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Category Archives: Oriental

Kobi’s Top Picks for Singapore Local Food and Where to Eat Them


(I’ve just updated this old post from 2012)
I‘ve been asked so many times by people about the best local food to try on their upcoming visit to Singapore that I’ve decided to make a post about it, so I don’t have to keep repeating myself. I’m even going to go the extra mile and say specifically where you should eat the top 10 Singapore foods, taking into account how hard it is for a tourist to find certain places. This is not the kind of thing I intended for Kobi’s Kitchen, but since I’m writing it all down, I might as well let everyone see it. It’s a long post, don’t read it for entertainment, save it for when you are going to Singapore.

As an introduction let me say that Singapore is a great destination for travelers who are into discovering exciting new foreign flavours and foods. Originally a small fishing village, modern Singapore was created through a steady influx of immigrants over a century or so under British rule. Unlike most other countries which have a cuisine culture defined by the surrounding local ingredients, Singapore had no preexisting  predominant cooking style. Immigrants from the Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese and Hainanese speaking parts of China, the Southern parts of India, the Middle East and other parts of Malaya brought recipes from their homeland with them and these were adapted to make best use of the wide selection of ingredients brought in by trading ships from far and wide. Besides being modified, recipes were also hybridized. Singapore was a cultural melting pot and new dishes were created by combining the cuisines from its various sub-populations. This explosive culinary evolution of new foods left the small city-state with a disproportionately large cornucopia of uniquely Singaporean dishes.

In no particular order…

1. Pepper Crabcrab-900
Pepper Crab something unique to Singapore. It is made from giant Sri Lankan crabs which aren’t all that common outside the sub-continent. The crab is chopped up and then has its shell cracked before it is wok fried to let flavour penetrate right into the meat, which stays nice and firm. When the Pepper Crab arrives at the table, you will enjoy piping hot chunks of crab thoroughly infused with butter and pepper.

The dish was invented at the Long Beach restaurant and that’s where you should go to eat it. The original restaurant is along the east coast where all the seafood restaurants in Singapore used to congregate but today I think the best outlet to go to is Long Beach@Dempsey. It is a newer branch in Dempsy Hill, a former military base (that I worked in once upon a time ) now converted into a lifestyle district full of restaurants, bars and fine grocery stores. Other dishes to try at Long Beach include the Chili Crab and Australian Lobster in Butter and Crispy Cereal.

2. Bak Chor Mee Noodle Stall
While Asians traditionally serve noodles stir-fried or in soup, Singaporeans have a unique style of eating their noodles tossed in sauce. This is the closest thing in Chinese cuisine to Italian pasta. Bak Chor Mee was originally specific to the Teochew Chinese but has since become a national favourite. Egg noodles are boiled and then tossed with oil, vinegar, mushrooms and minced pork, meat balls and other ingredients. The soup that the noodles originally came in is served separately and you are supposed to drink it by itself. After you order some Bak Chor Mee the whole dish will be cooked on the spot right before your eyes.  You’ll be asked what kind of noodles you like and I recommend the type called mee pok, its like fettuccine. You’ll also be asked if want chili and you have to say yes or it won’t come out nice. If you don’t like spicy food, ask for ‘less chili’. bcm-440‘No chili’ will land you with a yucky children’s version using ketchup.

You can find Bak Chor Mee at the hundreds of locations around Singapore but the place I’d recommend to try it is the food court in the basement of Terminal 3 of Changi Airport. It’s the stall that sells Fishball Noodles. They offer a few different variety of tossed noodles and its the item numbered as 1 (note: for some strange reason it is not the leftmost item on the masthead menu). If it is at all possible, schedule eating this delicacy into your itinerary ahead of time; plan to have it either when you arrive in or when you leave Singapore. If your flight is at a different terminal, just take the free sky train linking all the terminals.

3. Seafood Hor Fun hor-fun-1100
I have to eat this every time I go to Singapore. It is basically flat rice noodles fried under high heat to impart texture and a caramelized flavour and then stir-fried with slices of fish, egg white, pork lard and miscellaneous sauces. It doesn’t sound all that fantastic, but believe me when I say it is. Many cooked food stalls and hotel coffee shops will serve this dish but undisputedly, the best place to try this is Ka-Soh Fish Head Noodle. ‘Ka-Soh’ is Cantonese for what the family matriarch calls her daughter-in-law so everything here is cooked in the traditional way passed down from generation to generation. You would think that best Cantonese food should only be found in Hong Kong, but this is clearly a case of an exception to the rule.

The Ka-Soh restaurant is in the Alumni Medical Centre on the fringes of Singapore General Hospital at 2 College Road, not easy to find or get to if you are a tourist. This is the outlet that was recognized by the 2016 Michelin Guide as a quality restaurant that doesn’t charge an arm and a leg. However I suggest you go to their sister restaurant downtown at 96 Amoy Street, called Swee Kee(Ka-soh). This is actually the older restaurant of the two. You’ll find the walls plastered with the pictures of movie stars and celebrities who have come over from HK to eat there over the years. The other thing to try while you are there is of course is the restaurant’s eponym, the fish head noodle, a milky fish-head broth served with thick vermicelli. I also recommend their fried chicken marinated in prawn paste.

4. Char Kway Teow gkfkt-1000
This is a very, very delicious fried noodle dish that is synonymous with Singapore. Char Kway Teow is also made from Hor Fun but because this dish hails from to a different dialect group (Hokkien), the noodles are called by a different name, Kway Teow. Anyway that is where the similarities end. Char Kway Teow is served dry (i.e. oily), not in a sauce. A combination of flat rice noodles and round egg noodles are fried with soya sauce, egg, cockles, Chinese sausage and bean sprouts to give you a semi-sweet noodle dish to die for.

Char Kway Teow is notoriously hard to fry well and a hundred things can go wrong with it. The quality varies from place to place depending on the cook and ingredients. There are of course many famous Char Kway Teow stalls tucked away deep in suburban housing estates which are difficult to find for non-locals. The place I’d suggest to try is Guan Kee Fried Kway Teow (Char means Fried). Their stall is located in the Ghim Mo Market a few minutes walk from the Buona Vista MRT station. It also happens to be 4 stalls away from the Chicken Rice stall highlighted below in No.8 so you can kill 2 birds with one stone. I would suggest not going at lunch time unless you are prepared to queue for a long time.

5. Islamic Curry
There are many types of curry in cosmopolitan Singapore and one more special type is made by Indian Muslims. One of the oldest, if not the oldest shops serving this type of curry is the Islamic Restaurant at 745 North Bridge Road. This was my dad’s favourite and he used to tell me stories of how the restaurant gave free food to starving Chinese during the Japanese occupation. The restaurant has down-sized somewhat in recent times and sadly, many of the more traditional curries and drinks are no longer served. However, you can still pick your curry visually at the counter instead of ordering from a menu just like in the old days. You should still be able to order a drink called Bandung, which is rose hip syrup in milk. It’s perfect for cancelling the burning effect of chili effect if you are not used to spicy curry. Make sure to order the in-bone mutton leg and also the chili eggs. Forget about Nann, eat your curry with Briyani Rice.

If the restaurant is full, you can also try the equally famous Zam Zam and Victory, both of which are just a few shops down the road.

6. Kaya Toast 
This is a breakfast item, which is eaten also during morning tea break or afternoon tea. Kaya is a Hainanese egg custard made into a jam, a speciality of Singapore. You normally spread it on toast, typically with a slab of butter. Kaya toast is the Singapore equivalent of waffles with maple syrup, so people eat it any time of the day they like.

For the best Kaya Toast I recommend a place called the Killiney Kopitiam. In case you were wondering, it’s not an Irish pub; the shop is named thus because it is located on Killiney Road and has been there since before World War II. If you can’t make the trip to the original shop, Killiney has one kopitiam at each of all three terminals of Changi Airport. Another thing to try at Killiney is the kopi, which is a bitter shop-roasted Robusta Sumatran blend served with sweet condensed milk at the bottom of a glass mug. You stir the cup just enough to attain the sweetness you like. Leave the last mouthful of the coffee and remaining condensed milk at the bottom. A larger rival kaya toast chain to Killiney is Ya Kun. Their are famous for their pandan flavoured Kaya, which is green instead of brown. There’s no need to provide an address as they have over 40 outlets all over town. To find out more about Kaya, you can refer to my post about Kaya.

7. Laksa
Laksa is another of those hybrid Chinese dishes with its roots in a subgroup of Chinese intermarried with Malays, called the Nonya. The Chinese part of Laksa is the noodles and slices of fish cake, and the Malay part of it is the rich coconut curry broth the noodles are cooked in. Laksa has a unique flavour to it because of the addition of Laksa leaves and cockles in the broth. The noodles used in Laksa are very slippery and hard to eat with chopsticks and so an innovation called the Katong Laksa in an area of Singapore called… you guessed it, Katong, came about. It is different from normal Laksa only in that the noodles are chopped up so you can eat it easily with a spoon.

Nowadays there is no need to go all the way to Katong to try this. There is a Katong Laksa stall in the trendy Holland Village and that’s the one I usually go to. Its not in the Holland Village Market Food Centre at Lorong Mambong but in a row of shop houses at 31 Lorong Liput. Look for a sign that says 363 Katong Laksa. If you really want to try the original shop (and again this one will be plastered with the photos of movie stars eating their laksa) its at the corner of Ceylon Road and East Coast Road. In either case, don’t forget to ask to add ‘otak’ to your laksa. It is a special kind of fish cake BBQed in banana leaves.

8. Hainan Chicken Rice  tff-1000
This is a dish that is also universally associated with Singapore, in spite of the fact that it is called Hainan Chicken Rice. In the old days, one group of migrants from China came from the island of Hainan and they were known for their cooking (and laundry) skills. One of the dishes they invented or modified from their hometown recipes, I’m not too sure which it is, was the Chicken Rice. I won’t go into the details of cooking it but the chicken is simmered briefly in stock and then cooled immediately in cold water. Some of the stock together with garlic, pandan leaves is used to cook the rice component. The entire dish is eaten with a fixed set of sauces and condiments without which it is still not Hainan Chicken Rice.

Tourists are often directed to the Mandarin Hotel for chicken rice but it is mega expensive and its Chicken Rice is pretty average. The best chicken rice is made by Tong Fong Fatt. Besides having the most tender and succulent chicken, it differentiates itself by selling its chicken deboned and drenched in a special tasty marinade. Their stall is at the Ghim Mo Market a few minutes walk from the Buona Vista MRT station, the same food centre where you can find the Char Kway Teow stall mentioned in No.4 above. If you want to have Chicken Rice comfortably in a proper restaurant, then may I suggest Boon Tong Kee at 399 Balestier Road. This restaurant is open late into the night. If you have enough people, you can order a whole chicken. There are several other outlets besides this original shop, including one in River Valley Road.

9. Dai Pau 
Dai’ means big in Cantonese and a ‘Pau’ is a Chinese steamed bun filled. The Dai Pau can be made with savoury chicken or pork filling and will contain a chunk of a boiled egg as well. Dai Pau is dying out in Hong Kong although it is still served in a few banquet restaurants. The Singapore version on the other hand is sold everywhere (even convenience stores and gas stations). Reason: Hong Kong Dai Pau are 70% bun and 30% filling, Singapore Dai Pau are the opposite, 70% filling and 30% bun. Its thinner skin has given the Singapore Dai Pau enduring appeal to young and old alike. You will find the meat filling delightfully juicy, tender and flavoured with various herbs and spices, and slightly sweet. As the name implies, it is large compared to other types of steamed buns like the more common charsiew pau.

For the best Dai Pau, I recommend Teck Kee Tanglin Pau, a trusted name that has been in business since 1948. They make the variety of dai pau associated with the Tanglin district, which is the agglomeration of all the residential areas that rich people have their homes past and present. At Teck Kee, you can also find many near extinct dim sum like the Coconut Tart. You can also try the Fan Choy (ask for 2 Siew Mai to go with it). They have a shop at 83 Killiney Road (pictured) near where the original Koek Road shop used to be and a second one at 180 Bukit Timah Road if you happen to be going to the Newton Food Centre.

A famous rival to the Tanglin Dai Pau is the Tiong Bharu Dai Pau. The Tanglin Pau uses a light colour filling but the Tiong Bharu versions are made with a dark filling (i.e. dark soya sauce marinated). That’s how you can most easily tell the two apart. These can be found in, you guessed it, the Tiong Bharu area. I usually patronize the Tiong Bahru Pau & Snacks at 237 Outram Road (pictured) but I understand there is also a popular store selling the Dai Pau at the nearby Tiong Bharu Market Food Centre on Seng Poh Road.

10. Bak Chang
This is a rice dumpling normally eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival by Chinese across the globe but in Singapore they are available all year round. An assortment of goodies (depending on which part of China the original recipe is from) are packed into a pyramid of glutinous rice, wrapped in bamboo leaves and then steamed.

The store I’d like to recommend is called Hoo Kee Rice Dumpling and it can be found at the Amoy Street Food Centre #01-18, within walking distance from the Seafood Hor Fun shop mention in No.3. Choose the variety of dumplings that are stuffed with pork, chestnuts and salted egg yolk, they are simply the best. Get there before lunch time for they are often sold out before the lunch hour is over. Another famous place for Bak Chang is Eastern Rice Dumpling at 300 Balestier Road. This is reasonably near the Boon Tong Kee Chicken Rice mentioned in No.8. They have a variety of nice dumplings but one I’d like to highlight is the Nonya Bak Chang. The Nonya are early Chinese settlers of the Malay British Straits Settlements who studied in English schools and adopted many of the local Malay cooking practices. Nonya Bak Chang is therefore quite unique, nothing like any traditional Chinese varieties; as its filling expect a mixture of pork belly, mushroom and candied winter melon flavoured with five spice and pepper. They are traditionally wrapped in pandan instead of bamboo leaves.

Three Bonus Snacks (I know that makes it 13 actually)

A. Old Chang Kee Chicken WingsWings
Old Chang Kee was a famous stall selling curry puffs next to Rex Cinema in the 1950s which has grown to become a large chain of fast food outlets selling curry puffs. The Old Chang Kee Wings are HUGE and more importantly they are the best fried chicken wings in the world, something to do with the secret marinade they use on the chicken and/or the batter. There are outlets are in many shopping malls so there’s no point singling out one for you. As a local I patronize the outlet at the Barker Road Caltex petrol station next to ACS (where I went to school) and when the lady asks how many wings do you want? The reply is usually “all of them”. OK, while you buying the wings don’t forget to try the curry puffs as well. They are quite nice or Old Chang Kee would not have thrived all these years, plus it is somewhat unique to Singapore. The original puff is called the Curry-O and you should try that first and then if your stomach still has any space left you can think about the other flavours.

B. Cold Ching Teng
Its pronounced Ching Terng and it means clear soup which is a misnomer because it is not a soup, and neither is it clear. Ching Teng was originally a hot long-an(a fruit) soup back in the old days in China but in Singapore it had evolved into a cold dessert served with shaved ice. There are bits and pieces of all kinds of things in it like pearl barley, dried persimmon, ginko nuts, lotus seeds and of course rehydrated dried long-an. It’s perfect for quenching the thirst on a hot day (basically every other day in Singapore) or as a dessert after eating curry or food with chili. One famous place serving this is Shan Ren Cold and Hot Dessert at the Newton Food Center, its stall no. 88. There’ll be dozens of other desserts pictured on the store front so you can try a few other desserts while you are there. If you like something with more shaved ice, try Ice Kachang, another Singaporean specialty.

C. Bak Kwa
Bak Kwa is the local name for barbecued pork jerky. Unlike western beef jerky, Bak Kwa is not tough. The meat is vacuum treated to tenderize it and then it is barbecued with sugar and spices and all things nice. The leading brand Bee Cheng Hiang has shops everywhere so you no longer have to go to Chinatown to buy it. Check their website for a convenient location. I recommend the Golden Coin or Minced Pork type Bak Kwa if you like a really tender piece of jerky. They also sell pork floss if you are into something drier.

Other Contenders for the Top 10
Many of these are just as good but I didn’t want my list to expand to a top 20 list, its already long enough. Try them, especially if you are on an extended visit.

    1. Fried Carrot Cake
    2. Hokkien Prawn Noodles
    3. Chinese Pork Satay
    4. Oyster Omelette
    5. London Duck (Four Seasons Restaurant at Capitol)
    6. Ngoh Hiang
    7. Poh Piah
    8. Roti Prata
    9. Kweh Lapis
    10. Pineapple Tarts
 

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Pressed Tofu (Tau Kwa)


Pressed TofuWhy you do it
Pressed Tofu is a sturdy form of tofu used in situations where normal tofu would fall apart and disintegrate, such as in salads or in stir-fried dishes. Commercial tofu already comes in different levels of firmness and manufacturers control tofu’s hardness by varying the amount of water they press out of it. What you are simply doing is squeezing more of the water out of your tofu to increase its firmness even more. The hard part is how you can squeeze tofu without smashing it.

Pressed tofu is actually quite common in East Asia outside of Japan. In Southeast Asia it is called Tau Kwa. There is a style of Haka cuisine from China called Yong Tau Foo where minced fish is stuffed into Tofu. Obviously if the tofu is not firmed up beforehand, there would be no way to stuff anything into it.  In Teochew cuisine, also from China, pressed tofu is stewed in soya sauce together with goose. Often pressed tofu is deep fried. Fried pressed tofu is an essential ingredient in Pad Thai, a common type of fried noodles from Thailand found worldwide. It is also used in a dish called Mee Siam, which is a ‘Thai’ style vermicelli dish popular in Singapore and Malaysia (but paradoxically not in Thailand/Siam).

How you do it
Pressing TofuPlace a block of tofu onto a flat bottomed tray or dish after draining away the water it comes in. I usually use the tray from my toaster oven. It should be of the firm type, sometimes labelled as ‘stone’ tofu. In any case, be very careful not to damage the tofu in anyway as any localized weakness in structural integrity will cause the tofu to crack when it is pressed.

Wrap some cling film tightly around the side of the tofu, twice. Don’t wrap the bottom because that’s where the water escapes from and cut away most of the extra cling film protruding at the top. You are only interested in constraining or reinforcing the side walls so the tofu doesn’t bulge sideways and burst. Some people use towels but I find that cling film is the best way of preventing the tofu block from crumbling under pressure.

Place a stiff cutting board over the tofu, making sure the tofu is exactly at its centre. Place a can of food on the cutting board to start off with and gradually increase this to 6 cans over the course of an hour. When you notice the cutting board tilting to any particular side, adjust the position of the cans to bring it level again. Wait another hour after you reach six cans and you are done. Your tofu should be sitting in a pool of water about half as high as it was when you started, but twice as firm.

One example of a recipe that uses pressed Tofu is my Chinese Pork Rib Curry recipe.

 

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2016 in cooking, Ingredients, Oriental, Salad

 

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Singapore-style Prawn Ramen


(serves 5)
Singapore’s Hokkien Prawn Noodles is a favourite of mine, and so is the Shio-Ramen of Hakodate in Japan. In fact they can be considered distant cousins. Both these types of noodles use seafood, pork and salt to flavour their soup so I thought why not try a fusion combination of the two styles. The good thing about prawn stock is you don’t have to boil it for hours and hours for perfection, for extracting the full rich flavour of prawns is a relatively simple process. This makes this Ramen recipe a great option for home cooking. 
 

Ingredients Prawn Ramen

  1. Large prawns (8=600g)
  2. Fish Cake (400g)
  3. Noodles or Ramen (5 servings)
  4. Shallots (8)
  5. Bean sprouts (2 cups)
  6. Garlic (1.5 bulbs)
  7. Coriander (100g)
  8. Chinese Wine
  9. Chicken Stock Cube (2)

Please note: the ingredients for Chashu Pork must also be procured but they are not listed above. Refer to the link just below.

Preparation 

  1. The night before you have to oven-stew the Chashu Pork according to this recipe. Use only 2T instead of 1/4 cup of soya sauce but otherwise follow the recipe faithfully. Leave the Pork to soak overnight in the cooling oven and the following morning, place the meat(wrapped in clear film) and stewing liquid separately into the fridge.
  2. On the day itself, julienne the shallots and put the peeled cloves of 1 bulb of garlic through a press. Fry them together in a pan on low heat in 1/4 cup of oil until they are slightly caramelized. Strain the oil into a bowl and then pour the oil back into the pan, leaving the fried material on the strainer.
  3. Cut the heads off the prawns. Heat up the pan again and stir fry the heads in it. When the heads are red, pour in 3T of Chinese wine. Then add  1 cup of water. Cut the heads up with a pair of scissors while they are in the pan and leave to simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. Strain the liquid into a large pot and add a fresh cup of water (without wine this time) to the pan. Bring to a boil again, then simmer for 5 minutes, then strain the liquid into the pot again. Repeat for a third time. This is the secret to a rich bright red prawn broth, the hallmark of a quality Singapore Prawn Noodle. Discard what is left of the mashed prawn heads.
  5. Shell and devein the prawn bodies. Add as much water as you need so that you end up with five bowls of broth. Bring the broth to a boil and place the prawns into the pot and cook them until they curl up. This will not take too long. Remove the prawns into a bowl and allow them to cool. Reduce the heat to a low simmer.
  6. Julienne the top half of your coriander. Tie the stems into a knot and throw them into the pot of broth. Add half of the fried shallot garlic mixture to the pot. Add half the chopped coriander as well. Retain the remaining coriander and fried garlic/shallot as condiments. Sliced Prawns
  7. Add most of the stewing liquid from the pork into the pot followed by 1t of sugar and 2 chicken cubes. Stir and then add salt 1t at a time until the taste is right. Broth that is served with noodles has to be saltier than plain broth, remember this as your are taste testing. Remove the coriander stems at this point.
  8. Slice the pork, prawns and fishcake. Keep the sliced pork wet by drenching it with the remaining stewing liquid. Fishcake comes cooked so there is no need to cook it again. Keep the slices covered in the fridge.
  9. Boil the bean sprouts in plain water with 1t of salt. When they are limp, drain the water and keep the bean sprouts into a bowl. You can reuse the pot for boiling the noodles.
  10. To serve, boil your noodles in a separate pot until they are al dente. At the same time bring your broth to a boil. Divide the noodles into 5 large bowls. Arrange the bean sprouts and various meats over the noodles. For each bowl, pour boiling stock into the bowl and then drain the stock back into the boiling pot – this is to warm up everything. Add broth a second time and garnish with the condiments.

NotesSliced Pork

  • Large prawns are quite expensive if bought fresh. It is ok to use frozen prawns. The size of the prawns is important, do not substitute with smaller prawns or the broth will be very weak (soup is not red).
  • Most of the greyish stuff in the ‘spine’ of the prawn is roe. When deveining the prawn, you really only want to find and pull out the alimentary canal.
  • Besides Ramen, you can use any type of Asian noodles you like, fresh or dried. Do not use pasta or instant noodles.
  • I sometimes make chicken stock with chicken feet to add more body to the soup.
  • For a more Japanese feel, instead of the stock cubes in step 7, you can use a heaping T of Miso. Japanese Prawn ramen usually has a generous topping of Sakura Shrimp. You can also try adding some to your noodles for that added wow factor. 
 

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Braised Dried Abalone with Mushroom


(serves 6)
Dried Abalone is one of the most exquisite of all Chinese delicacies and is served without fail at any respectable banquet. In Chinese cuisine, dried foodstuff when cooked properly is often preferred to the fresh original and Dried Abalone is considered to be the King of Dried Seafood. That’s why people take the effort to cook Dried Abalone over up to a weeks time. Compared to fresh abalone, Dried Abalone has a more intense flavour as well as a nicer tender texture to the bite.    
 

Ingredients Braised Abalone

  1. Dried Abalone (6 of 30g each)
  2. Dried Shiitake Mushrooms (6)
  3. Chicken Feet (12)
  4. Crushed Ginger (1T)
  5. Mini Chinese Cabbage (Bok Choy)
  6. Hon Dashi
  7. Chinese Wine
  8. Light Soya Sauce
  9. Oyster Sauce
  10. Brown sugar

Preparation 

  1. warning: this requires about a week of preparation.
  2. Soak the dried abalone in cold water. Keep in the fridge for 2 days changing the water every 12 hours or so. You can soak for a shorter period of time if you are using small abalone.
  3. The day after you put the abalone in the fridge start making the stock. Blanch the chicken feet in boiling water in a pot for a minute and then discard the water. Add 4 cups of fresh boiling water and bring to a simmer. Add 1T of Hon Dashi pellets. Simmer the stock for 20 minutesSnip This and allow to cool. Repeat the 20 minute simmer several times over a 24 hour period adding water as needed. If chicken feet make you squeamish or are hard to find, see my notes below for alternatives.
  4. After the long soak, you will notice you abalone have grown in size. Snip off the bits protruding from the round part of the abalone with scissors. It’s circled in red in the picture. This part contains the entrails of the abalone, so dig out any black bits you see as well. Then rinse well under running water.
  5. Place the abalone in a pot of cold water containing 1T of crushed ginger and 1T of Chinese wine. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. This step removes some of the abalone’s seafood odour. Allow to cool and then discard the water.
  6. Pour the chicken stock through a strainer into the pot with the abalone. Add 1T soya sauce, 1T oyster sauce and 2T Chinese wine. Simmer for 20 minutes and allow to cool with the cover on. Do this 4 to 5 times a day for the next 4 to 5 days. Add more water as needed to ensure the abalone are submerged the entire time or else the exposed part will become dark and hard. At first you will notice a strong smell of dried seafood but do not be alarmed, this will diminish to a nice aroma before you are done. The danger of sticking to the pot’s bottom is greatest when you begin reheating, so check often until you see bubbling.
  7. On the third day of simmering, soak 6 shiitake mushrooms in cold water with 1t of brown cane sugar for an hour. Snip off the stems and add the mushroom caps together with the mushroom soaking liquid to the pot. Continue simmering as before.
  8. When the abalone is done it will be bigger yet again as the gelatin from the stock will have bloated it further. The circular bottom of the abalone is the hardest part so your abalone is done if that part has softened as much as the surrounding flesh.  When you cut the abalone in half the core should be of the same colour as the rest of the abalone.
  9. After the abalone is nice and soft, remove all the solids and boil down the liquid until it thickens into a light sauce. It is normal to serve the abalone with some baby bok choy or broccoli so add this to the sauce as you are boiling it down if you wish.
  10. Hydrating Abalone

Notesabalone in simmer

  • The best quality dried abalone is from Japan, they are the ones that soften most easily with braising. The medium sized ones are from Yoshihama while the large ones are from Amidori. They also happen to be the most expensive. For home cooking the ones from Dalian China are a good compromise in terms of price and quality. Abalone from South Africa is the cheapest, but they don’t tend to get as soft.
  • The size of dried abalone is measured in ‘heads’. This is the number of abalone in a catty (600g) and ranges from 6-30. The smaller the number, the bigger the abalone. The ones I used are about 20 head.
  • Dried abalone must be aged to draw out the correct taste. This is done (by the wholesaler) by alternately sunning the abalone and storing it in a jar over a few years, after which it will darken and develop a white dusty look. Beware of clean looking dried abalone of a light colour if you are buying through the internet, as they are un-aged.
  • The golden rule of rehydration is to use cold water. Do not use hot water as it makes rehydrated foodstuff tough and rubbery
  • The number of times you need to simmer depends on the size of your abalone. This recipe assumes size 20 head abalone. Smaller ones require less simmering and larger ones more simmering.
  • The best pot to simmer abalone in is one made of clay, as pictured. They spread and keep heat well. You can still use a metal pot if you don’t have one. 
  • Chicken FeetChicken feet is ideal for this recipe because of the gelatine it produces when boiled. They have very little fat but a lot of skin and connective tissue. Gelatine is the secret to the nice texture of rehydrated abalone. Pork tail also give off gelatine, but unlike chicken the taste of pork does not blend that well with seafood so you need to use pork that is not ‘porky’. I’ve also tried oxtail, taste-wise its not a bad alternative but oxtail leaves a lot of floaty bits and oil which you have to remove.
  • I have found hon dashi to be the easiest way to flavour the stock properly but a more traditional alternative would be to use dried scallops or conpoy.
  • A common use for any left over abalone sauce is to toss it with egg noodles, like a pasta sauce.
  • Don’t use fresh mushrooms as they have the wrong flavour and they would disintegrate with so much boiling anyway.
  • Here are some reference pages to Shiitake Mushrooms, Chinese Wine and Hon Dashi.
 
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Posted by on February 21, 2015 in Main Courses, Oriental, Poultry, Recipe, Seafood

 

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Soya Sauce Braised Chicken


(serves 4)
Braising in soya sauce is one of the most basic Chinese cooking styles. My recipe is slightly modernized but its essentially the same Chicken In Soya Sauce that my mother used to cook for me when I was young. My ‘trick’ is to cook the chicken for only a short amount of time but have it soak in the braising liquid for a long time. The result is chicken that is really tender but still tasty. Its a great for to cook chicken if you don’t have an oven.   
 

Ingredients Soya Braised Chicken

  1. Chicken Leg with Thigh (4)
  2. Dark Soya Sauce (1/4 cup)
  3. Chinese Wine (1/4 cup)
  4. Onion (1)
  5. Maple Syrup
  6. Five Spice Powder
  7. Nutmeg
  8. Black Pepper

Optional Ingredients in photo

  1. Potatoes
  2. Bok Choi
  3. Egg
  4. Konnyaku Vermicelli (aka Shirataki)

Preparation 

  1. Defrost the chicken completely and pad dry with kitchen towels. Trim off any visible chunks of fat on the the thigh with a pair of scissors. The skin tends to shrink so leave any excess skin on.
  2. Marinate the chicken in 4T of maple syrup.
  3. Prepare your optional ingredients (see notes below) at this stage. If they require more than 7 minutes of cooking time, par-boil them for a while, otherwise, just cut them to the right size.
  4. Next, cut an onion into thick rings. Choose a pot which the chicken will fit snugly in a single layer. Stir fry the onions in the pot with 3T of vegetable oil over a very low flame.
  5. After the onion becomes soft and starts to caramelize, this will take some time, mix 1/4 cup dark soya sauce, 1/4 cup Chinese wine with 1 cup water and add this to the pot.
  6. Turn up the heat and bring to a strong boil. Add 1 heaped T of sugar, 1T five spice powder, 1T nutmeg and 1T black pepper.
  7. Arrange the chicken legs nicely into the boiling pot upside down and pour in all the left over maple syrup marinade. Top up with the optional ingredients to bring up the level of the liquid. Ensure the chicken is fully submerged. The vegetables don’t need to be completely covered as the liquid will be splashing about as it boils.
  8. Boil the chicken for exactly seven minutes. Leave the pot uncovered so the liquid can thicken and place the cover on only for the last 30 seconds. After turning the fire off, leave the pot covered for several hours, preferably overnight. This is the part where the flavour soaks into the chicken.
  9. You don’t want the meat to be overcooked, so remove the chicken first when reheating. When the braising liquid comes to a boil, turn the heat off before putting the chicken legs back in the pot. Give the chicken 5 min to warm up before serving.

Notes

  • You can swap in or add all kinds of other flavours to the soya sauce at step 6 depending on your preference, for example ginger slices, cinnamon, cloves.
  • There are many optional ingredients you can add to the pot with your chicken, just remember they must be of a type that does not adsorb too much flavour. For the photo I used potatoes, bok choy and shirataki, a yam based vermicelli which is already mostly water. Other possible options are chestnuts, yam and any kind of leafy vegetables.
  • If you don’t have Chinese wine, try sherry. My favourite for this recipe is actually sake. Do not skip the alcohol as it is needed to mellow out the soya sauce. It will evaporate anyway.
  • If you are using chicken breast meat, consider brining it first.
  • There will be lots of chicken-flavoured braising liquid left over. It is very useful. You can use it to braise additional vegetables that cannot be left in the braising liquid overnight, like eggplant, carrots, mushrooms. You can also use them to marinate boiled eggs (as in picture), as a BBQ marinade, to fry noodles etc. If you strain the liquid before storing it in an air-tight container in the fridge, it can easily last a fortnight (it should congeal into a gel).  
 
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Posted by on July 1, 2014 in Main Courses, Oriental, Poultry, Recipe

 

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Singapore Chinese Pork Curry


(serves 6)
Singapore Chinese Curry is a culinary relic of the British colonial era in Singapore. Many of the British officers had previously been stationed in India and developed a taste for curry. The British Army in Singapore however had to rely on Chinese cooks who out of neccesity concocted their own curry recipes. The result was the unique Singapore Chinese Curry which contains many common items of South-east Asian cuisine. In such curries you’ll find strange ingredients such as pork, dried shrimp, bean curd and cabbage. If you are a fan of curry, this is definitely a novel curry variety you must try. 
IngredientsChinese Curry

  1. Pork Spare Ribs (1 kg)
  2. Yeo’s Minced Prawn Sambal (2 x 140g cans)
  3. Cabbage (1 small head)
  4. Firm Tofu (2 standard blocks)
  5. Fried Bean Curd Puffs (2 cups)
  6. Fishcake or Fishballs (200g)
  7. Glass Vermicelli (50g dry weight)
  8. Coconut Milk (300ml)
  9. Chinese Wine
  10. Five Spice Powder
  11. Cumin
  12. Chicken Stock Cubes (2)

Preparation

  1. Begin by pressing the tofu as explained here. You cannot use soft tofu as it will completely disintegrate and disappear.
  2. Open the two cans of minced prawn sambal into a large pot. Add 1kg of raw pork ribs and allow to marinate for at least an hour.
  3. Dissolve 2 chicken stock cubes and 1 t sugar in 2 cups of hot water. Add the stock, coconut milk and fish balls/cake to the pot and heat to a low simmer.
  4. Sprinkle in 1T of five spice powder and 1T of cumin and simmer for 90 minutes. Top up with water as necessary.
  5. Cut your cabbage into quadrants and manually break the quadrants into individual leaves. Cut the pressed tofu into large cubes, about 8 per block.
  6. Add the cabbage, fried bean curd puffs and pressed tofu cubes and simmer for about 15 minutes before turning off the heat.
  7. Before serving, soak the vermicelli in cold water for 7 minutes and then drain away the water. Bring the pot of curry to a simmer again add the vermicelli and 3T Chinese wine. Simmer for 10 minutes before serving.
  8. This dish is best served with steamed rice or egg noodles.
Ingredients

Bean Curd Puffs and Dried Vermicelli

 Notes

  • This recipe is pretty easy if you can get all the semi-prepared ingredients as they are listed. If not….
  • The spiced minced prawn a.k.a. prawn sambal is a key ingredient but unfortunately its not that easy to find in some parts of the world. You can order Yeo’s Minced Prawn in Spices from Amazon. One other option is to make your own. If you have access to a Chinese food store, buy some dried shrimp. Soak a cup of the shrimp in cold water for half an hour before mixing in half a chopped onion, 4T chili paste, 2T Oil, 1T Five Spice Powder and 1t sugar. Put the mixture in the blender for a few seconds and then finish off by frying in a pan.   
  • The other uncommon ingredient is fried bean curd (aka tofu) puffs, also known as Tau Pok in some Asian countries. If you can’t find any bean curd puffs in your local supermarket, you can make some yourself. Freeze then defrost 2 blocks of silken (i.e. not firm) tofu. Next dry and cube the resulting spongy tofu and then deep fry them as you would French fries.
  • Take note that the vermicelli to be used is the glass type (white when raw and transparent when cooked) which doesn’t get mushy even if it is cooked for quite a while. When in doubt, the ones to get are those made in Thailand.
  • For additional flavour, I often add a tin of smoked clams at step 3. Sometimes I also add some baby corn. Its a very flexible dish so experiment with any extra ingredients you fancy.
  • There is another similar style of Singapore curry known as Nonya Curry. That is a fusion of Chinese and Malay cuisine while this is a fusion of Chinese and Indian cuisine. The two should not be confused. 
 

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Claypot Chicken Rice – Rice Cooker version


(serves 3)
Claypot Chicken Rice is Cantonese comfort food classic where rice is flavoured with sausage and sweet soya sauce. Traditionally, Claypot Chicken Rice is cooked in a claypot as the name implies but in modern times it is very often cooked in a rice cooker at home so it is done perfectly every time. The recipe is somewhat special in that the rice and chicken are cooked separately, and then again together. Additional items used to flavour the rice are fragrant Chinese sausages and Shiitake mushrooms. The chicken is tenderized with bicarbonate of soda, making it super tender and juicy. 
 
Ingredients Claypot-style Chicken Rice
  1. Chicken Thigh & Leg (1)
  2. Red Chinese Sausage (2)
  3. Brown Chinese Sausage (2)
  4. Dried Shiitake Mushrooms (4)
  5. Raw Jasmine Rice (1.5 cups)
  6. Minced Ginger (2t)
  7. Dark Soya Sauce
  8. Chinese Wine
  9. Vinegar
  10. Sesame Oil
  11. Golden Syrup
  12. Coriander Seed Powder
  13. Corn Starch
  14. Bicarbonate of Soda

Preparation

  1. Soak 4 dried shiitake mushrooms in 1 cup of cold water plus 1T soya sauce and 1t sugar for 2 hours. After the first hour snip off the stems and discard them, then cut each mushroom in half and continue soaking. Soaking overnight is the best.
  2. Debone the chicken leg and cut it into bite sized chunks, trim off all the loose skin and fat. Mix 2T soya sauce with 1t golden syrup and 1T each of sesame oil and Chinese wine in a big bowl and marinate the chicken with this. Separately mix 1t corn starch and a pinch of sodium bicarbonate with 1/3 cup of cold water and add this to the marinating chicken.
  3. Cut off the tip of the sausages with the string attached and slice them into 1/3 inch pieces.
  4. Rinse the raw rice a few times in the detachable rice cooker pot. Use Jasmine Rice or any other type of long grained rice. Mix the sausage pieces into the rice evenly and pour in the mushroom water (but not the mushrooms). Top up with water until the water level is half a finger over the rice (i.e. less than the amount of water you would normally use) and set the rice cooker to ‘cook’. As soon as the rice cooker has gone to ‘keep warm’ mode open the lid to let the rice dry out a bit.
  5. After an hour or more has passed since step 2 add 1T of vinegar to the marinating chicken to neutralize the bicarbonate and mix well. Wait 10 minutes and then strain the marinade into a separate container.
  6. Coarsely mince 2t of ginger. Fry the ginger in 3T of vegetable oil in a pan on high heat. When the ginger begins to brown and the oil is really hot, add the chicken. Stir fry the chicken until no visible part of the meat is raw.
  7. Next, add the marinade and mushrooms to the pan. Bring to a simmer briefly and sprinkle in 1t white pepper and 1t coriander seed powder.
  8. Arrange the contents of the pan on top of the (now cooked) rice inside the rice cooker (see picture below). Sprinkle all the left over liquid from the pan over the chicken in the rice cooker evenly.
  9. Set the rice cooker to cook a second time. When it returns to ‘keep warm’ mode again, your chicken rice will be done.

Notes CP Chicken Cook

  • Chinese sausages should be easy to find in any Chinatown. If you really hate liver, use 4 red sausages instead. If you can’t find any Chinese sausages, use braunschweiger (i.e. liverwurst) instead. They will be different in size to the Chinese sausages, so adjust the quantity accordingly. For reference, a Chinese sausage is 6 inches long and 3/4 inch in diameter.
  • If you have one of those rice cookers with fuzzy logic and all kinds of settings, just use the simplest one- usually labelled as ‘quick cook’ or something similar.
  • You can make your claypot chicken rice well ahead of time and reheat with the ‘keep warm’ function of your rice cooker.
  • If you want to skip the bicarbonate for a natural chicken texture, remember to skip the vinegar as well.
  • If you don’t have a rice cooker, you will need a clay pot. It will be very difficult to cook this in a metal pot so I suggest you don’t try. The rice gets burnt very easily.
  • If you like this recipe, have a look at my Oyakodon recipe, which is the Japanese version of chicken rice. 
 
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Posted by on July 23, 2013 in Main Courses, Oriental, Poultry, Recipe

 

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