When it comes to starters in a Chinese restaurant, many diners look no further than No.1 on the menu: the ubiquitous mixed starter platter. This usually consists of sesame prawn toast, seaweed, spring rolls, spare ribs and something else from the freezer which has been deep-fried. I'm not that much of a food snob to deny that these snacks have their charms, but they are a bit boring. Especially after they've been ordered for the thousandth time.
So what are the alternatives? Well, personally, my starter of choice is steamed scallops with glass noodles 粉絲蒸帶子. Like many Cantonese classics, it's relatively simple to prepare and cook. So much so, even a kitchen-numpty like me can manage to rustle it up.
In restaurants, this dish is usually served with the scallop on the half-shell, but I couldn't find any so I used scallops off the shell. My recipe is for a portion that can be served as a light meal (with a side of greens), or as a starter to share between two. It can, of course, be scaled up accordingly.
Soak 50g of glass noodles aka mung-bean vermicelli (粉絲 fensi) in a bowl of hot, but not boiling, water for about 15 minutes to soften. I use the Longkou (龍口) brand, which can be found in handy multipacks of 50g bags (Londoners, these can be found at SeeWoo on Lisle St in Chinatown).
As the noodles are soaking, prepare the soy-based dressing with the following ingredients:
4 parts soy
1 part sesame oil
Finely chopped spring onions
Chiu Chow Chilli Oil (optional)
Prickly Oil (optional)
To give it a bit of a kick, I added some chilli oil and prickly oil. However, if you don't like it hot then these can be omitted.
Next, mince some garlic to put on top of the scallops. Steam the scallops for around two minutes (the optimal cooking time depends on the size of the scallops and the kind of steaming equipment that you're using).
As the scallops are cooking, plunge the softened glass noodles in a pan of boiling water for around a minute before draining. Put the noodles in a bowl and arrange the scallops on top.
Lastly, spoon some dressing over the scallops and the noodles to your taste (any leftover dressing can be kept in the fridge for a day or so). The observant among you will have noticed there were eight raw scallops but only seven in the final dish. That's because I ate one to test whether it had cooked through. So when preparing this dish, it might be worth your while to throw in an extra scallop or two!
PS: I've just realised I've posted recipes in consecutive blog posts. That's never happened before! The book deal is surely just round the corner...