Lobsters do not create any special stir in Chinese circles, compared with our love of them in the West. They are common only to a limited coastal region of China, and most shellfish-loving Chinese would far prefer a freshwater crab or shrimp to lobster. For the most part what we see in Chinese restaurants is either dreary or showy—a hacked lobster set awash in a turgid, eggy sauce, which one friend refers to as “low-tide sauce,” or a whole steamed monster propped up as a banquet centerpiece with tiny lightbulbs set blinking in the eye sockets.
Kill the lobster as described above in TECHNIQUE NOTES. Retrieve it from the water as soon as it is still, within a minute.
Transfer the lobster to a cutting surface and break off the large claws and the little legs. Most Chinese cooks throw the little legs away, but I love to eat them like artichoke leaves, squeezing out the meat between my teeth, and so include them in the dish. With a sturdy cleaver or chef’s knife, chop the big claws into four pieces: first chop just below the juncture of the two pincers, then chop about an inch farther down, and finally chop to separate the pincers. Whack heartily so the shell splits neatly, and have a towel on hand to mop up the water that will spill from the lobster. Turn the lobster belly side down on the board, then chop off the head a bit below the eyes and discard. Flip the body over, then chop it lengthwise in half. Extract and discard the white stomach sac in the head region, but save the rich, green tomalley (the liver) and any roe if your lobster is a female. Discard the intestinal tract running down the center of the tail if it is black. Finally, turn the two body pieces shell side up and chop them crosswise into pieces about 2 inches wide. Put all of the claw and body bits in a bowl, including any loose, large shells that will add their color to the dish.
Either before you kill and chop the lobster or immediately after, ready the other ingredients. Put the aromatics and the ground pork side by side on a small plate, reserving a teaspoon of the scallion for use as a garnish. Combine the sauce ingredients, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Use the lesser amount of sugar to begin, then put the extra within reach of your stovetop for possible addition after you have tasted the sauce.
If you are working in advance, seal the aromatics airtight and refrigerate until use, up to several hours.
Stir-fry the lobster as soon as possible after chopping it.
Put all the ingredients within easy reach of your stovetop and put a heated platter or shallow bowl of contrasting color in a low oven to warm.
Heat a wok or large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot enough to evaporate a bead of water on contact. Add the corn or peanut oil, swirl to glaze the pan, then reduce the heat to medium-high. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle one bit of scallion on, contact, add the scallion, ginger, and garlic. Stir gently until fragrant, 10–15 seconds, adjusting the heat so the garlic foams without browning, then add the pork to the pan. Toss and poke briskly to combine and break the meat into tiny bits, adjusting the heat so it sizzles without scorching.
When the pork is 90 percent gray, stir the liquids and add to the pan. Raise the heat to bring the liquids to a simmer, stirring, then quickly taste the sauce and adjust if required with a bit more sugar. Keep in mind that the sauce will reduce and the flavors intensify greatly before the dish is done.
Add the lobster and toss briskly to coat. Even out the contents of the pan, adjust the heat to maintain a boil, then cover the pot and steam-cook the lobster vigorously for 2½–3 minutes, until only a bit of sauce is left. Remove the cover, raise the heat, and stir briskly several times to redistribute the seasonings, then turn off the heat and sprinkle the sesame oil and vinegar into the pan. Toss several times to combine, then scrape the lobster and all the saucy bits onto the heated platter. Make a few quick adjustments for a claw or two to stick out prettily here and there, garnish with the reserved scallion, then rush the dish to the table while it is steaming and aromatic.
Have an empty bowl nearby, chopsticks in hand, and the proper spirit to suck, crunch, lick, and dig as the lobster demands. It is helpful to remember that cheerful eating noise is a requisite at a Chinese table and that using one’s fingers and chopsticks in the interest of getting the food to one’s mouth is the happy law. Do not be shy.
Leftovers are unlikely but are quite tasty at room temperature, given a few stirs to distribute the seasonings.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.