Why This Recipe Works
- Steaming the lobsters whole helps to initially firm up their meat.
- Tossing the lobster pieces in cornstarch before frying creates a barely-there crispy outer layer that's perfect for attracting sauce.
- In addition to aromatics, the fried lobster chunks are stir-fried in a lightly-thickened sauce of rice wine, soy sauce, and chicken stock that beautifully complements the sweet, briny flavors of the lobster meat.
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 chiles, 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 are 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 chile, 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 cornstarch 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.
Cantonese-Style Lobster with Ginger and Scallions Recipe
A messy, glorious affair of steamed and fried lobster tossed with aromatics in a lightly-seasoned sauce. Wet naps essential.
1/4 cup Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 cup cornstarch, divided
1/2 cup homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
2 lobsters, preferably soft shell, about 1 1/4 pounds each
1 quart vegetable, canola, or peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2-inch knob ginger, peeled and cut into fine matchsticks
Small bunch scallions, whites finely sliced on the bias
1 long green hot pepper, finely sliced on the bias
12 yellow chives, cut into 2-inch pieces (optional)
Combine wine, soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon cornstarch in a small bowl and mix with a fork until smooth. Stir in chicken stock. Set aside.
Add 1 inch of water to a pot or wok fitted with a steamer attachment and bring to a boil. Add lobsters and steam for 3 minutes. Remove and transfer to cutting board. Allow to cool slightly.
Twist off tail and claws from lobsters. Remove guts from lobster head and rinse clean for garnish. Using a heavy chef's knife or cleaver, split tails in half lengthwise, then into thirds crosswise forming six pieces. Transfer to a large bowl. Cut both knuckles from each claw and add to bowl with tails. Remove small side of claw by breaking it off by hand and add to bowl. Cut each claw in half exposing meat and add to bowl.
Heat oil to 375°F (190°C) in a large wok, adjusting heat as necessary to maintain temperature. Season lobster with salt and pepper. Add remaining cornstarch to bowl with lobster and toss until pieces are well-coated. Carefully add lobster pieces to hot oil one piece at a time until half of them have been added. Fry, agitating occasionally with a metal spider, until the cornstarch coating is crisp and pale golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes. Transfer to a colander set in a bowl to drain. Repeat with remaining lobster pieces.
Pour off all but 1 tablespoon oil (save it for another use) and return wok to high heat until lightly smoking. Add ginger, scallions, hot pepper, and yellow chives (if using) and cook, stirring and tossing constantly, until fragrant and very gently softened, about 1 minute. Return lobster to pan and toss to coat. Stir up wine mixture (cornstarch may have settled to the bottom of the bowl) and add to wok. Cook, stirring and tossing constantly until mixture has bubbled and thickened, coating the lobster and vegetables. Immediately transfer to a serving platter, garnish with lobster heads, and serve.
Wok, pot with steamer attachment
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 3 to 4|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 19g||25%|
|Saturated Fat 3g||16%|
|Total Carbohydrate 18g||7%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||3%|
|Total Sugars 1g|
|Vitamin C 24mg||118%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|