Lobster, in Chinese, is “dragon shrimp,” and nothing to my mind better highlights the voluptuous, grand character of lobster than simple steaming. There is no better way to appreciate lobster’s freshness and no easier Chinese way to cook it. A sprinkling of soy, wine, and sesame oil and a scattering of scallion, ginger, and Smithfield ham if you like and the lobster is ready for the steamer. Fifteen minutes and a flourish of seared scallions later, it is ready for the table. The most important part of this dish is the lobster itself. It must be emphatically alive when you buy it to take it home, looking every regal inch a dragon.
Assemble the pieces shell side down on a heatproof platter at least 1 inch smaller in diameter than your steamer. The platter should have some depth or width to it to accommodate the seasoning liquids and the juices that will be rendered during steaming, and ideally it should be one on which you can serve the lobster. (If you will need to transfer the lobster to another platter for serving, choose one of contrasting color and put it in a low oven to warm.) It is traditional to rearrange the pieces in the original lobster shape, which is especially pretty if you are using an oval dish in which to steam the lobster. If the plate or your fingers cannot bend to the task, then simply arrange the pieces attractively in a single layer, hugging one another.
Combine the soy, sherry, ginger, sesame oil, and ham or salt in a small bowl, stirring to blend. Smash the scallion lengths lightly with the broad side of a cleaver or heavy knife to bring the juices to the surface. Pour the seasonings evenly over the lobster and scatter the scallion lengths on top. Proceed immediately to steam the lobster.
(For details on steaming and how to improvise a steamer.)
Bring the water in your steaming vessel to a gushing boil over high heat. (I like to do this while I’m chopping and arranging the lobster, so I don’t waste a minute.) Put the plate with the lobster and seasonings in place, cover the steamer tightly, then steam the lobster over high heat for 12–15 minutes, until white and firm. Do not lift the cover while the lobster is steaming lest you dissipate the steam.
When the lobster is within minutes of being done, add the tablespoon of oil to a small saucepan and heat over low heat, taking the pan from the heat if the oil begins to smoke.
Remove the lobster promptly from the steamer, then discard the scallion lengths. Test the heated oil, and when it is hot enough to foam a single scallion ring on contact, add the scallion rings to the pan. Swirl the oil until the scallion is fully foaming and fragrant, several seconds, then scatter the scallion at arm’s length over the lobster. Serve immediately, while steaming and aromatic.
Eat the lobster with all the noise and gusto you like, comfortable in the thought that any happy Chinese eating venture assumes a lot of noise. Provide bowls for the shells and napkins or damp cloths for the finger lickers, and don’t forget the chopsticks for digging out the meat.
Leftovers are delicious cold, on their own or tossed in a lightly dressed salad of interesting greens.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.