Shellfish

Home madeWhen is the last time you tried something new? Not just a new style of chicken sandwich—something really new, to you? I mean a whole new experience you’ve only been thinking about or haven’t even considered yet. On that note, are you even aware of all the new experiences to be had around you? Are you really taking advantage of the here and now, or are you just waiting for the next big thing? Excuse my string of clichéd questions, but I thought I might challenge you with some of the things I’ve been asking myself lately. Just what has been the impetus for these introspective questions? Put simply: a puppy and shellfish.

In last month’s column, I wrote about routines. I wrote about how we all need them, and that if you go out of your way to choose them for yourself, they can be very rewarding. One reason for the influx of routines in my life recently has been the addition of a new member to my little family: a loveable, sassy puppy. Gone are the days of sleeping until noon without breaking up the zzz’s with a quick trip outside to let her out and feed her. In house-training her, I’ve had to set up a strict routine to make sure she’d eat at the same times daily and ultimately need to do her doggie business at the same times as well. Since rearing a dog is all about consistency, my life is now chock-full of routines. And, because they’re not just for my own benefit, they’re all the more rewarding.

Getting a dog (or, in my case, agreeing to have one brought into my life) has not only created more routines, but it has also brought about all sorts of new experiences for me. I’ve explored my neighborhood thoroughly, figured out where various groups of workers hang out for lunch (leaving behind piles of bones my puppy always finds a few seconds before me) and learned that there are so many more things to consider about puppy food than I would have ever imagined.

I thought the same until I actually did it a few times, and now I can’t even remember why it bothered me so much.

For much of my time in China, my way of doing things has involved seeking out English-speaking services or goods sold in a way I can understand easily. That means that I’ve missed out on so much that my environment has to offer, like cheap services provided by knowledgeable people. Learning the ins and outs of owning a dog in China by talking to people in pet shops and hospitals has made me realize that my life could be so much easier with just a little more linguistic effort. Although I now know enough Chinese to discuss the basics, I’ve realized during all this self-enlightenment that not knowing Chinese hasn’t been my hang-up. It’s simply been fear of the unknown.

And so recently, with all these new experiences and conveniences in mind, I did something a bit unusual and bought shellfish in the wet market. While I enjoy shellfish, I don’t often eat it outside of nice restaurants (perhaps due to fear of getting sick) and have very little experience cooking it. Once I actually asked about it, I was shocked to find out that a jin (500g) of shellfish was just RMB 13. I bought two and made a soup. The next time, I tried the pasta below. Now I wonder why I’ve been missing out on shellfish this whole time.

Shellfish itself is quite easy to make, and it’s a safe enough to buy in the market when you cook it thoroughly. Part of my hang-up before was the gross factor of handling it, but just as I slowly learned to handle raw meat and debone a chicken, desensitizing comes with time. A friend of mine ran into me buying live shrimp the other day in the grocery store and admitted he’d never try it because he couldn’t imagine handling them alive. I thought the same until I actually did it a few times, and now I can’t even remember why it bothered me so much.

If you’ve never cooked shellfish, why don’t you try something new today? If you don’t like seafood, try a fruit or vegetable you’ve never had before, or ask the chicken lady to ready you a fresh one and roast it. If you haven’t been to a tea shop in China yet, go to one. Try goji berry tea and judge whether it really warrants being called a superfood by the health nut world. Check out a theme park in a nearby city, or take a day trip to Huizhou. Whether it’s a small new experience or a big change that you’re inspired to make, just make it already. I bet you’ll be glad you did.

Shrimp and Shellfish Pasta

Ingredients:

• 500g package of linguine
• 1斤/500g live shrimp
• 2斤/1kg clams/shellfish
• 4-6 small red chili peppers, minced
• 6 cloves garlic, minced
• 12-15 button mushrooms, sliced
• Extra-virgin olive oil
• ½ cup white onion, chopped
• A few pinches cilantro, minced

Directions:

1. In a large pot of boiling water, boil shrimp 3-4 minutes until cooked through. Meanwhile, boil 2-3cm water and add shellfish (discard any that are open when you buy them). After about 5 minutes or when most have opened, remove from heat and discard unopened shells. Reserve cooking water. Let both shrimp and shellfish cool and then remove from shells.

2. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta until al dente. Drain pasta, add a few drops of oil to the pot and stir to prevent noodles from sticking.

3. Meanwhile, in a pan, heat olive over medium heat and add onion and mushrooms. After 1-2 minutes, add garlic, chili peppers and salt and pepper. Add ½ cup reserved water and seafood. Cook another 5 minutes until water has reduced by half.

4. Add noodles and cilantro to sauce, combine and serve.

Serving size: 4-6 people

Serve with: white wine