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Jan 9, 2002 12:45 PM

Chinese Food Question--Shrimp with White Lobster Sauce?

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I've been searching for an answer to this for years, and it's high time I called on the Chowhounds for help.

I grew up in northern New Jersey in a Jewish household--which means, of course, we ate lots of Chinese food. My mother's favorite dish (and mine) was SHRIMP WITH LOBSTER SAUCE. Since I moved to California I've been unable to get this dish the way I remember it. Here's the breakdown:

Shrimp with Lobster Sauce in New Jersey: a white sauce that's thick, eggy, almost gelatinous--it looks like someone reduced egg drop soup and thickened it with corn starch. It has whole shrimp and LOTS OF MINCED PORK. Also, it had NO VEGETABLES: no green peas, no corn, no bell peppers, not even the flavor of these veggies, and no black beans.

Shrimp with Lobster Sauce in California: thin, watery sauce with no pork, lots of vegetables (that usually overwhelm the flavor of the shrimp/prawns), including near obsessive levels of green bell pepper.

I've never had "New Jersey style" out here, and I'm dying for it. I just don't like the California way for this dish. Does anyone know what I'm talking about, and more, has anyone encountered my preferred style somewhere in the Bay area?

Thanks, Chowhounds, you're my final hope!



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  1. The appellation "lobster sauce" in the East is "black bean sauce" in the West. Reason being it is usually the sauce for Lobster Cantonese. Ergo, Shrimp with Lobster Sauce is Shrimp with Black Bean Sauce. Many cooks add bits of Italian sausage to the dish to spice it up a bit, and often a raw egg is tossed in at the last minute to thicken. As to the other ingredients, they may vary from cook to cook. If you are in a good Chinese restaurant, ask for your ingredients and usually the cook will oblige. I cannot fathom "lobster sauce" without black should be called something else. Without black bean sauce you will be getting "Shrimp with Mystery Sauce".

    2 Replies
    1. re: Jim H.

      In "The Chinese Kitchen" by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo, the Lobster Cantonese doesn't have black beans. She goes so far as to say that "this traditional preparation from Guangzhou has not changed in hundreds of years." And in "Every Grain of Rice: A Taste of Our Chinese Childhood in America," by two women who grew up in San Francisco's Chinatown, the Lobster with Special Sauce recipe does have black beans. So maybe the black beans are a traditional west coast variation, which explains the difficulty in obtaining New Jersey-style Shrimp with Lobster Sauce out here.

      1. re: heidipie

        Thank you for doing the research and sharing it with us. I'm really enjoying your posts.

        It's been so long since I've had Lobster Cantonese, black beans or no is a pretty dim memory. I think there were some black beans, but not a lot, and not enough to really characterize the sauce as a black bean sauce. I'm even tending more toward another type of condiment, min see, which is brown beans and milder in flavor.

        One of the things I'd like to ask chowhounds from Toishan families is how prevalent black beans were in the cooking they knew at home. My recollection of childhood meals with Toishan friends and relations is that there were always a dish or two with a heavy dose of fermented black beans, and that was different from the cooking of my mom or dad's non-Toishan relatives. Many of the Southern Chinese who were the early immigrants to California were of Toishan background, maybe this explains part of this local variation.

    2. I, too, grew up in a Jewish household in Northern New Jersey (Springfield, to be exact--in Union county)and I also miss the kind of Chinese food I had growing up. Mostly we were "early adapters" of the Hunan-Szechuan wave that hit NYC in the late 70s---and as a result, a lot of the more mild Cantonese-style California Chinese food seems really blah to me (speaking of storefront-type restaurants, not the big banquet palaces.) Do any other NY/NJ expats remember a rather fancy midtown restaurant called Uncle Tai's? My family's favorite upscale-Chinese place, with great food.

      1. Try Yuet Lee in SF's Chinatown - Stockton & Broadway. They will also do lobster this way (either Maine or when available large Spiny's) - mind blowing albeit expensive for a place that looks like a dive.

        2 Replies
        1. re: G. Eng

          I am on a Shrimp-with-lobster-sauce kick these days and have been trying it in several places.

          First off, here is a recipe I've been making for quite some time. It's actually pretty great and closer to what I want than I have yet found in a restaurant in SF:

          I am with the Jersey-ites on this one, having grown up in Queens, NYC during the 60s/70s.
          So for me, the dish is white/clear with egg and pork, no vegetables or black beans.

          Next, the places I've tried so far are as follows:
          -- Beijing Restaurant (Allemany) -- closest to what I'd expect, but very bland.
          -- Emmy's (ocean ave) -- don't remember well -- this was the first before I realized I was starting a hunt -- but I think it was kind of my style but not that great.
          -- Big Lantern (16th st) -- wrong style for me, but tasty. Brown sauce, lots of vegetables, no ground pork.

          Last night I went to Yuet Lee.
          The did not have shrimp with lobster sauce on the menu. They said they'd make it, but the lobster sauce for the lobster had black beans so I ordered other things instead. I have to say, the restaurant was pretty great. We had a sturgeon and parsley soup that was one of the best chinese soups I've had in a long time. The broth was delicate and amazing. Everything at this place was super super fresh. I will look forward to returning.

          1. re: pauliface

            This type of egg sauce should be made to order rather than prepped in advance.. Once you find out that it includes fermented black beans, you can probably just ask them to leave them out.

        2. I come from Boston where the lobster sauce is dark and thick with lots of ground pork. I have been continually disapointed with the lobster sauce in California as well as NY and NJ. Does anyone know where they have a Boston style lobster sauce.

          1 Reply
          1. re: jaweino

            I lived in MA too and remember the dark thick lobster sauce. I was surprised when I moved to the west coast to find the unfamiliar (to me) white type sauce. I thought maybe the dark sauce was an east coast thing, and the white west. But guess not. I'm versatile; I love either one.

          2. I have lived in New Jersey and California, and went to many Chinese restaurants in both states.

            I do not think we can generalize Chinese restaurants because both states are diverse in terms of almost everything.

            A Chinese restaurant I visited on Central Coast in California was far less authentic than many in New Jersey.

            7 Replies
            1. re: Hiko Ikeda
              Burke and Wells

              I never intended to imply there was anything more or less authentic about either area--or in fact that there's a substantial difference between areas! I only know that the dish preparation I loved I've only had in my home state, and haven't been able to find since I moved to California five years ago.

              Sorry for any confusion. I refer to the dish I remember as "New Jersey Style" simply because I couldn't think of a better name. No statement about authenticity or even regional "styles" is implied by my question.

              Thanks, chow on!



              1. re: Burke and Wells

                I think your question raises an issue that arises frequently with Chinese cooking. With some exceptions, there is no "classic" method of preparing a Chinese meal. I have tried to convince my friends who ask, to not be intimidated, but try what looks and tastes good. You can get "authentic" Chinese food anywhere (subject to ingredient limitations), and a good cook in the boonies can cook some great Chinese chow. We have all come upon many examples. Your shrimp in lobster sauce can be created in San Francisco, if you can tell the waiter what you want. I have had some of the best dishes in little, funky, holes in the wall...and some of my worst in the fancy overpriced tourist traps. That is probably why local Chinese would follow a good cook as he changed jobs.

                1. re: Jim H.
                  Melanie Wong

                  When you start talking specific dishes and "classic" preparations, you're in the realm of regional Chinese cooking. As in Italy, there is no central cuisine but rather many regional styles with certain precepts that codify and define the cuisine found in that locale. I think we can apply that to the various incarnations in the US as well to speak of Chinese-American dishes or New Jersey style.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    I agree, absolutely, Melanie. But so much depends upon the cook. A Cantonese cook in Northern New Jersey may prepare shrimp or lobster quite differently than a Cantonese cook in San Francisco. But the technique is basically Cantonese. We discussed once the chow mein at Jackson Cafe. There has been no equal, and yet no one can put their finger on the reason. Young's has good chow mein, as do a few other places. But no one has come up with the combination of things that made Jackson great. The same with French and Italian haute cuisine...there is that magic touch that puts a certain place above the madding crowd.
                    By the way, did anyone notice that my favorite big nothing in Marin county is biting the dust? Alfy's will be no more. Owner says recession, Jim H. says overpriced mediocre food.

                    1. re: Jim H.

                      Jim, where and what is/was Alfie's? Marin is my home turf, and I thought I knew 'em all.

                      1. re: Sharuf

                        Alfy's was in San Anselmo. I went there when they first opened, with Ron Boyd, a really good chef (he's now chef de cuisine at Eliz. Daniel), and it was amazing--just wonderful, wonderful food. But then he left, and they replaced him with the guy from Foreign Cinema, Laurent Kategly, who is no great shakes as a chef.

                        1. re: Sharuf

                          Alfy's was once the Creekside Bistro on San Anselmo Ave. I have never understood the raves it got from some people when it opened, but we ate there early on and everyone in our group (6 people) were quite disappointed. It has given rise in my mind to the conundrum whether a place can cook good food for some people (friends and critics) and dreck for the rest of us. I can only say "go in peace", and pray for the next owner to avoid the San Anselmo/Ross jinx.