CLAMS are extremely versatile. In addition to being steamed, stuffed or stir-fried, they can be used as a substitute for pork in curried pork, for shrimp in lobster sauce and for lobster in deep-fried sweet-and-pungent lobster.
CRABS come in two varieties, salt-water and fresh-water. These can be used interchangeably, although the latter is generally preferred. Crabs are purchased live, washed in cold water, then boiled or steamed, and shelled for use in various recipes. Frozen or canned crabmeat can substitute for fresh.
LOBSTER, although familiar to Chinese restaurants, is little known in China itself, outside of Canton and the nearby coastal areas. Like crab, lobster is best purchased live. Generally it is cut up and cooked immediately: this way its resiliency, its smooth, shiny texture and its succulent, juicy taste are all retained.
Live lobster may also be prepared by parboiling-plunging it briefly, head first, into boiling water, then cutting it up as above for use in various recipes. It can also be boiled or steamed until thoroughly cooked: the shells will turn bright red. The lobster is then cleaned and shelled, cut into neat shapes and served hot or cold with "All-Purpose Seafood Dip," see Seasonings and Sauces).
NOTE: When buying cooked lobster, select one whose tail, when straightened out, will spring back to the same position. (This indicates that the lobster was alive when originally boiled.)
SEALLOPS, bought fresh, should be cut in thin, round slices for stir-frying and in halves and quarters--depending on their size--for deep-frying. The latter can be prepared as in Basic Deep-Fried Shrimp. Dried scallops must be soaked, either in water or in sherry the latter enhances their delicate flavor. Sometimes the dried ones are boiled and shredded instead, and used as a substitute for shrimp in various stir-fried recipes.
SHRIMP figure importantly in Chinese cooking. They are deep-fried, steamed, stir-fried or, occasionally, poached (but rarely boiled since boiling tends to toughen shrimp and make them dry). Deep-fried shrimp are especially succulent: the hot oil seals in their moisture and flavor, and insures juicy tenderness. Stir-frying calls for considerable care, to prevent the shrimp's delicate meat from being cooked either too much or too unevenly. The size of the shrimp will determine cooking time: smaller ones need 2 to 3 minutes of stir-frying larger ones, 4 to 5 minutes. If very large, the shrimp should be cut in several pieces first.
Shrimp, whether stir-fried, deep-fried or pan-fried, are often cooked and served right in their shells. The shells help retain maximum flavor and also serve as insulation against the heat, so there is less chance of overcooking. Shrimp in their shells are best eaten with chopsticks: The diner pops the shrimp directly into his mouth and neatly removes the shell as he eats the shrimp in several bites. With his chopsticks he delicately and unobtrusively returns the shell to his plate. At no time do his fingers touch either the shrimp or its shell.
FANTAIL (OR PHOENIX-TAIL) SHRIMP is the term used for shrimp cooked with the tail intact. The tail acts as a decorative indicator of "doneness" because it turns a brilliant red, like the tail of the phoenix, when the shrimp is cooked. For deep-frying, the tail becomes a convenient handle, permitting the cook to dip the shrimp neatly in batter and afterward being useful to the diner if he's eating the shrimp by hand. The tail itself should never be coated with batter, which would conceal its lovely red color. For stir-frying, however, the tail shell is always removed, but the delicate fin-like meat is retained for color as well as taste.
"BUTTERFLY" SHRIMP is not a variety or a cooking method, but a way of spreading the shrimp out to make them seem larger and fuller. It also enables the shrimp to cook quickly and evenly.
SQUID, bought fresh, is used primarily in stir-fried dishes. The dried variety is generally cooked in soup.
The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook. ©1994 by Gloria Bley Miller.
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