Dreaming of Shanghainese little lobsters…

by Forager on March 11, 2009

Have I mentioned I have a slight obsession with crustaceans? I love them in every form and if it appears on a menu, I’m going to order it. I have now eaten various crustacean species all over the world, from the delicious Alaskan King Crab in Miami, to the alien insect-like mantis prawns in Hong Kong.

My favourite crustacean meal memory from Shanghai was of some incredibly tasty, moreish and addictive little crustaceans called xiao long xia, or “little lobsters” that we serendipitously stumbled upon in the French Quarter of Shanghai. These delectable morsels were served by the trayful and customers were given a pa
ir of disposable gloves and various dipping sauces (the one we chose had chilli and shanghai Worcestershire sauce). Yes, one-size-fits-all disposable gloves – always a good sign that there is a messy affair ahead. And once you have a taste of them, you can’t stop at one. Sooo delicious! The co-pilot and I agree that taking a 12 hour flight from Sydney to Shanghai just for another taste of xiao long xia would be utterly worthwhile.

Not content to wait for my next trip to Shanghai, we decided to try and re-create this dish with yabbies. It just so happens that there were some at the fish markets! So we cooked them in a xiao long xia sichuan sauce recipe from a great site called Rasa Malaysia. Here’s our slightly adapted version:

Recipe: Sichuan Ma La Yabbies (麻辣小龙虾)

Ingredients (serves 2):

10 yabbies (about 0.5 kilos)
2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
5 sprigs coriander
2 tablespoons fresh ginger (finely chopped)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
10-15 dried red chilies or 2-3 tablespoons of dried chilli flakes (depends how spicy you want it)
1 tablespoon sichuan peppercorns (also known as
“prickly ash”)
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 teaspoon chicken powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 cup water
Salt to taste


Soak the live yabbies in cold water with some salt for half an hour. Rinse them a few times with cold running water until they are thoroughly clean. Put them in a bag in the freezer for 20 – 30 mins to anaesthetise the yabbies (this is the most humane way to cook them). Heat up a pot of salted boiling water and toss in a few of the yabbies at a time. Take care not to crowd the pot and reduce the temperature too much. Remove and drain when the yabbies turn red (about 1-2 mins). Heat up a wok with the cooking oil. Add in garlic, ginger, dried chilies, Sichuan peppercorns and fry until spicy and aromatic. Toss in the yabbies and stir continuously for 1-2 minutes. Add in all the seasonings, water, cilantro and cover the wok for 5 minutes. Dish out and serve hot.

The yabbies were delicious! The sauce so tasty – just what my Shanghainese xiao long xia craving needed to tie me over till my next Shanghai trip. Tantalisingly spicy and moreish without being so tongue numbingly spicy from the sichuan pepper that I couldn’t appreciate the yabbies. The flesh itself was sweet, plump and juicy. It made for a very messy dinner and had me fishing around the bowl for more, peering into the little claws, shells and heads to make sure I’d gotten every last morsel *sigh* all gone.

Oh – we also got some lovely fresh whiting whilst we were at the markets. The co-pilot grilled these with a little salt, pepper and olive oil then served them with 2 different tomato-based salsas: one with olives and capers, the other with jalapeno and coriander. Fresh, simple and delicious – although, the co-pilot had forgotten how much he dislikes the fiddly bones in smaller fish and grumbles under his breath all through the meal.

But we both knew the star of the meal were the yabbies, so it didn’t really matter.

Foodie in the know:

If you’re catching or harvesting your own yabbies, to improve the taste the NSW Dept of Primary Industries recommends that you cleanse them in a holding tank of fresh water to cleanse their guts of the detritus and other decaying matter they feed on.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 FFichiban March 12, 2009 at 12:14 am

Yummm loving their pre and post cooked colours as well!

2 Forager March 13, 2009 at 10:58 am

Hey FFichiban – nothing compared to the taste of the flavours! :)

3 Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella March 13, 2009 at 6:58 pm

I’m slightly(ok really) obsessed with lobster. It features heavily on my Death Row menu although I hope it never comes to that! This looks interesting although I’m yet to cook a lobster/crab or yabbies myself

4 Forager March 16, 2009 at 9:54 am

Hey Lorraine – I know exactly how you feel about lobsters! They’re really easy to cook – and so much cheaper when you do it yourself! Not to mention that you get to eat as messily and slowly as your heart desires!

5 Rasa Malaysia March 17, 2009 at 5:26 am

Yummy, so delicious. It looks like yabbies are a lot meatier than crawfish, which is even better. I bet they are sweeter too. Glad you like my recipe. :)

6 Forager March 17, 2009 at 9:41 am

Hey Rasa Malaysia – Thanks again – delicious recipe and I’ll definitely use it again!
On an interesting note, we actually have crayfish here which I assumed was the same as your crawfish. But after a quick wiki search found that our yabbies are the same as your crawfish (both freshwater) whereas we call one species of saltwater lobster crayfish (they are substantially larger than yabbies). Bizarre.

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