Date
23 March 2017
A fish stall stirs to life in the early monring hours. The best seasonal virgin mud crabs are those caught in Hong Kong waters. Photo: Bloomberg
A fish stall stirs to life in the early monring hours. The best seasonal virgin mud crabs are those caught in Hong Kong waters. Photo: Bloomberg

Hornlip mullets, virgin mud crabs: Pick your season

Two days ago, I bumped into a fishmonger. He took me to a stall where he often bought his supply, saying I should give the hornlip mullet (鱭魚) a try.

Hornlip mullets are about the length of a palm but they’re incredibly tubby.

I helped myself to two of those.

I steamed one in fermented and salted black soybean sauce and the other in coarse salt and Puning bean sauce.

The fatty meat melted in the mouth.

Everything would have been perfect but for the weak visuals — no fish oil was to be found.

I have fond memories of the dish.

I remember my mother would bring back big hornlip mullets from her visits to her hometown.

She had a way with them — steamed to perfection and laid out on a thin layer of yellowish fish oil.

In other words, it looked too good you did not want to touch it.

The one I just made came in on the strong side of the salted black soybean sauce, robbing some natural aroma from the fish itself.

I thought things would have gone down well if I had thrown the whole mix into a frying pan.

When in season, the hornlip mullet is superior to leopard coral trout and at least 10 times cheaper.

Then there is the seasonal virgin mud crab. The best are the ones caught in Hong Kong waters.

If you have tasted wild local virgin mud crabs, you would have sworn off the cultured variety such as hairy crabs and female mud crabs.

Local virgin mud crabs have eggs (roe) that are intensely flavorful. The meat is refreshingly sweet.

Hairy crabs’ roe, on the other hand, is rich but the meat is bland.

I have tried local virgin mud crabs. The meat was great but the roe was a little disappointing.

But if you wait until around the Mid-Autumn Festival, you’re more than likely to get the best of the lot.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 18.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at english@hkej.com

DY/JP/RA

HKEJ columnist; art, culture and food critic

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