Prawn Paste Chicken

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

I could smell the fermented prawn paste once the bottle was open. Phwoar! This is potent stuff!

It wasn't belachan, which is quite harmless until it's toasted or fried. Nor was it Penang hae ko, which is absolutely benign because it's got lots of sugar.

What I had was har cheong, a liquid prawn paste made in Hong Kong. It was a very appetizing grey – oh yum! – and the label on the bottle said, so reassuringly, 'Cooked [sic] Before Eating'. Thanks for the warning! You bet I will!

Your first whiff of har cheong might make you think of a rotting rat or, as a friend puts it ever so nicely, a mortuary with no power supply. But once you take a deep breath – be brave! – you'll get the aroma that explains why fermented prawn paste is cherished in Malaysia, the Phillipines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, and some parts of China. That's, what, easily several hundred million people? Oh hang on, I almost forgot Singapore. That adds another few million who eat lots of belachan (but don't make any).

The 'Mee Siam Mai Hum' Mystery

Sunday, 27 March 2011


During one of his speeches a couple of years ago, the Prime Minister said, 'Mee siam mai hum.' He was relating how he would order the noodle dish, mee siam, without cockles.

The PM was perhaps making an attempt to connect with commoners who eat humble stuff, like me. But the speech set tongues wagging, to put it mildly, because mee siam doesn't have cockles, ever.

The harsher critiques thought the PM's little boo-boo showed how disconnected he was with everyday life. But I think there could be another explanation for his culinary faux pas. What he actually wanted to say was mee siam without tamarind, or mee siam mai assam. How do I know that? Take a look at his grandmother's mee siam recipe, extracted from Mrs Lee's Cookbook (Mrs Lee being said grandmother):

Run your eye through the list of ingredients for the gravy. See? There's no assam in Grandma's recipe.


So, confronted with the commoners' version that always comes with assam, the PM would say mee siam mai assam. But that fateful day, no thanks to a slip of the tongue, he said mai hum instead.

That might be one mystery solved, but I'm still scratching my head. Every single mee siam I've ever eaten is slightly tangy with assam. When I have a craving for mee siam, it's the spicy sourness that I long for. Why on earth would anyone make mee siam without assam?

Pandan Chiffon Cake (I)

Thursday, 24 March 2011

I'm in the mood for a local cake, and no cake is more local than Pandan Chiffon. I start by comparing recipes from Epicurative, The Best of Singapore Cooking, The Raffles Hotel Cookbook, and the four featured by ieat. I put everything in Excel with the amount of flour in every recipe standardized to 100 g, and all the other ingredients adjusted proportionately. (Yup, I'm a geek, and proud of it.) Here's the spreadsheet (strictly for geeks like me):

Once I'm comparing apples and apples, it's obvious The Best of Singapore Cooking has heap loads of everything, from coconut milk to oil, egg whites, egg yolks, and especially sugar and baking powder. Every . . . single . . . thing! Hmm, doesn't seem right. BSC – out!

Chicken Satay & Peanut Sauce

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Do you know how satay sauce gets its tinge of yellow? Turmeric? Wrong! The golden hue comes from roasted peanuts, which have to be finely ground and boiled to release their colour.

Thai Stuffed Chicken Wings

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

If you hate bones as much as this chap who's gritting his teeth, and staring daggers at the person who's making him gnaw his food like Bo, then . . .

Stuffed Tau Pok

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Working out the recipe for Chinese rojak didn't seem like work since it didn't involve any cooking. In fact, stirring and tasting was my kind of entertainment. Once I figured out how it was done, I wolfed down a huge bowl of fruits and vegetables. That was my '5 a day' as per doctor's orders, in one shot.

I then made a bucketload of the sauce, and kept some chopped up fruits and veggies in the fridge. When I felt like having rojak, all it took was 30 seconds. Rojak had never been so good and quick.

The readymade supply didn't last long and soon, I had to whip up another batch. This time, oh boy, it seemed like a lot of work!

Making the tamarind water was a real pain 'cause it was too thick for the strainer, so I had to pick out the seeds one by one . . . by one . . . . I counted up to 127, then started chanting, "Om . . . ."

Steamed Garlic Pork Ribs

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Let's see . . . I've done pork ribs with orange, coffee, red yeast wine dregs, fermented black beans, teriyaki sauce, and pickled plums. That's quite a lot already but here's one more: Steamed Garlic Pork Ribs. Yup, tonnes and tonnes of garlic; heaps of garlic; garlic galore!

Compared to the other recipes, steamed garlic pork ribs is really simple, using garlic as its flavouring agent.

Hmm, a bit too simple, perhaps?

Nope, don't worry. As Leonardo da Vinci said, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." Don't underestimate the plant that sprouted from Satan's left foot as he was evicted by his landlord.

Korean Sweet Crispy Chicken (Dak Kang Jung)

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Fried chicken coated with sugar, chilli flakes, candied ginger, toasted peanuts and sesame seeds – how does it sound? Dak Kang Jung (Sweet & Crispy Chicken) hails from Korea and, like most Korean food, subtlety ain't its middle name. I don't usually like meat that's sweet but it's a different story when it's also spicy and nutty.

Dak Kang Jung has so many layers of flavour that it's hard deciding what I like most about it. I love the ginger 'cause it's sweet and chewy. No wait, I love the peanuts that are so fragrant, and sweet and spicy at the same time. Yup, the spiciness from the chilli flakes is really good. But so is the spiciness from the candied ginger. Oops, I almost forgot the chicken. Yes, there's juicy, succulent fried chicken, but it's redundant 'cause the stuff sticking to it is so good. Oh hang on, it's better with chicken. Nah, it's just as good without chicken . . . . See what I mean?

Chinese Rojak

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Once in a while, I go on a binge eating session at a hawker centre to indulge in the "fun stuff". It's a low-carb pig-out so that there's as much variety as possible. Everything is, on its own, not very filling but when they're eaten together in one sitting, leave my friends and I barely able to move. A typical session may see us digging into barbecued stingray, barbecued crabs, stir-fried clams, fish soup, oyster omelette, chendol, ice-kacang and ngoh hiang. Anything else . . . ? Oh yes, we mustn't forget our fibre, so we'd have a plate of fruits and veggies in the most fun way possible – rojak!