Sifu of seafood

Been a while – finally back in Hong Kong for summer, after a pretty grueling year in London.  But you don’t want to hear about this.  I come bearing pictures of food, and hope you will forgive me for my absence.

My mama went to Tai Po market (I, admittedly, was still jetlagged and slept in till 3) and picked up some glorious seafood.  Had some razorclams, mussels, prawns and squid.  In Tagalog, you call squid ‘pusit’, which my boyfriend prefers because it sounds naughty, and it makes him giggle when I ask him if he likes pusit.  Yes, we are children.

Despite the lame anecdotes, this post will hopefully be a little more informational than usual, as I feel I’ve learned a thing or two about preparing and cooking seafood that could be useful to you too.  Definitely no ‘master’, but I do feel a little more experienced with my seafood skills.

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Razorclams (and prawns)

Cleaning: In Asian dishes, the razorclams are usually kept with their shells on – and I think this is much cooler than making them hang out all naked without.  Also, I’m sure the shell adds some kind of saltiness or container for the razorclam to really submerge in your own choice of flavours, whilst retaining its own sweetness and texture.  You can ask your fish guy to clean it out for you – or simply slit the clam down the center and remove the digestive track, that black/brown sac.  I remembering getting some proper live clams for the first time and rinsing them out with cold water (to get rid of the sand) and hearing this weird sucking, spoolishing, mushy breathing sound.  You can even see their little ends coming in and out of the shell – it was like something out of the X Files – so I had no idea how to handle them.  I tried touching the end and felt like their little suckers were sucking my fingers in.  So I chickened out and par-boiled them so they all died and stopped moving.  But if you can brave that strange, unnatural sound and their constant plunging and pushing of clammy flesh while you slice them sideways, power to you man.

Cooking: I threw the washed and prepped razorclams in a very hot wok.  Adding a small splash of water steams the clams – put a lid on this and just shake it till you think the razorclams have danced around for long enough and all the waters been steamed up.  Add a splosh of oil and throw in some simple ingredients – chopped tomatoes, chives, coriander, crushed garlic, a chopped white onion, and some Spanish paprika.  Adding a little more water at this point gives your dish a little sauce, which is ideal for the prawns to be added into in the last 5 minutes – they also cook off-heat.  Really simple, and the prawns add a great depth of flavour to the whole dish.  Be sparing with your salt, however, as with all seafood.

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Mussels – moules marinieres

Cleaning/prepping: I absolutely hate debearding mussels because I am so damn weak, but it has to be done.  If you don’t, and you are making a moules mariniere, as I did the other night, the filaments ruin the colour of the sauce sometimes and makes it very gritty.  You don’t want that.  It is a long and tedious process, I know, but you don’t want a gritty sauce.  Absolutely not!  Simplest way to do it is getting a tea towel, finding the beard, pulling it out as much as you can from the shell with your thumb and forefinger, and then tugging HARD down towards the hinge.  You know you’ve debearded the whole damn thing when you can see a bit of white at the end of the beard.  Sometimes (most times) the reality of debearding isn’t so easy that one simple tug will do the trick, and you end up cursing the mussel while yanking its hairs up and down across the slit, telling it it’s being a fucking tight ass bitch and a number of other profanities depending on how bad your day was going before this whole ordeal.  Fucking mussels, man.

Raymond Blanc does not think it is necessary to scrub your mussels, or rather: that you shouldn’t, because it will discolour the sauce.  However, depending on how your mussels are grown, there will be shit on those shells.  I think a light scrub in cold water is a nice compromise, you can make a judgement call yourself.  When storing your mussels – whether it’s for a couple hours or overnight – you should not keep them in water or ice, as you will kill them.  Never cook a dead mussel.  You can tell if they’re dead if they don’t open during cooking, or if they are already opened during prep that they don’t ‘spring’ back when you try and close them.  

Cooking: Couple ways to do moules marinieres but in all cases it is ridiculously easy.   I like to do it all separately, mussels first then the sauce, then throw the sauce on top of the mussels.  Saw Ramsay do it like this in a video once and it makes more sense to me because the mussels should be cooked quickly.

Top tip – make the pot hot before you add the mussels.  Throw them right in, then add your white wine and cover immediately with a lid.  Shake the shit out of that pot with the lid still on until all the mussels have opened up (should take less than 4 minutes).  Once that’s done, pour everything out and put it to the side while you fry your onion, with a bayleaf and thyme or whatever herbs you feel, in the same pot.  Add butter, cos butter makes every better.  Then pour back the wine that was with the mussels earlier and add some cream.  Boil it up before returning your mussels to swim around in all that saucy flavour- you shouldn’t need to add any salt because the mussels add that in abundance.  Garnish with parsley ideally, although I used chives and I quite liked it.

I know Dan Ryans in Hong Kong adds green pesto to the sauce, which is an interesting idea and does taste delicious especially with their brown butter (although I didn’t appreciate the fact they left the beards on some of the mussels, come on!).  Gordon Ramsay created a Southeast Asian inspired sauce- lemongrass and coconut milk were used instead of cream, as well as chilis and coriander.  This is actually something I’d be more partial to try, but my theme for that night was leaning Western.  Anyway, all I’m saying is play around.  Have fun.  Be young.  Be free.  Que sera, sera.

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Squid – calamari and my cheat aioli

Don’t think it’s too difficult cleaning a squid – run it under cold water and pull out anything inside that doesn’t seem like it should be there when you cook it, is usually how I go about it.  For calamari – I get a big ziploc bag and throw in a good amount of white flour to cover all the squid.  Seasoning – Spanish paprika, cayenne pepper, salt, whatever you feel really.  Shake it up then add your 1 inch cut-up squid rings.  Shake it some more and leave it in the fridge till you’re ready to deep fry them.

Right before you deep fry, beat up 2 eggs and dip each ring in the egg before throwing it straight into hot oil.  Should take 3-4 minutes before it crisps up and the squid is cooked.  Damn easy.  And delicious.

For my cheater’s garlic aioli – I buy Waitrose essential mayonnaise.  I can’t do a good mayonnaise, maybe its the quality of my oil or my beating is shit, but I can’t do it.  And to be honest, I don’t feel like I need to.  I add my smushed up garlic (loads and loads of garlic, do not be afraid!!) to the mayonnaise and add lemon juice to taste.  I usually add salt to the garlic as I’m chopping and smushing it because the water comes out of the garlic making it easier to turn into a paste.  I’ve blitzed in rocket before to this aioli, or you can substitute that with watercress, and it gives the sauce a beautiful pastel green colour and a really nice peppery kick.  I like this cheat because it means I can spend more time experimenting and adding things to a good base instead of worrying about fucking up the base.

All this was served with a white sauce pasta, with white wine, garlic, cream and mushrooms… and truffle oil.  Actually it tasted of just truffle oil because I asked Andrew to take care of it for me and he unloaded pretty much the whole bottle.  Not that I’m complaining…

All in all, it was a successful dinner that ended in the way most dinners at my place end up: with everyone pretty drunk and ready for a food coma.  Let’s hope we can do a couple more worth posting about in the next few months.

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