Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday Dinner at Lucky 97 Chinese Market

There are all sorts of curious things that can be found in Chinese markets. Sometimes smelly, always colourful, Lucky 97 is one of the cheapest places I know of to get fresh herbs all year round and often sells the same North American supermarket items you would normally pick up elsewhere at reduced prices - milk, red peppers, juice, spices etc.

Today, J and I decided to stock up our pantry at our new little house with some sauces and a big sack of rice. We found a lot more than that, let me tell you...

The fresh fish and seafood all looked wonderful. I took my camera out as soon as we walked in the front doors of the busy shop this afternoon. I just missed capturing the man behind the tanks struggling with a couple of crabs for somebody's dinner. He appeared to go for the feistiest crustaceans in the tank.

There were some lovely looking clams that I might have to try in a linguine alla vongole some time soon...

Right next to this remarkable container of ice and salmon heads were some de-boned fillets of salmon, well priced at around ten dollars and change. We got one for the two of us, thinking we'd either have leftovers for our new roommate, Mel, or save the rest for J to take for lunch Monday morning.

When we got home, after putting away the rest of our fabulous finds, of course, I took the fish out of its wrapping, rinsed it under some cold water, and then put it in a metal dish. I poured milk over the raw fish until it was mostly covered - a little trick I learned from my folks. If you soak the fish in milk first it takes away the fishy taste and smell.

I made a marinade of finely chopped green onions, freshly squeezed lemon juice (watch for seeds!), honey, and hemp seed oil from Mighty Trio Organic Farm. At the final moment I decided to add a little olive oil too for a different flavour, but I think that just made the fish smoke more when I put it on the cast iron grill. Make sure you add a lot of lemon juice. It breaks down the proteins in the fish meat and helps to cook the fish evenly, resulting in flakier flesh and tastier charred enzymes.

For your information, when buying fish, colour is not necessarily a good indicator of quality. Some farmed salmon is fed with industrially manufactured fish feed that has artificial dyes in it to enhance the pink colour of the fish.
The question of whether to buy wild caught salmon or the farmed variety is really dependent on a number of factors:
1) What is the scale of the farming operation? Do the farm owners manage waste responsibly or are there issues with runoff and other forms of pollution.
2) What kinds of chemicals, if any, does the farm use to treat the water that the fish are living in? come from the containment of the fish in enormous tanks.
*photo Sam Beebe / Ecotrust, taken from Dan Imhoff, Civil Eats

3) What tastes better to you? Some people prefer the richer flavour of the farmed fish. These fish are fed synthetic meal and remnants from other industrial farming operations. They get less exercise crammed into those humongous tanks like... hehehe... well, like sardines... hehehe.

Others prefer the leaner wild salmon. Living in the wild, these fish have eaten different foods and their flesh is less rich in yummy fat, having worked hard to survive.

If you would like to watch something very interesting and thought provocking about this issue of farmed versus wild salmon, check this out:

Dan Barber, How I Fell in Love with Fish

I put the salmon skin side down on a hot cast iron grill. One thing I still haven't picked up for my new kitchen... cooing spray. Without it, the skins stuck to the hot grill and the meat came sliding off the skin easily.

After a minute or two on the grill I spooned the marinade over the fish. Once I finished scraping off the rest of the skin from the grill (grrr), the fish was nearly cooked through on the one side. You can see the colour of the fish start to change and that should tell you if it's close. Having never cooked fish this way before I wasn't really sure what to do next. So I flipped each piece to let the rest of it cook and spooned some more marinade over the sizzling hot fish.

Warning, if you are doing this without a fan, be sure to open the window, your grilling salmon will be smoking quite a bit by this stage.

There were other strange things at Lucky 97 that caught my eye. J and I were both very impressed by the 5-layer jelly cups, though we resisted buying one to try for dessert. Instead I picked up a box of chocolate Pocky. Classic.
In the produce department there were all kinds of new and exciting fruits and vegetables. But I thought the baggies of pre-weighed Thai chilies were actually quite striking.

In the end, we did come home with a giant sack of rice and some fresh green beans, which I steamed up to go with everything.

It was a day of adventure. Roving Taster goes rogue. Sort of. I know where I'll be going for fresh herbs from now on. And chili garlic sauce. And rice wraps. Stay tuned for that linguine some time in the not-too-distant future.


  1. In university Noelle and I went shopping here and pretended that we can gone on a trip to China and no longer had to do our essays or reading.

    It was a great (pretend) trip. I love that place

  2. I miss the amazing variety in Chinese markets! I think I will try that milk and salmon trick soon, and you reminded me that I really want a cast iron grill to play with.