Usually holidays leave me in a state of confusion. No one in my family is very decisive about gifts, especially my mother. So imagine my surprise when I asked my mother what she wanted for Mother’s Day. All she wanted was lobster. Aside from the initial investment, lobster isn’t a hard nut to crack. Of course, there would be a catch. In addition to steamed lobster and lobster rolls, she wanted a Chinese style lobster.
Thumbing through my ever expanding collection of cookbooks, I began to realize just how few lobster recipes there were in the Chinese cookbooks. However, I soon had a stroke of luck through antiquity. I have a copy of Joyce Chen’s cookbook that I picked up at a used bookstore in New Orleans, and being a 1962 edition there are some interesting recipes inside. One of those interesting recipes was Lobster in Meat Sauce – Cantonese Style. With a bounty of lobsters from Paul Anthony’s and all the other ingredients on hand, I set about making a Mother’s Day feast.
When cooking a lobster dish, it’s best to start with the lobster.
Chen instructs to cut the lobster into 14 pieces, that means cutting him in half, cutting the tail into 3 sections, cutting off the legs, cutting off the arms, cutting off the claws and then splitting the claws in half. In retrospect I should have taken pictures of the various stages, but I was more concerned about cutting through the thick shell.
Now that the lobster was cut into its various pieces, I could pull together the rest of the ingredients.
Working from the top, we have the cut up lobster, ¾ cup of water, 1 beaten egg, 2 tsp of shaoxing wine, 1 ½ tbs of soy sauce, 1 ½ tbs of corn starch in ¼ cup of cold water. In the last bowl, there’s ¼ tsp of sugar, ½ tsp of salt, and ¼ tsp of M.S.G. You can really tell this is a cookbook from the 60’s.
In case you didn’t notice, I left out a bowl of ingredients in the previous list. Inside this bowl is ¼ lb of ground pork, 2 slices of ginger, 2 crushed cloves of garlic, 1 ½ tbs rinsed and minced black beans and the lobster’s tomalley.
The ginger, garlic, black beans, pork and tomalley are all added to the wok and stir fried for 2 or 3 minutes.
After a few turns with a spatula, a few more ingredients were added.
The idea is to cook until the lobster’s shell is a beautiful red and the meat a lovely shade of white.
In an odd step, the lobster is now removed from the wok and set to the side.
As messy as this dish looks, it’s a great family activity.
Needless to say my mother thoroughly enjoyed her Mother’s Day dinner, but I’m wondering about this recipe. When it was published, no one would say a thing about the use of M.S.G. in the recipe, but I’m curious what would happen if I made a few changes. Instead of using water and M.S.G., couldn’t I achieve the same depth of flavor from using a homemade stock? I know that M.S.G. is supposed to be full of umami but I think there are better ways out there. I suppose I’ll have to wait until I have the funds to buy a few more lobsters.