October is a special month for the Tang family. My birthday, my younger brother’s birthday, and my parents’ wedding anniversary all happen to fall in the same month. Before my brother and I came to live in the UK, we used to celebrate this very special month together every year. It is a shame we cannot get together as often as we would like because of the distance, but we still try to do something special whenever possible! We were not able to celebrate together this year, but as this is the first year my little brother is living on his own, I decided to cook up a seafood feast to celebrate his birthday.
There are so many different ways of cooking seafood, but I love the Chinese way - Get the freshest ingredients from the market, then grill or cook at a high heat with aromatic seasonings. Steaming is also a brilliant way to cook seafood if you prefer to keep it light and delicate. It is not easy to get live shellfish in London, there is a good selection in some fish mongers, but the markup - in my opinion - is excessive. Luckily we have Billingsgate Market, the biggest fish market in London, where you can buy the freshest seasonal shellfish at wholesale prices. After haggling for around half an hour, we had bought - a Scottish lobster, half a dozen clams and tiger prawns, a monkfish tail, a fillet of red snapper and a grey mullet, all for £60. BARGAIN!
For the meal, I cooked four dishes using the lobster, clams, tiger prawns and grey mullet. All the shellfish were cleaned, gutted and patted dry. They were all fried at a high heat (on the shell) briefly - in Chinese we called it ‘run oil’ (過油) - then set aside before adding back to the wok towards the end of the cooking process. This is to prevent the flesh from becoming mushy when cooking with other ingredients.
Lobster in a Chinese-Western style cheese sauce. Check out the size of the claw!
Steamed huge clams with glass noodles, garlic and spring onion. Seasoned with a splash of hot oil, soy sauce and sesame oil just before serving.
Stir fried tiger prawns with red chillies, garlic, ginger and spring onion.
Grey mullet is a speciality of my hometown, Yuen Long. For a typical home cooked meal, we would usually have a whole steamed fish, a plate of vegetables, and a meat dish. My dad used to buy grey mullet from the local market, and he still does it whenever we go back to Hong Kong. So when I saw the grey mullet in the fish market, I could not help but buy one, even though I absolutely hate gutting fish... luckily it was not my first time, so I managed to do that quite quickly. I laid slices of fresh lemon (supposed to use pickled lemon but I did not have any) on the top and bottom of the fish, before steaming it in a wok for around 15 minutes. I then added a splash of hot oil and soy sauce just before serving. I remember that I used to mix the remaining fishy soy sauce with the rice, after all the fish was gone.
For my own birthday, I was very lucky to have a warm day in mid October, so I could enjoy a wonderful picnic in Victoria Park with my great friends. We then headed to Viajante Bar for cocktails, followed by a Vietnamese feast on Kingsland road. Turning 30 is the start of a new page of my life, and I'm sure it will only get better :)