Ingredients: bitter melon, shrimp, scallop, crimini mushroom, water chestnut, rice flour, cornstarch, palm sugar, egg, soybean paste, scallion, garlic, ginger, Shaoxing wine, sesame oil, peanut oil.
Served with: white rice.
When I brought this wrinkly green bitter melon home with me, I was under the impression it was a winter melon — oops. I’d had no experience with either variety, other than passively learning of their existence via Iron Chef (which is where all this curiosity for Asian vegetables comes from). No matter; I went digging for bitter melon recipes, and saw that several involved stuffing the fruit with minced pork. I liked this idea of an encased meatball, so I decided to try a similar approach using seafood.
Let’s get the big question out of the way first. How bitter was it? I dared not taste the melon before slicing, hollowing out, and parboiling it. Even afterward, the first nibble led me to physically recoil. It was like licking aspirin. Clearly, more boiling was required (or perhaps some other technique). I’m still not sure I boiled it enough in the end.
While preparing the bitter melon slices, I created the meatball filling with a base of minced raw shrimp and scallop. I don’t own a food processor, so I did this by hand. While I didn’t really mind the extra work (my Shun santoku knife is a joy to use), I must admit that the texture of the minced scallop never really approached the mousse consistency I was looking for. The shrimp moussified nicely, at least.
To this mixture I added diced crimini mushrooms, diced water chestnuts, garlic, ginger, scallions, rice flour, an egg, sesame oil, a splash of Shaoxing rice wine, and plenty of soybean paste (which is great for adding soy flavor without liquid). I was improvising here, and didn’t exactly want to sample the raw mince, so I fried a small patty of it and adjusted the seasonings accordingly. In hindsight, I would have used less soybean paste and compensated with plain salt, so as not to cover up the lovely sweetness of the seafood.
After letting the hollow melon chunks cool a bit, I packed them full and pan-fried them for a couple minutes in peanut oil. I knew this wouldn’t be enough to thoroughly cook the filling, so I also let them steam for another 10 minutes using a pot and colander. A bamboo steamer would have been ideal, but I don’t own one.
As a finishing touch, I prepared a quick Chinese glaze of soy sauce, sugar, rice wine, sesame oil, and cornstarch. I dabbed this on top of each bitter melon section, and served them with white rice. As I said before, I’m not sure I cooked the melon long enough, as it was unpleasantly bitter (read: why-would-anyone-eat-this-twice bitter). The texture was quite nice though, firm and fleshy. Couple that with its undeniably cool shape, and I’m already thinking about working with bitter melon again someday.