Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Cooking: Seafood Bird's Nest

Seafood bird's nest is another dish that I had at restaurants while growing up. It's a specialty item and usually costs more than what you want to pay. But during the holidays, we indulge. Over the years, certain restaurants started getting really skimpy with the actual seafood in the seafood bird's nest. After a while, we only found squid. Don't get me wrong, I like squid but when I order a seafood bird's nest, I expect a variety of lush seafood. As with any dish I'm disappointed in, I try to make a better version myself.
The idea of this dish seemed fairly simply. Fry some noodles. Cook some vegetables. Cook some seafood. Assemble. Easy enough, huh? Well, dishes with this many components take some time to prep. It's not that this dish is difficult. Nope. It's time consuming with the prep work. Hope your knife skills are sharpened (hehe...).
The first step is to fry your noodles. This is really easy. The noodles are chow mein noodles that can be found at any Chinese grocery. They come pre-cooked. Just an easy shallow fry in a pan or wok to crisp up. I drained it on a wire rack and kept it in a warmed oven until ready to use. The crunchiness did not suffer.
Next the vegetables. I chose a mix of lotus root, carrots, and sugar snap peas. Picking vegetables that can stay crunchy is key here. I sliced the lotus root and carrots thinly then stir fried each one separately with some minced garlic.
For my seafood, I picked squid, scallops, and oysters. With the squid, I buy them whole and unprepped. They're actually pretty easy to clean.  First your pull the head out. It slides out easily after a nice tug. Then remove the "backbone" which looks like a long sliver of plastic. Rinse and pat dry. For the head, flip the tentacles upside down, squeeze the mouth area and the beak should reveal itself. Keep squeezing and the entire mouth should pop out. Discard that. Take your kitchen scissors and cut the tentacles right underneath the eyes. Discard the eyes and stomach. Keep the tentacles. For the body, peel the skin like you would peel a sticker. Find an edge and slowly peel it back. It should come off easily and in large sheets. Now cut the body in quarters, then in triangles. Take your knife and make small slits along the flat squid pieces in a checkered pattern. This will create a pretty design on the squid when cooked. For the tentacles, just cut in half around the base.
I sauteed the squid in a shallow pan to allow moister to escape when cooked. Just a bit of oil and a sprinkle of salt does the trick. It cooks fairly quickly, about 5-10 minutes. Look how pretty the checkered pattern turned out?
Scallops don't need a lot of prep work. If they have a tough piece of the "foot' still attached, remove it. Most places sell it removed. I just cut each large scallop in half for faster cooking. I also wanted to make sure most of the seafood was around the same size.
The scallops cook even faster than the squid. It needs a hard sear on the sides and leave the middle slightly undercooked. A fully cooked scallop is a tough scallop which isn't very tasty.
And lastly, the oysters. I didn't shuck my own oysters this time. They didn't have to be supremely fresh because this was just a stir fry. I bought can of shucked oysters from a reputable source then drain it of its liquid.
Then into the saute pan with some oil and salt until cooked through. They'll turn a light brown color when it's cooked.
And now the assembly. Place the crunchy noodles down in a platter. Top with the various vegetables and seafood. If you prefer to have this dish with a sauce, make a white wine sauce using the liquid from the seafood then thicken it with cornstarch. Pour over dish when assembling. And there you go. It's not too difficult but it sure has more steps than you would expect.

Seafood Bird's Nest
Makes 4-6 Servings
1/4 of 1 bag of chow mein noodles
1-2 inch knob of lotus root, cut into 1/8" slices
1/2 carrot, sliced at an angle into 1/8" pieces
1/2 lb sugar snap peas
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 whole squid, cleaned
6 medium scallops, halved
1-8oz can of fresh oysters, rinsed and drained
Oil for frying
1/4 cup white wine (optional)
1 tsp corn starch (optional)

1. Heat a medium pan with oil until it reaches 325oF. Arrange noodles in a circle and carefully place into hot oil to fry. After 1-2 minutes, flip and fry on other side for 1-2 minutes. Remove and drain on wire rack. Set aside or keep warm in oven.
2. Drain oil from pan but retain it for stir frying. Add 1 tbsp per ingredient. Stir fry lotus root, then carrots, then sugar snap peas; all with minced garlic. Remove and set aside.
3. Cut squid into quarters, then triangles. Slice decorative checkered pattern into the triangles and slice tentacles in half at the base. Stir fry the squid in pan with oil and season with salt, about 5-10 minutes. The larger squid pieces will curl up and show off the patterns. Remove and set aside.
4. Add more oil then cook scallops. Do not stir fry. Let it sear and create a simple crust. Flip onto other side and repeat. Cook about 2 minutes on each side. Remove and set aside.
5. Add oil one last time then the oysters. Stir fry until light brown about 5-7 minutes. Remove and set aside.
6. If making a sauce, use the same pan, add any liquid from cooking the seafood and 1/4 cup of white wine. Cook and reduce slightly about 5 minutes. While that cooks, mix 1 tsp of corn starch with 2 tsp of cold water. Break up any clumps. Then add to white wine sauce. This will make a thick sauce that's has a nice sheen. Bright back up to a boil, remove from heat and set aside.
7. Assemble the dish with the fried noodles on the bottom of the platter, then layer and mix the vegetables and seafood on top and around. If you're using the sauce, pour all over the dish and serve immediately.

1 comment:

  1. I don't even recall the last time I had seafood pan fried noodles. Been too long. I don't even get it anymore for dim sum.


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