Demystified: Asian Seafood


Seafood's our fave. But the prospect of cooking the stuff, not so much. Pretty fortunate then that we've been schooled by Brum's Asian fish oracle, Lap-fai Lee, and even more beamy that we got to do it in SieMatic's ridonculously attractive Kitchen Gallery. Here's a little bit of what we learnt. Dinner party invite to follow.


Sourcing + condiments // Get almost all your fish from Birmingham indoor market. Bright eyes and red gills are your key freshness indicators.
Lap favours sashimi grade salmon from Ebanks for sushi, but blocks of king prawns from Wing Yip are better value than from the market, where most stalls simply defrost the blocks and sell on. 
Lap never uses wasabi made outside Asia because it's generally not actually made of the authentic thick green root and doesn't taste like the real deal.
And where sushi is involved, don't even think about using Chinese soy sauce — it has to be Japanese, which has a very different flavour.


Prep // Cooking with seafood is all about preparation. And it's waaaay less scary than it may at first appear.
When filleting whole fish (we were working with mackerel) hold the fish by the tail and always point the knife blade away from you. Cut along both sides of the backbone, using it as a guide. 
To unlock the wonders of the great scallop, simply slide a butter knife where the shells part, and loosen the mollusc from its home. Never use a really sharp knife as you'll probably cut into the scallop.
When de-shelling king prawns, leave the tail on for added flavour when cooking. Be sure to get rid of the thin black vein along the spine — the intestinal tract of the prawn. Use your thumbnail. 
Fish preparation is an art not a science. Though you can get a fishmonger to do a lot of prep for you, Lap gets superior results from doing it himself, and suggests with some practice, you quickly will too.


Scallops // From red curry prawns, to pickled chilli mackerel, we'd go steady with any of the dishes that we created with Lap, but it was the scallops which we've already recreated. 
After loosening the mollusc as above, remove from the shell and get rid of the liver and waste using your hands. Wash both scallops and shells. 
Cut scallops into discs and place back into shells. Put a knob of butter onto each along with a drizzle of soy sauce (Japanese of course!).
Grill for 2 to 3 mins until butter is sizzling. Remove from heat and sprinkle with shichimi toyohashi seven spice. And that's it. 


Rice in sushi // And if you've nailed all of that and still want more, probably get the rice — technically the main event in Asian cooking — right. 
For every 1kg of uncooked rice that's been freshly steamed, add a mixture of 500g rice wine vinegar, 70g salt and 70g sugar. 
Sprinkle evenly over the rice, then fold and cut in the seasoning carefully to keep it plump — never stir the rice, which will make it claggy.
Cool with a hand fan so the individual grains become pearlescent. Exactly like this. No other style of fanning will suffice, natch. 
Allow the rice to cool for 15 to 20 minutes before using to construct your sushi, which will also encourage the seasoning to penetrate the grains.

The Mailbox is planning similar events in the future. Follow them to get the early ear. And Lap is always up to something you're going to want to go to.