Lobster is expensive anywhere in the world but the Chinese can make one go very much further than any other chef. Lean, firm, delicate, and very flavorful, the white and pinkish flesh of the lobster comprises only about 30% of its total weight. When buyin g a live lobster, ensure that the animal is in fact alive by picking it up by its sides; it should respond by abruptly tucking its tail under its body. The pincers are almost always restrained by an elastic band or a wooden peg, but if they are not, be extremely careful because they can grip very tightly. A cooked lobster should have shiny black eyes, firm flesh, and a pleasant odor. Before cooking a lobster, pull on its tail to ensure that it still folds up on its own. Lobster can be eaten hot or cold but must always be cooked. It is generally suggested that a lobster be cooked while it is still alive to ensure maximum freshness. However, some people maintain that this method is cruel. They suggest that a lobster can be killed more gradually and humanely by putting it in the freezer for an hour. Do not defrost frozen lobster; it will retain more of its flavor if it is simply reheated for 2 minutes in boiling water.
For crabs, the fresh water crabs are the best of all for Chinese cooking. They have round shells and grow in the lakes and marshes. When shelled they make a very good accompaniment to shark's fin. But the best way to eat crabs is the steamed kind you eat as a separate act, somewhat liker clambake except that they taste a thousand times better. Crabs should always be purchased alive. When buying whole crabs, whether alive or cooked, choose those that are heavy for their size and have a sweet fresh smell with no hint of ammonia. There's soft-shell crabs, which can be eaten in their entirety, shell and all, can be broiled, stir-fried or deep fried. Fresh and tinned crab meat can be found too and is used in recipes like Shark's fin soup and crab omelet.
Shrimps, is considered America's favorite shellfish. Prawn is a term commonly used for any large shrimp, although a true prawn has a thinner body and longer legs than a shrimp, and an average market length of 3 inches or 4 inches. Another distinction: Shrimp tend to live in saltwater, whereas prawns are generally thought to swim in freshwater, though they might migrate to saltwater to spawn. Call them what you will, for an authentic Chinese flavor, use freshwater prawns whenever possible which are more tender and savory. The difference is, however, not as great as that between fresh-water and salt-water crabs, so you can produce an equally interesting Chinese dishes using either one in the recipes.
When the recipe says 'remove sand' or de-vein, it means to slit the back of the shrimp (or take off the whole shell if the recipe calls for shelling), and take off the dark thread or line along the back, which would give an unpleasant gritty chew if left there. Select raw shrimps/prawns that have no hint of ammonia smell. When storing fresh, raw shrimp, rinse under cold running water and drain. Place in a tightly sealed container and refrigerate for up to two days.
The trouble with seafood in China is that it is never completely fresh, since it has been salted from birth. Thus, the most typical seafood eaten in China are canned abalone, dried razor clams, dried mussels, dried scallops, dried squids, which are in each case more savory than the corresponding fresh ones as they
gain very intense flavors during the drying or preservation process.
Cuttlefish and squid have pure white meat and a chewy consistency. In general, cuttlefish has thicker flesh and shorter tentacles than the squid. It also has large cuttlebone along the back which is actually an internal shell. Frozen cuttlefish and squid are cleaned before packaging. Fresh ones can be cleaned at the fish market. To clean squid yourself, remove the skin with knife or scissors, or rub it away under cold running water; remove the ink sac without puncturing it; cut off the tentacles, gelatinous portions and cuttlefish; wash well.
Abalone is a large marine snail and a delicacy in Chinese food called "Pao Yu". Abalone can be purchased fresh, canned, dried or salted. If purchased fresh, it should be alive and not fishy-smelling. Refrigerate fresh abalone as soon as possible and cook within a day of purchase. Read more...
Since scallops are extremely perishable, they are often shelled and washed as soon as they are caught, then immediately covered with ice or frozen or dried. Dried scallops are widely used by the Chinese as a soup maker. When buying shelled fresh scallops, ensure that the flesh is white, firm, moist and odorless. One problem with scallops is that they become rubbery if you overcook them, they need only brief cooking, until they turn cream-white. Scallops can be steamed, stir-fried, and deep fried.
Shark's fin is one of those few seafood which Chinese regard as better than fresh-water food. It is not limited to fins but includes the tails too. This expensive delicacy has been revered in China for centuries. Mainly used in such exquisite dishes as shark's fin soup,
one of the great festive dishes of China and is seved on special occasions.
Shark's fin is prized for its slippery and glutinous texture that results in a thickened soup without the use of cornstarch. Read more on how to prepare and cook shark's fin here...
Other exotic seafood used in Chinese cooking and regarded as Chinese delicacies include the sea cucumber and fish maw.