KitchenTigress: Orh Kueh (Yam Cake) (I)

Orh Kueh (Yam Cake) (I)

delicious, freshly made orh kueh
Making good orh kueh starts with choosing yam that's light for its size. Lighter ones have less water, and less watery ones are nicer because they're more fluffy, powdery and fragrant.

Next, be generous when trimming the yam. The outer part is usually waxy and tasteless. I usually cut 2-3 cm off the top and bottom, and 1-2 cm off the sides.

To enhance its fragrance, yam should be fried and then seasoned lightly with salt and five-spice powder. Don't let yam brown or it'd be leathery.

Orh kueh would be too monotonous if it tastes of only yam. Dried prawns, dried mushrooms and deep-fried shallots add a variety of flavours, textures and aromas. They are the indispensable supporting cast, without which yam would be a rather dull one-man show.

To make outstanding orh kueh, forget water. That's what orh kueh that sells for $1 uses. The homemade type is made with homemade stock. A good quality stock is the foundation of great orh kueh (as well as family ties and nationhood).

Readymade deep-fried shallots can't possibly compare to the one made at home. Likewise, a good stock doesn't come out of a can or bottle, or fall out of the sky. And there's a whole lot of mushrooms and dried prawns that have to be soaked, sliced and chopped.

If making good orh kueh sounds like a lot of work and a lot of ingredients, that's because it is.

On the other hand, if you want some rice flour mixed with water and then steamed, that's real quick, easy and cheap. That's the type of orh kueh that sells for $1, which is actually quite expensive considering it's just rice flour and water.

If you want to find yam in the $1 orh kueh, you'd have to send it for lab tests or at least use a microscope. Of course, the tasteless kueh comes with the obligatory chilli sauce because it wouldn't be edible otherwise.
orh kueh topped with spring onions, chopped chillies, and fried shallots
Once, the chilli sauce on the orhless orh kueh I bought tasted of mould because it was made with mouldy dried prawns. I ate one mouthful and stopped.

Since I wasn't the last person to buy the kueh, I guess there were lots of people who didn't mind the mouldy dried prawns. Amazing, isn't it?

How to make orh kueh (芋粿, steamed yam cake)

Step-by-step guide

This recipe makes an orh kueh flavoured with lots of yummy ingredients: yam, dried prawns, dried mushrooms and shallots, all fried till wonderfully fragrant. Homemade stock is the killer that gives homemade orh kueh extra oomph.

orh kueh
  • 40 g dried prawns – rinse and soak in 60 ml water till soft, about 15 minutes; squeeze dry, reserving the water; chop roughly
  • 30 g Chinese dried mushrooms – rinse and soak in 180 ml water till soft, about 30 minutes; squeeze dry, reserving the water; dice
  • 500-600 g yam (aka taro) – peel, trim all white parts under peel that don't have much red veins to yield about 300 g, rinse, cut corn kernel-sized
  • 100 g shallots – peel, rinse, slice thinly
  • 80 ml vegetable oil
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp five-spice powder
  • 1½ tbsp light soya sauce
  • ½ tsp ground white pepper
  • 200 g rice flour
  • 240 ml water – top up water drained from dried prawns and mushrooms to make 240 ml
  • 600 ml pork or chicken stock, boiling
  • 2 tbsp spring onions, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp coriander, roughly chopped
  • ½ red chilli, julienned; or 1 tsp toasted white sesame seeds
Related post: more tips for making orh kueh.

  1. Prepare dried prawns, dried mushrooms, yam and shallots as detailed above.

  2. In a wok, stir-fry shallots in hot vegetable oil over medium heat till lightly golden. Turn off heat. Continue stirring till nicely golden brown. Remove shallots with a skimmer and set aside. You should have about ⅓ cup.
  3. orh kueh with lots of yam and mushrooms
  4. Reheat wok and oil till warm. Over medium heat, fry yam till soft (but not brown), 2-3 minutes. Turn off heat. Remove yam to a big bowl. Immediately sprinkle with ½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp five-spice powder. Toss till evenly mixed. Set aside.

  5. Remove all but 2 tbsp oil from the wok. Reheat till very hot. Over medium-high heat, stir-fry dried prawns till lightly golden. Add mushrooms and stir-fry till fragrant and lightly golden. Add light soya sauce and ground white pepper. Stir till evenly mixed. Turn off heat.

  6. Add stir-fried mixture to yam along with all of fried shallots except 2 tbsp. Stir till evenly mixed. Set aside.

  7. Line bottom of 20 x 20 x 5 cm cake pan with parchment paper, leaving some overhang.

  8. Top up water from soaking dried prawns and mushrooms to make 240 ml. Pour liquid into wok and stir to deglaze. Add rice flour. Stir till smooth. Add boiling chicken or pork stock. Stir till evenly mixed.

  9. Turn on low heat. Stir continuously, scraping sides and bottom of wok. Reduce heat to very low as batter gets hot. If lumps appear, turn off heat immediately, stir vigorously till smooth, then turn on heat again.

  10. When batter starts to thicken, add fried ingredients (except the 2 tbsp shallots set aside). Stir till batter is thick enough to coat a spoon/spatula thinly. Go for a thinner consistency if you like your orh kueh softer, and vice versa. Turn off heat.

  11. Transfer batter into pan. Smooth and level batter. Steam over rapidly boiling water till inserted skewer comes out clean or almost clean, about 40 minutes depending on consistency of batter before steaming.

  12. Remove kueh to wire rack to cool down, an hour or so. Unmould by running skewer around edge of pan, then lifting kueh onto a plate. Discard parchment paper. Garnish with spring onions, coriander, red chilli or sesame seeds, and remaining shallots.