The Food Lab Turbo: Cantonese-Style Lobster with Ginger and Scallions
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I have fond memories of little me in my pre-Food Lab years heading out to Boston's Chinatown with my dad and two sisters to East Ocean City, home of the finest dry-style beef chow fun in the world (at least, according to my little sister). The best trips were the ones where we'd stand in front of the giant tanks they keep at the front of the restaurant and pick out our dinner for the night. Sometimes it was spider crabs (the waiters would fish one out and hold their massive legs out at arms' length), sometimes Dungeness, but in the summer season, it was lobsters.
The crustacean would get scuttled off into the kitchen to meet its maker while we sat at our table picking at razor clams with black bean sauce, shrimp-paste stuffed hot green chilies, and live Maine shrimp stir-fried plain in the shell with a dish of mild soy sauce for dipping the bodies into as you sucked the juices out of the heads.
When the lobster finally re-emerged, it would come out chopped into large chunks, their surfaces crisp, lacy, and coated in a thin veneer of sauce. Tossed with slivers of ginger and sliced scallions, their primary aroma was sweet and spicy, the briny flavor of the lobsters coming through only once you started eating them.
There's no two ways about it. Eating Cantonese-style lobster with ginger and scallions is a gentlemen-start-your-wet-naps type of messy affair. The only way to get the meat out of the bones—particularly the slender knuckles and claws—is to poke, pry, and suck until you've removed every last scrap. I like that kind of meal—it makes you really work for your food and makes the whole affair last a bit longer.
These days, I've worked my way through enough recipes that I'm happy with where I'm at with my current version. I like a little bit of heat in my dish, so I add a single long Chinese hot green chili, as well as a handful of yellow chives, which have a milder, sweeter flavor than their green counterparts, like a very tender, young leek.
The cooking process is threefold, but each step is fast, so it doesn't take more than half an hour start to finish. The lobster first gets steamed (you can do it in a steamer or directly in the wok, like I do) just until it starts to cook through and firms up a bit. You then break it down and cut it into chunks. The chunks are then coated in corn starch and deep fried for another moment until crisp on the exterior.
Finally, the lobster chunks get stir-fried with the aromatics along with a very small amount of sauce made from rice wine, soy sauce, and chicken stock lightly thickened with cornstarch. The crisp, lacy exteriors of the fried lobster pieces are the perfect surface for the aromatic sauce to cling to. It's one of the tastiest (not to mention most impressive and unique) ways to eat lobster I know.
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About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.