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Archive for the ‘seafood’ Category

happy as clams

As a kid, I never really liked seafood much. Clams in black bean sauce, though, were an exception. We sometimes ordered this dish at a restaurant, and I would look forward to prying away at the clam meat, using my teeth to scrape the meat off the adductor muscle, while sucking on the meat and clam juices that have melded with the taste of fermented black beans. It was an enjoyable feat, and one that you would have to approach with some care, less you find unwanted sauce smeared all over the tip of your nose (and cheeks, in some cases).

As good fortune has it, J loves eating clams in black bean sauce just as much as I do. Maybe even more. The other day, he came up with the brilliant idea of making this dish at home. He found a simple recipe online, and we stopped by the Manila Oriental Market in our neighborhood (or what we like to call MOM’s) to pick up a bag of clams. A little while later, we were gleefully sucking on clams.

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Apart from the soaking time for the clams, this dish can be made in a jiffy. First, cook the clams in boiling water, and then set them aside. Then take the water that the clams were cooked in — it contains plenty of clam juice and flavor — and add it to ginger, garlic, fermented black beans to make the sauce. After the sauce boils for a couple of minutes, oyster sauce is added, and then some cornstarch mixed with water to thicken things up. After the sauce is cooked down some more, it is finally poured over the patiently waiting clams. And now…now, the clams are happy.

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Clams in Black Bean Sauce (from The New York Times)
From “Madame Chu’s Chinese Cooking School,” by Grace Zia Chu, Fireside, 1975

18 to 20 littleneck clams (about 2 1/2 pounds)
2 cups liquid, preferably the juice of the clams
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 thin slices fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons crushed fermented black beans
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons chopped scallion, green parts

1. Wash and clean clams. Soak in water for about 1 hour, then drain. Heat 2 quarts of water to a boil and add half the clams. As soon as each opens, remove it; then add the remaining clams and repeat the process. Pour cooking liquid into a container and let sand settle to the bottom. Measure out 2 cups of liquid for making sauce.
2. Heat oil in a saucepan. Add ginger, garlic and fermented beans. Let them sizzle in the oil for a minute. Add 2 cups clam liquid. Let it boil for 2 minutes. Discard ginger and garlic.
3. Add oyster sauce and mix a few times. Thicken with the predissolved cornstarch mixture (stirring again to make sure the water and cornstarch are thoroughly mixed).
4. Arrange clams on platter and sprinkle scallions on top. Pour boiling sauce over clams. Serve immediately.

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My lab got together for a late celebration of the Year of the Pig (or Boar, however you like to call it) last week. It was a potluck dinner, and I was eager to attempt a few recipes, as my knowledge of Chinese cooking is severely limited. Case in point: a few months ago, I went to Ranch99 in search of star anise, a spice commonly used in Chinese cooking. After ten minutes of weaving my way in and out of the aisles in frustration, I spotted an employee wheeling boxes on a dolly. I desperately grasped for the Chinese name for star anise. In Chinese, the literal translation of its name is “eight-legged,” like an eight-legged star. I couldn’t remember how many legs it had, so I settled for the number five. In Mandarin, I asked, “Could you tell me where the five-legged are?” The guy looked at me quizzically, and repeated, “Five-legged?” I proceeded to explain that I was making beef noodle soup, and umm…you know, you put this thing in red-braised dishes. “Oh! You mean eight-legged!” He broke out into peals of laughter as I admitted that the name sounded right. He took me to the star anise, and I thanked him as he walked away, still chuckling. Putting the lack of chinese cooking know-how behind me, I was determined to produce a few good dishes to ring in the new year.

The first, whole sea bass (recipe from Epicurious), steamed with ginger and scallions, and lightly seasoned with soy sauce. Very simple to make, considering that I used to only cook filleted fish. A huge step for me, too, since I strongly dislike touching or even looking at dead fish. Reminds me too much of my pet fish that committed suicide by jumping out of a cup of water while I was cleaning his tank. Anyway, I think that handling the whole fish helped me overcome my disgust for dead fish. I actually enjoyed taking a picture of the uncooked sea bass.

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The next, ketchup shrimp with scallions, ginger, and garlic, surrounded by baby bok choy. okay, so maybe “ketchup shrimp” doesn’t sound very appealing. but it is GOOD. My mom has been making this dish every time I go back home for a visit, and it is a favorite with my sister. The key to this dish is plenty of chopped scallions, minced ginger and garlic, and PLENTY of sauce that seeps into the shells of the shrimp (you can use prawns, too). My mom usually uses head-on prawns, but I thought the heads would scare my vegetarian friends, so I opted for headless shrimp instead.

Mom’s ketchup shrimp
– De-vein 1 lb medium-sized shell-on shrimp/prawns, using a pair of scissors and a toothpick to fish the veins out. Towel dry
– Coat shrimp in salt, corn starch, and cooking wine (I used Shaoxing). Let sit in fridge for 30 min – 1 hr)
– chop 3-4 stalks of scallions.
– mince 7-8 cloves of garlic
– mince ginger (similar amount as the garlic)
First cook the shrimp through in a bit of oil, but be careful not to overcook. Remove the shrimp from the pan. Adding more oil to the pan, sautee the onion, garlic, and ginger. Add several squirt-swirls of ketchup and a couple teaspoons of sugar, and allow ketchup to cook and caramelize (you can add more ketchup if you want more sauce). Add the shrimp and toss to coat.
Baby Bok Choy: Wash and blanch in boiling water. Remove from water. In a pan, heat a bit of oil. Add five slices of ginger. When you start smelling the ginger, add the bok choy. Very briefly cook by tossing the bok choy around in the pan, and season it with salt. When the bok choy starts to glisten nicely and appears slightly translucent, it’s ready.

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Braised pork shoulder. I found the recipe online, but I can’t remember the source. I think Erin sent me something similar awhile back. Patience is key here, but the good thing is the dish pretty much cooks itself. Leave the pork simmering long enough so that the meat and fatty rind become soft and tender. The pork will have drawn in all the flavors and the color of the sauce.

This dish was one of my grandpa’s favorites. He loved eating the fatty rind more than anything else. I miss my grandpa…I wish he were still here so that I could make this for him.

Braised Pork Shoulder (Serves 10-15)

5 to 7 lb pork shoulder, with bone and rind (I bought two pieces of meat, one with the bone in, one without – the total weight came to be just under 5 lb.)
water
3/4 cup Shaoxing wine
1/3 cup dark soy sauce
6 crystals Chinese yellow rock sugar (each crystal about 1 inch sq).
1-1/2 tsp salt (I added more salt towards the end of the simmering time, because I found the sauce a little too sweet)
6 star anise cloves
1 cinnamon stick
6 garlic cloves (crushed)
4 thick slices ginger
1 whole scallion, trimmed
2 bunches spinach, washed
rehydrated dried shiitake mushrooms, tossed into the reduced sauce and served with the pork
1. Put the pork in a large pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil, simmer for 2 minutes, then drain and rinse.
2. Again add the pork to the pot with fresh water to cover, add the wine, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to medium, partially cover, and cook for 30 minutes.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients (except the spinach), and simmer the pork for another 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The rind and the fat should be very soft when it’s done.
4. Remove the pork from the liquid and keep it warm. Strain the sauce into a large skillet and reduce it over high heat. This may take a while, depending on how much liquid you end up with.
5. Meanwhile, steam the spinach until just wilted, salt it lightly, and keep it warm. When the sauce is reduced (it should be the consistency of a thick syrup), put the pork shoulder in the center of a large platter, arrange the spinach around it, and pour the sauce over.

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And lastly, dumplings. Chinese New Year’s is incomplete without dumplings. Dumplings represent wealth, because they look a lot like the little gold bullion of ancient Chinese history. Potstickers are just pan-fried versions of dumplings. The pleated design characteristic of potstickers not only make the potstickers pretty, but it serves a function as well. The process of pleating the wrapper creates a flatter bottom to the dumpling, which allows for the dumpling to stand on its own and a better surface for pan-frying. As a note, though, nothing beats home-made wrappers, in both texture and wrapping ease. If only I had the time…

Vegetarian Potstickers
4 cups mung bean threads (also called cellophane noodles), softened in water and chopped roughly
10 oz. baked bean curd (available at Asian markets in the refrigerated section), diced into tiny cubes
16 shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated and chopped
2 large clove garlic, minced
2 cups Chinese chives, chopped
6 tsp soy sauce
3 tsp sesame oil
about 100 wrappers, packaged or home-made (round wrappers)

1. Heat 2 tsp of oil in a large pan/pot or wok. Cook garlic, then add remaining ingredients and stir well to combine. Cook for 3 minutes. Adjust seasonings as needed.
2. Using a teaspoon, drop a small portion of filling into the center of a wrapper. Fold and pleat to encase. For ready-made wrappers, you must wet the edges by dabbing with water (I keep a bowl of water nearby and use my fingers to dab). Continue until you’ve used up all the filling.
3. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a skillet on medium heat. Arrange the dumplings in the pan and cook until the bottoms are nicely browned.
4. Add 1/3 cup of water to the pan. Cover and cook on medium-low heat for five minutes.
5. Remove cover. If there’s still liquid in the pan, continue cooking uncovered until the liquid evaporates.
6. Using a spatula, loosen potstickers from the pan. Transfer to a plate by inverting plate on top of pan, and then flipping the pan/plate over.

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