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Best pairing with beloved crustacean: Sherry

By John H. Isacs   (Shanghai Daily)

15:59, November 16, 2012

Many people living in Shanghai bemoan the advent of cooler temperatures and shorter days. True gourmets, however, see a silver lining to the increasingly dismal weather of autumn - the seasonal appearance of hairy crabs.

Few foods illicit such glee among lovers of Chinese delicacies as does this rather nasty and ugly-looking crab. Despite being quite troublesome to properly dissect and eat, hairy crabs are one of China's most beloved gourmet delights.

From pest to delicacy

Historical documents first mention the eating of hairy crabs during the Western Zhou Dynasty (c. 11th century-770 BC). Native to the coastal estuaries of eastern China, the consumption of hairy crabs may well be even more ancient. One of my favorite Chinese poets, the wine-loving Li Bai who lived during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), wrote of the sublime pleasures of experiencing the crabs with good wines. But this was not always the case.

Legend has it that the early settlers of the areas surrounding the Yangtze River Delta loathed the crabs that infested their lands after autumn floods, eating crops and terrorizing the local population with their fiendishly long claws and pincers. They killed the crabs in any way they could but it was often a hopeless cause as the sheer numbers of crabs often overwhelmed them.

One day a farmer named Ba Jie threw some crabs into boiling water to kill them and he was soon seduced by the aromas emanating from the pot. As he took the cooked crabs from the pot and started breaking them apart, the tempting aromas overwhelmed him and he took a first bite. As the story goes, the rest is history.

Perfect partner

Over the years I've written on the pleasures pairing different wines with hairy crab, known in the west as the mitten crab. From acidic Sauvignon Blanc and Albarino white wines to classic Chinese yellow wines like Shaoxing, hairy crabs have many good partners. But if you really pushed me to give you the singularly most perfect wine partner for hairy crabs I would have but one answer, Sherry.

Sherry is one of the world's greatest and most inimitable wines. From the historic city of Jerez with a three-millennium history, Sherry is one of the two most difficult to make and distinctive wine styles in the world.

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