Stir Fried Bay Scallops with Greens

This was the first meal I made on the AGA.

In the illustration to the right, you can see that I am cooking scallops, and in the lower left corner, you can see what I was cooking with them–snow pea tips. Those little sprouty-looking guys are the very tender tips to the snow pea shoots–that is the plant that bears snow peas. They are sweet and very crisp, but not quite as sugary tasting as the peapods themselves. They have a little bit of a beansprout savor to them that helps keep them from being overly sweet like snow peas can be.

Anyway–those pea tips were fantastic cooked with the scallops, and they looked lovely–they formed a nice wreathlike nest of greenery for the tiny white bay scallops. Studded with the ebony fermented black beans and thin spikes of golden ginger and pale garlic, the dish was a treat to behold.

However, before we could post a picture of the finished dish, the rechargeable batteries for the camera died, so I never posted about this recipe.

This was tragic, because, as I said, the dish was a keeper, even if Morganna only ate the pea tips–apparently, unknown to me, she is afraid of most shellfish. (Don’t worry. I am working on helping her over this tragic phobia.)

But, a good dish will not leave my thoughts before it is recorded, and so, since Morganna stayed after school to prepare for her choir performance tonight, and it was just going to be Zak and I for supper, I recreated the dish, except no one has pea tips in Athens.

Instead, I used shredded Shanghai bok choi that Zak picked up at the New Market, our resident Asian/International Food market. (If I could have waited until the Farmer’s Market, I could have gotten sunflower or radish sprouts instead–I suspect those would be nearly as good as the pea tips.)

For those who are not familiar with it, Shanghai bok choi(mei qing choi) is similar to regular bok choi, but is harvested when it is younger and smaller, and instead of having white, very watery stalks, it has pale jade green stalks that are a little more flavorful. The leaves also tend to be a less dark green–more of a grass green than a pine green color. It is a very tender green, and it cooks very, very quickly. I like to use it instead of regular bok choi, but I still prefer choi sum or gai lan to it. (However, the stronger flavor of gai lan would overpower something as delicate as scallops.)

I shredded the bok choi finely across the width of the stalk–this simulated the long, slender shape of the pea tips, and made a contrast to the rounded shape of the scallops.

When it came to cooking the scallops themselves, I could have consulted one of my over 100 Chinese cookbooks, but I didn’t.

Instead, I remembered what I knew of Cantonese ways with seafood (with a touch of inspiration also from Sichuan) and improvised.

Ginger is nearly always used with seafood in Cantonese cookery, because of its purifying scent and its freshness. The Cantonese are fanatics for fresh seafood, but even so, they always want ginger with it to take away the fishiness in the cooking odor. It is also meant to be good for the digestion of rich foods, such as scallops. I remembered that fermented black beans are classically paired with steamed clams, I decided to use them as well, which meant that a bit of ginger was necessary, it being a perfect foil for the strong taste of the black beans.

In order to have the ginger and garlic blend with the greens, I shredded them finely. This is accomplished after peeling the cloves and roots, by cutting thin slices, stacking the slices three or so high and then with careful strokes of the knife, slicing each stack into grass-fine shreds. When I am in practice, this technique is quickly accomplished, but if I go a few weeks without cooking Chinese or Asian foods, I will lose my touch and end up with clumsy looking matchsticks, instead of the whisper-thin shreds I seek.

The scallops had a fresh scent, so I decided on a very simple marinade. A splash of Shao Hsing wine, a bare teaspoon of thin soy sauce, so as to not color the dish overmuch–I wanted the pale perfection of the scallops to show through, and a few turns of the peppermill to give a pang of heat. From the Sichuan “fish fragrant” sauce–known in American Chinese restaurants as “garlic sauce,” I nabbed the idea of adding a tiny bit of Chianking vinegar–black rice vinegar. This vineger is fragrant and gently acidic, somewhat like balsamic vinegar, and the sour note helps counteract any tendency toward fishiness the seafood may have, while contrasting with the scallop’s natural sweetness, thus bringing into play the Chinese concept of the balance of opposing flavors in food.

To the marindade I added a pinch of raw sugar to boost the sweetness of the scallops, and about a tablespoon of cornstarch, to make the marinade coat the scallops and stick to them a bit.

I marinated the scallops for a mere ten minutes–just long enough to give fragrance to them without overpowering their natural flavor. I very much wanted only to enhance the essence of the shellfish, without adding extraneous flavors that might mask its simple beauty.

Cooking went very quickly–the first time, I was so surprised at how hot the burner got, I nearly scorched the ginger, garlic and black beans! However, this time, I was ready for it, and briskly set forth, and tossed and turned and cooked–the dish was done in a mere three minutes, without any fuss or trouble. The wok went on the fire, it heated up in record time, sending a thin ribbon of smoke skywards like a hungry ghost, and then in went the oil. A few seconds later, as soon as it shimmered, in went the aromatics. After a few seconds of tossing, in went the scallops, and then after a few turns, the greens followed.

A splash of wine, a drizzle of sesame oil, and I turned it out into a warmed platter, and it was ready for the table, fragrant with wok hay and glistening with wine and sesame oil.

I have to admit to preferring the pea tips to the bok choi, but truly–I would never turn this dish down. It is a truly fine and elegant repast, one that I suspect we will ejoy again and again.

Now, if only I could figure out that lovely dish Huy used to make with bean sprouts and shrimp….

Stir-Fried Bay Scallops with Greens


1 pound tiny bay scallops
1 teaspoon thin soy sauce
2 tablespoons Shao Hsing wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon Chiangking vinegar
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pinch raw sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil
1″ chunk fresh young ginger, peeled and shredded
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and shredded
2 teaspoons fermented black beans, mashed lightly
2 tablespoons Shao Hsing wine or dry sherry
2 heads Shanghai bok choi, washed, trimmed and shredded (or a double handful of snowpea tips)
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil


Toss scallops in next six ingredients until well combined, then marinate for ten minutes.

Heat wok until a thin wisp of smoke appears, then add peanut or canola oil. When it shimmers in the heat, add ginger, garlic and black beans all at once, and stir fry until well fragrant, about thirty seconds to one minute. Add scallops and marinade and stir very quickly, frying until nearly cooked through–around one and a half minutes. As soon as wok dries out and a bit of brown crust forms on sides and bottom from the marinade, add wine or sherry and deglaze while still tossing scallops. Immediately add bok choi (or even better, the pea tips) and cook, tossing for about thirty seconds to one minute more.

Add sesame oil and stir one more time, then scrape into heated serving platter.


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  1. WooHoo, at long last cooking on the stove. The term fish-flavored is kind of interesting, especially when I take friends to eat Sichuan(real Sichuan), and order fish flavored Chicken or Egg plant – they freak out, thinking that it has fish sauce in it, or some such idea. Oh well, same people still insist that lobster sauce has lobster in it……

    Comment by Kirk — December 14, 2005 #

  2. Yeah, Kirk–I was so mad the first night that the batteries crapped out on me–in addition to the scallops, I had made seared tuna with a soy, tangerine and chile glaze that was fantastic, and gorgeous to look at, too.

    But, of course, there were -no- pictures!

    Well, I think that is the reason that most American Sichuan restaurants avoid the term, “fish fragrant” in the menu and call it “garlic sauce” instead–because people instantly think
    “Oh, god, it stinks like fish!”

    Americans are not tuned into the poesy of Chinese dish names. And the poetic bent doesn’t translate very well anyway. Which is a shame–I like the beautifully descriptive names.

    Like where I used to work–The China Garden. They had a dish on their menu, “Ocean Broccoli Beef.” It was one of the top three favorites for the customers and when it was a lunch special, people would line up out the door and down the street. I am not kidding. That stuff was like crack to the regular customers.

    And with good reason–it was fantastic.

    What it was, in looking back, however, was a combination of the Cantonese dish, Gai lan and Oyster Sauce Beef, and the Sichuan “Fish Fragrant” sauce. I know this because I am conversant enough in the -flavors- to recognize exactly how Huy made that sauce.

    Huy, however, was jealous of his cooking secrets. He knew he was gifted and he knew that townsfolk were dying to know how he made that sauce. That and the “garlic sauce”–customers were offering me hundreds of dollars to figure out the secret.

    Well, I would never have taken money and told his secret–but I admitted to wanting to know it my own self. But, he was canny and never let me watch him cook those dishes closely. I learned “garlic/fish fragrant sauce” from one of the other chefs who showed me on my last day, once, and I wrote down everything while watching with huge eyes.

    But the rest–I learned myself.

    But anyway–the story Huy told when we asked him how Ocean Broccoli Beef got its name–was totally misdirection. He said he named it that because the first supplier they got broccoli from had the name, “Ocean Broccoli” on it, so that is what they named that dish.


    What it referred to, of course, was the combination of the oyster sauce and the fish fragrant sauce–a genius combination of two separate Chinese cooking traditions.

    I will be recreating that dish sometime soon–as I suspect that the oyster sauce Huy used was one of the ones that had a touch of dried scallop in it. I suspect so because I just bought a bottle and used it in Beef with Gai Lan, and an ever so familiar flavor hit my tastebuds, and got me to thinking….

    Comment by Barbara — December 14, 2005 #

  3. Thank you Barbara for your most kind and nice words given to us at My Dhaba.

    You have a wonderful blog out here, so many things to learn from you dear friend, will visit more. Cheers!

    Comment by VK Narayanan — December 14, 2005 #

  4. Thank you, VK–I am impressed with your blog as well. And with your heart-generosity, as I previously noted.

    Please feel free to comment at any time–I like to start discussions here.

    Comment by Barbara — December 14, 2005 #

  5. Hi Barbara,
    I usually associate the “fish fragrant” sauce with eggplants. Would the sauce pair well with scallops since the sauce has minced pork in it? I would imagine that a little bit of XO sauce would be a good sauce to try with the scallops. I see that in some of the Chinese restaurants. I use asparagus with the scallops – a good contrast. Other than oyster sauce, I am using this New Moon abalone sauce for stirfries as well. The sauce is subtle, but not as overpowering as oyster sauce. Pardon my ignorance, but what does AGA stand for, and are those small compartments under your stove top ovens?

    Comment by Shirley — December 14, 2005 #

  6. This sounds really terrific- I enjoyed your discussion of chopping, etc.
    And there it is- looking just like my own much-loved wok, cooking good things on your AGA. When I got mine, it was in a wrapper labeled “Iron Cauldron.”

    Comment by lindy — December 15, 2005 #

  7. “Fish-fragrant” sauce is a typical Sichuanese preparation, and it is classically meant to go with fish, Shirley. It is meant to be a sauce that detracts from any “fishy” flavors and odors, and enhance the sweetness of the fish itself. However, it is also used with various other foods. It is a combination of sweet, sour, spicy, salty and savory flavors in balance that comes from sugar, white and black rice vinegar, chiles or black pepper, soy sauce and sesame oil.

    The minced pork is typically only used with eggplant, mushrooms or tofu in the fish fragrant sauce.

    I don’t think I have any XO sauce left in the fridge–I should get another jar. You are right–it should go well with scallops, since as I recall, there are dried scallops in there.

    Honestly–I don’t know what AGA stands for–it is the name of the company that makes the stoves. And looking it up did me no good this morning….hrm.

    Well, I can answer–those are four ovens. The left top is a broiler, the one under it is a convection baking oven. On the right top is the “roasting oven” which has no convection fan and below it is the “slow” or “warming” oven–it runs on low temperature economically for a long time so you can use it to make long-simmering braises or daubes. Or, to keep your bread warm or to warm your plates and serving platters.

    I think that is what the wrapper said on mine, too, Lindy!

    Comment by Barbara — December 15, 2005 #

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