How long have you been cooking? I'm originally from Shandong province, near Beijing, and came to America two years ago. I started cooking a lot when I got here. It was cheaper to cook than to go out. As I progressed, cooking became a way to reassure my parents that everything was going well here. I've cooked about 100 different dishes, taken pictures of them and sent them home.
Where do you get your ideas? When I was in China, I learned from my mother. Now I search for recipes online. I really enjoy cooking with fish and have had some success with it. I sauté salmon fillets in butter and make a red wine pan sauce for them that is really good. Sometimes I have failures. I remember the garlic beef that couldn't be saved because I overcooked the garlic. When I served it, the garlic was burned and the beef was raw on the inside.
Who do you cook for? My roommates stay very late in their labs, so I cook for myself on a dinner break before going back to the library. During Chinese New Year and other holidays, my Chinese friends and I cook together.
As a chemist, are you interested in the science of cooking? Cooking is a little like doing an experiment, where you have to mix different chemicals carefully, monitoring temperature and stirring faster or slower to control the reactions. In the lab and in the kitchen you always have to be careful with the work you are doing if you want a good outcome.
Where do you buy Chinese ingredients on Long Island? I can get almost everything I need at my local supermarket and Asian grocery store. But sometimes a bunch of us will take a drive to Flushing, eat at some of the great Chinese restaurants there, and then go shopping for ingredients that we can't get nearby before we go home. It's a fun day.
Where does this recipe come from? During the summer in China, clams like these are a common street food. In different parts of the country they are flavored in different ways. In the southern part of the country, spicy and sweet foods are popular, so the clams there are flavored with chilies and a little sugar. A lot of my friends here like spicy foods, so I wanted to make something similar for them. This is my version. It's really simple, as you can see, but really good.
Rui serves these clams as an appetizer with drinks, or as part of a larger meal with rice, vegetables, meat and/or soup.
2½ tablespoons olive oil
One 4-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1 pound small fresh clams, scrubbed
1 tablespoon rice wine
2 scallions, white and light green parts separated from dark green parts, chopped
1½ teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons soy sauce
1 mildly spicy green pepper, such as Serrano, seeded and finely chopped
1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant and just starting to color, 30 seconds to 1 minute.
2. Add clams, white and light green parts of scallions, pepper and wine to pot. Cook, stirring until all clams have opened. Stir in sugar, salt and soy sauce until well distributed. Sprinkle with scallion greens and serve immediately.
Makes 2 to 3 servings