hard boiled, over-easy, poached, omelette, braised in soy and tea, steamed egg custard… you name it. Eggs are the most versatile food in the world, and today they are masquerading as crab meat. Traditionally the yolk is cooked slightly runny. Peter doesn’t like his eggs runny and I cooked the yolk a little bit longer, but still very soft. You mix the cooked white and the slightly runny yolk right before serving to let the flavor of the yolk coat the white.
Empress Dowager’s Crab (Scrambled Egg with Fish)
4 extra-large eggs, white and yolk separated and beaten
3 to 4 oz white fish or prawns
2 1/2 tablespoons dark sweet rice vinegar (CHINKIANG VINEGAR, Chinese supermarket)
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 teaspoon sugar, separated
1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
1 tablespoon Shao Xing cooking wine to marinate the fish
1/4 teaspoon corn starch
2 tablespoons cooking oil, separated
Chives or cilantro leaves for garnish
In a ziplock bag or a bowl, marinate the fish in the Shao Xing cooking wine and a pinch of salt. Leave in the fridge for 30 minutes to over night.
Beat the egg white and egg yolk separately in two bowls.
Pat dry the fish and dice into 1/3 to 1/2 inch cubes. Mix the corn starch with the diced fish. Stir the diced fish into the egg white with a teaspoon of the minced ginger and a pinch of the salt.
Beat the yolk with with 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 loosely packed tablespoon minced ginger, a pinch of salt and 1/2 teaspoon sugar.
In a small bowl, mix 1 teaspoon minced ginger with 1 1/2 tablespoon vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon sugar and a pinch of salt. Set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a non-stick pan on medium heat. Pour the egg white, fish mixture into the pan and gentle stir until the fish turns opaque. Put the cooked egg white and fish cubes on a serving plate and set aside.
Wash and dry the pan. Heat the rest of the oil in the pan on medium low heat, pour the yolk mixture into the pan and stir until slightly congealed but still a bit runny. Scoop the cooked yolk on top of the egg white and the fish.
Garnish with chives or cilantro leaves.
Mix the white with the yolk before serving. Pour the vinegar ginger mixture into he dish if desired. Give it a taste before deciding how much of the ginger vinegar mixture you need.