THE CHAIRMAN’S MANY SIGNATURE DISHES such as their beautifully nuanced soy sauce chicken or caramelised spare ribs have made it one of the most lauded Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong. The steamed fresh flower crab with aged Shaoxing wine has even achieved iconic status among the city’s fickle foodies.
But even that, however, is not what owner Danny Yip is most excited about right now.
The ingredient that has him waxing lyrical is the roe from tiny, wild-caught freshwater crabs from Southern China, in its prime only in the winter months. The crab itself is not much larger than a coin, and the roe is labour-intensive to extract, making it a rare and prized ingredient.
“It used to be a commonplace ingredient in the Cantonese kitchen, but not anymore,” says Yip. “We only get a little bag, but that alone is the yield from thousands of crabs,” continues Yip, who claims it is “the best crab roe I have ever tasted.”
To showcase the umami of the roe, his chefs have created a dish that is distinctly Cantonese in style. A light yet flavourful winter melon broth forms the base, with a heavier middle layer of pomelo skin cooked in fish broth. This forms the stage for the sautéed crab roe, spooned on top. “When you taste it, the umami is huge,” says Yip.
With such seasonal and limited quantities, this dish makes a rare appearance at the tables. The only way to know if you are fortunate enough to have a taste of it, is to inquire at booking, or make friends with the staff who might keep aside a portion of this coveted delicacy for you.
For those who miss it, the flowery crab is available year-round, thankfully. Found on just about every table at The Chairman, the dish is exceptional. Yip says the secret of it lies in its meticulous preparation, starting with the man who goes to the fish market at dawn to select the freshest crabs as soon as they come in from the boats.
The crab is steamed with aged Shaoxing wine and chicken fat, which rounds the alcohol and imparts flavour. Clam juice takes things up a notch, and the silkiest, specially-commissioned layered rice noodles make the perfect accompaniment to soak up all that delicious goodness.
Yip says it’s a simple dish that his chefs have redefined: “People have tried it at other restaurants. It might look exactly the same but taste different. Ours has more umami.”