Steamed scallops with glass noodles was one of my favorite dishes when we lived in Beijing. We would go to a local restaurant, where we would order our whole Peking duck, Hot and Sour Spicy Cabbage, and, finally, the pièce de résistance: fresh steamed scallops.
These steamed scallops were served with a salty-sweet soy sauce and caramelized minced garlic over glass noodles on the half shell and were so delicious. They cost about 13 RMB (about 2 bucks a piece) and you had to buy at least 3, which was no sweat, even if I was the only one eating them!
Things to Know When Buying Scallops
Fresh sea scallops were available in many wet markets around Beijing, where you could not only buy them, but have the fish mongers shuck them for you. You ordered and paid per scallop and by size, but they were well worth the higher price tag. Fresh live scallops always included the roe, a rich and decadent treat to go along with the scallop itself.
If you buy shucked scallops from the store, just keep in mind that there are some key differences among varieties. You can ask the fish monger about what he has available and then decide how much you want to spend.
Wet scallops are shucked when caught and placed in a bucket of water, hence the name, “wet scallop.” They tend to absorb water, plump up, and shrink quickly once cooked. It’s important to be aware of this, as wet scallops are usually smaller, and you may be surprised that your cooked scallop has turned into a mini scallop after cooking. Wet scallops have the lowest price tag of the three types, due to their size and extra water weight.
Dry scallops are also shucked when caught, but they are stored in a dry bucket without any added water. You can now imagine why they are more expensive than the wet scallops, because you’re not paying for any water weight and are larger in size. The dry scallops also tend to have a more intense flavor, delightful for scallop lovers. Diver scallops are––just as the name implies––harvested by divers. You can probably guess that these are the most expensive of the three types.
As I mentioned above, you can talk to your fish monger or local grocer to get more information on what they carry. Since fresh scallops are not readily available in most regions in the US, we purchased frozen, dry, jumbo scallops, and they were delicious but expensive. We splurged and bought six of them for $25 a pound. They also had smaller ones for $12 a pound, which also work fine. If you decide to use the smaller sea scallops, just reduce the steaming time accordingly.
A Nice Presentation!
The genuine scallop shells the restaurants used always made for an impressive presentation, and I remember kicking myself for not saving some shells to use on the blog. Judy solved that problem for me when she found these French kitchen-approved scallop shells that are oven- and steamer- safe.
She bought them at an estate sale, but you can buy a new set of similar scallop baking shells here. These were perfect for this recipe and produced some delightful pictures, but understandably, if you don’t have them, you can use small individual heat-proof plates or one large heat-proof plate to steam them all together.
The scallop is the star of this dish, and, when steamed over a small bed of mung bean glass noodles, sweet soy sauce, and caramelized garlic, the results are impressive. The mung bean noodles soak up all the saucy goodness of the soy, garlic, and juices from the steam scallop, producing a delicious few bites!
Here’s how to make these tasty bites of seafood enlightenment!
Boil a small pot of water and remove from heat. Immediately add the dried mung bean vermicelli and let cook, stirring for 30 seconds. Rinse with cold water and transfer to a colander to drain. Set aside. This step is needed to hydrate and soften the noodles, but be careful not to overcook them!
Heat a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and oil, and stir until just starting to sizzle. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
If using a single shallow serving plate, spread the cooked mung bean noodles evenly. If using small dim sum style plates or scallop shells, distribute the noodles evenly (one shell/plate per scallop). Be sure that the dishes you use have enough rim to contain the sauce.
Place the scallops on top of the mung bean vermicelli, and spoon a small amount of garlic on top of each scallop.
Add 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce or seasoned soy sauce, the sugar, 1/3 cup water to the remaining garlic and oil in your pot and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
Heat water in your metal steamer or pot/wok set up with a steamer rack until boiling and turn off the heat. See our post on how to set up a steamer if you’re not familiar with steaming foods in Chinese cooking.
Carefully place the shells/plate(s) of scallops into the steamer and cover tightly. Turn the heat back up to a boil. Steam the scallops for 2 minutes if using medium or large sized scallops and 4 minutes for jumbo scallops like we used in this post.
Immediately remove the steamed scallops from the steamer and pour off some of the liquid if there is too much to safely transfer them. Wet scallops will release more liquid than dry scallops.
Reheat the sauce if needed and distribute it evenly over each scallop until all the sauce is gone.
Garnish with cilantro and serve these steamed scallops hot!