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[Epicurean Challenge] Fermented crabs drowning in soy sauce brine

Ganjanggejang, meaning soy sauce marinated crab, is called a “rice thief” in Korea.

The nickname has two meanings. People eat a lot of rice with ganjanggejang to offset its saltiness. But also, it implies that the dish tastes so good that it is impossible to stop eating.

(Video shot and produced by Lim Jeong-yeo / The Korea Herald)

To make ganjanggejang, a possibly “inhumane” process is involved. Fresh, live crabs are pickled in a brine of soy sauce. The brine is strained, boiled and poured over the crabs several times over a period of few days.

A famous poet, Ahn Do-hyun, wrote a poem about the process, describing it from a mother crab’s perspective. It became a sensation, with some saying that they could not eat the crab delicacy anymore after reading the poem.

Frozen crabs are also used these days, allowing diners to enjoy crabs all year round and also without guilt.

As the soy sauce-based brine can leave an unpleasant smell on one’s hands, most restaurants prepare sanitary gloves for diners. Wearing the plastic glove on the left hand, holding chopsticks with the right hand, it is time to dig into the salty crabs.

Thanks to the fermentation process, the crab shell is soft, easily breaking into pieces. Do not break the shell, however. One should softly press the shell with the right amount of force to make the soft, translucent flesh ooze out of the shell. Then, suck out the remaining meat. 

Im Eun-byel poses next to ganjanggejang (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)
Im Eun-byel poses next to ganjanggejang (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)

The flesh is delicate, soft but also moist. The sweetness of the flesh and the paste-like texture create a delicate sensation in the mouth.

After enjoying the crab meat, do not forget to mix a spoon or two of rice with the roe and tomalley in the top shell. People sometimes quarrel over who gets to enjoy this.

Yangnyeomgejang is the spicy version of the fermented crab. For the sauce to be evenly dispersed, the crabs are opened and cut into pieces before being marinated. The spicy red sauce drips down onto the plate as one presses the crabs for the meat.

The best tasting marinated crab dishes are made with female crabs filled with roe. This delicacy can only be had in late spring. In fall, it’s better to enjoy male crabs when they are fat.

All-you-can-eat buffets for the crabs are popular. Gejang is considered pricey considering the amount of flesh there is to eat. At the crab buffet restaurants, diners get to dive into the world of “thieving crabs” without worrying about their pockets.

By Im Eun-byel (