One of the best ways to inject some more interest and fun into your kitchen is by taking inspiration from the cuisines of other cultures.
In celebration of the upcoming Lunar New Year, we are taking you on a culinary journey to a country with a hugely varied seafood eating culture: China! Seafood is a staple in homes and restaurants all over China, with shellfish, prawns, cuttlefish, squid, and abalone all particularly popular in coastal areas.
The vastness of China, and the sheer number of regions and cultural groups within its borders, mean that it would be impossible to sum up its seafood cuisine in just a few dishes… But we can certainly take inspiration from some of the more general characteristics and staples of Chinese cooking – like rice, noodles, soy, oyster sauce, fish sauce, vinegars, garlic, ginger, sesame, and chili – to create some delicious seafood meals.
Try some of these recipes to create your very own Yum Cha experience at home this Lunar New Year!
Steamed Tiger Prawns with Chinese Rice Wine, Ginger & Green Onions
This is an easy way to steam prawns while imparting delicious, zingy Chinese flavours. Black Tiger Prawns are the most common aquaculture prawn in Australia, and are available year-round, making them perfect for this recipe. Tiger Prawns are also supplied to Sydney Fish Market by Ballina Fishermans Co-operative, for those local to the area! If keeping the heads and shells on sounds a little intimidating, you can always peel your prawns before cooking – just steam them for a slightly shorter time to avoid overcooking.
Steamed Prawn Dumplings (Har Gau)
Har gau, steamed prawn dumplings, are a popular staple of yum cha (or dim sum) menus. Dumplings are associated with the wealth: according to tradition, the more dumplings you eat during the New Year celebrations, the more money you can make in the New Year!
The traditional wrappers are made from wheat starch, which becomes translucent when steamed, but these can be hard for the home cook to buy. Shanghai won ton skins are widely available and an acceptable substitute, especially if rolled out so that they are a little thinner than usual.
This dish is perhaps more common in Australia, the USA, and the UK than in China, though it does appear on yum cha menus in Hong Kong as ‘ha tosi’, ‘ha’ meaning prawn and ‘tosi’ derived from the English word ‘toast’. We simply had to include it on this list (despite it not exactly being traditional) as it is a staple in Australian Chinese restaurants, and is so tasty it is almost addictive!
Steamed Chinese-style Whole Murray Cod
Any whole fish, cooked using this method, will turn out deliciously. First, the fish is steamed to cook it through, then it is made crispy and delicious by pouring over sizzling, seasoned oil. This is particularly impressive for a dinner party – just place the fish in the middle of the table and let everyone pull off their portion with a knife and fork. Superstition says it’s bad luck to turn a fish over, so instead, lift the bones out once one side is fully eaten, and access the bottom side that way.
Prawn San Choy Bow
While this popular Chinese dish is usually made with minced pork, this seafood version is a delicious variation. Feel free to experiment with different vegetables in this mixture too, such as bamboo shoots, baby corn or oyster mushrooms… Anything that will add texture is a great option.
Cocktail Abalone with Asian Dressing
Abalone is considered a delicacy in Chinese cuisine, making it a highly sought-after ingredient. In Australia, you will sometimes see it priced at around $100/kg! That is what makes this recipe perfect for those wanting to try it for the first time; you only need two Abalone to pull it off as a great little entrée. The secret to this recipe is slicing the abalone as thinly as possible… Chilling them well in the freezer firms them up and makes this easier.
Stir-Fried Bailer Shell with Garlic Shoots
Mild-flavoured, firm Bailer Shell meat is extremely similar to Abalone, in that the eating experience is more about texture than taste. This recipe is based on the classic Chinese way of preparing Bailer Shell, as taught to us by one of Sydney Fish Market’s buyers, Alan Ong from Chullora Fish Market. Bailer Shell is supplied to Sydney Fish Market by Coffs Harbour fishermens co-operative, as well as Wallis Lake and Ballina co-operatives. If Bailer Shell is a bit too out-of-the-box for you, you can substitute many firm-fleshed species into this recipe, including Prawns, Squid, and Octopus!
Stir-fried Ginger & Honey Prawns
Another less traditional – but still delicious – recipe… This is our modern take on the old Australian-Chinese classic of Honey Prawns. The ginger adds a fresh, slightly spicy note that balances out the sweetness of the honey. You can use any type of prawns for this recipe, but remember that bigger isn’t always better! The smaller the prawn, the sweeter the taste, so go for a medium-sized prawn for the perfect balance of size and flavour. We recommend King Prawns from Ballina, Clarence River, Coffs Harbour, Macleay, or Newcastle fishermens co-operatives!