Imitated Crab – Sai Pang Xie – a Beijing Imperial Recipe

There’s a story behind this imitated crab (sai pang xie) recipe, and it starts with the Empress Dowager Cixi craving crabs. Unfortunately, being based in Beijing means a lack of fresh crabs, so the imperial chefs found a clever way to cook eggs to make them taste as good as crab meat. I love this recipe because you can make a huge quantity of the “crab” without breaking the bank – and the bonus is that there’s no need to get fiddly with crab shells!

There are many variations of the recipe, starting with the poor-man’s version with just eggs. Others use white fish and a touch of prawns to achieve a texture closest to crab meat. I’ve used only prawns here, as I prefer that more seafood-y taste. I’ve also used a salted egg, as this adds a little extra punch to the recipe, but you can use normal eggs. If you’re using normal eggs, then make sure you add more salt in the egg white and egg yolk mixes.

Lastly, this version separates the egg white and egg yolk to create two parts with different textures. The egg white is the crab meat, and the egg yolk is the crab yolk. The most basic form of this recipe doesn’t bother with separating the two, but I really think that this step makes a huge difference to how good it tastes, so it’s not worth skimping on that.

The version below serves 2, and takes roughly 30 minutes to cook. Most of it is time spent chopping the prawns though!

4 eggs (optional: 1 of the eggs can be a salted egg)
2 thick slices of ginger (roughly 3mm and 5mm thick each)
90g of prawns (alternatively, use 70g of white fish and 5-6 prawns)
2 tbsps of Chinese rice vinegar (you need the dark coloured vinegar)
Optional: 1 tbsp of Chinese shaoxing cooking wine

You’ll also need salt to sprinkle into the egg mixes and olive oil for the pan.

Step 1: Separate the eggs so that you have the whites in one bowl and the yolks in another bowl. Make sure that there is enough space left in the bowls to add additional items. Add 2 tablespoons of water into each bowl – this will make the eggs fluffier when you beat it later.

Step 2: Grate the larger slice of ginger into the egg white, and the smaller one into the egg yolk.

Step 3: Chop the prawns into small pieces. You can try to use a food processor, but don’t put it in there for too long, as you still want the texture to be intact.

Step 4: Add the pawns into the egg white bowl and sprinkle with salt. Please note: I used one salted egg, so only added a pinch of salt. You’ll need to sprinkle more on if you are using only normal eggs. Don’t worry about adding too little, as you can always add more at the stir-frying stage. Mix well and beat the mix so that air bubbles form on the surface.

Step 5: Add vinegar to the bowl of egg yolk. Sprinkle with salt and beat well.

Step 6: Time to heat up some oil in the frying pan! The first to go in will be the egg white mix, as this will sit at the bottom of the bowl when it’s finished. Tip in the egg white mix once the pan is hot, and add the rice wine if you are using it.

Step 7: Stir-fry on high heat.stir-fry on high heat until all the egg solidifies and the prawns become redder (so looks cooked). Test at this stage to see if you need more salt.

Step 8: Place the egg white mix into a bowl – this bit is done. Then wash and dry the frying pan. This is very important, as we’ll need to cook the egg yolk mix next, and that will brown more easily than the egg white mix, so make sure that the pan is clean.


Step 9: Once again, coat the pan with olive oil and place the egg yolk mix into the pan on high heat. Keep stirring when cooking this mix, as it sticks more easily. Cook until it looks dry, and again, taste to check and see if you need more salt. (The chunks in the photo below is because I used a salted egg, and the yolk isn’t entirely liquid in these any more even when raw.)

Step 10: Place the egg yolk on top of the egg white and it’s ready to serve!Imitated_crab_Sai_Pang_Xie

If you decide to try this recipe, let me know if you made it with fish, prawns or only eggs. I’ve tried it with canned crabs before as well (a bit of a cheat, I know), but my favourite is to cook it with prawns. What’s yours?


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