Sunday, 31 August 2014


Fried beef hor fun is such a common dish among the Cantonese. It is served either ‘dry’ or bathed in thick savory sauce. To be considered a notch above the others, a hor fun needs to be perfumed with wok hei. Yes, the Cantonese, of all dialect groups, hold wok hei in highest esteem. A good chef must have mastered the advanced stir-fry techniques that allow him to deliver power-packed wok hei to certain dishes. And fried hor fun is definitely one of these.

Wok hei is most effectively achieved when the iron wok is heated to smoking point. Oil is then added to increase the heat as well as to lubricate the food that is to be fried. The contents of the wok are tossed and swirled, the addition of more oil coupling with the intense heat to flambé the ingredients. The fumes and aroma thus created is captured in, and perfumes the dish, producing the prized wok hei.

In the past, Cantonese cze cha stalls would use black bean paste in many of their dishes including braised fish bee hoon, braised pork ribs with bitter gourd, and claypot braised fish head. These dishes were very popular then, but the availability of new sauces such as Kam Heong and Tom Yam have seen them decline somewhat.

 Fried Beef Hor Fun in Black Bean Sauce

Beef                             200 g, sliced about 2 mm thick, across the grain
Oil                                1/3 cup
Chye sim                     2 stalks, julienned
Hor fun                        450 g
Garlic                            2, minced
Bean sprout                 50 g
Salt                                ½ tsp
Dark soy sauce            ½ tbsp
Onion                           ½, sliced thickly
Red chilli                      1, julienned
Chinese wine               2 tbsp
Meat stock                   2 cup
Sesame oil                   ½ tsp
Potato flour                 1 tbsp, mixed with 1 tbsp of water 
Egg                               2, beaten lightly
White pepper             ½ tsp
Fried shallots               2 tbsp
Spring onion               1 sprig, julienned

Apple juice                   2 tbsp, used as natural tenderizer, optional
Light soy sauce            1 tbsp
Ginger juice                  1/3 tsp
Chinese wine                1 tbsp
White pepper              1/3 tsp
Sesame oil                    1 tbsp
Potato flour                  1 tsp

Sauce paste– mixed well and reduced to a paste under low heat
Peanut oil                     2 tbsp
Black bean                    2 tbsp, minced coarsely
Yellow bean paste      1 tbsp, mashed
Sugar                            ½ tbsp
Garlic                            2, minced finely
Red chilli                       1, minced finely
Water                            4 tbsp

  1. Marinate beef and chill for at least one hour.
  2. Heat wok or stainless steel pan until hot. Pour 1 tbsp of oil. Swirl. Add another tbsp of oil. Fry chye sim for 30 seconds. Add hor fun. Swirl hor fun with a spatula in a circular movement. Do not lift hor fun high with the spatula or you risk breaking it into small strands. When hor fun turns slightly golden, push it to one side of the wok. Add ½ tbsp of oil and garlic, give it a good toss and stir in hor fun. Add bean sprout, dark soy sauce and salt, and give it a final toss. Divide hor fun into individual plates. The whole process shouldn’t take more than 4 minutes.
  3. Using the same wok, add remaining oil. Saute onion and chilli in medium heat until onion turns transparent.
  4. Add sauce paste, sugar and mix thoroughly.
  5. Increase heat to high. Add marinated beef and toss the pan continuously. Pour Chinese wine along the sides of the wok, allowing them to dribble to the center.
  6. Pour in meat stock and let it boil for 15 seconds.
  7. Lower heat to medium. Thicken the sauce with potato starch. The sauce should be slightly watery (not too gluey). Turn off the heat and pour egg mixture into the sauce, at the same time using the spatula to stir slowly in one direction.
  8. Scoop gravy onto the fried hor fun in their individual servings.
  9. Garnish it with white pepper, fried shallots and spring onion.

Note: Instead of boiling the sauce paste, it could be fried until all its ingredients (except water) have caramelized, and then simmer it into paste.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Duck Wing & Chicken Feet Stew – Going to Extremes

It’s strange but when life is tough and spending power low, people get more creative in amortizing their money. When I was young, nothing in my household went to waste. Books were passed on to younger siblings, or, in my case, as I was an only kid, given to relatives and friends. I would think twice about indulging in a 2nd pair of jeans, and especially, about throwing away perfectly edible food.

I remember vividly how my family would slaughter and apportion a chicken. The best parts of the torso would be used for the main dish, while sub-grade pieces and offal would be set aside to become ingredients for another dish. The bones and feet would be tossed into the stockpot, or, as in this instance, made into a tasty and wonderful dish for nibbling.

Duck wings and duck webs were often deemed suitable only for making stock, yet when stewed, their taste was sublime. I would often cook these underrated pieces with chicken feet or pig belly, and when the dish was kept overnight, it tasted even better. Here’s the recipe I used.

Duck Wing & Chicken Feet Stew

Duck wing                                10, cut into 2
Chicken feet                             10, whole
Dried shitake                           10, soak in water for 20 mins. Drain and keep the water
Oil                                              2 tbsp. preferably lard
Garlic                                        12, whole
Sugar                                        ½ tbsp
Oyster sauce                            2 tbsp
White pepper                           a dash
Japanese cooking wine          ½ cup
Chicken stock                           1 cup
Salt                                              ½ tsp
Dark soy sauce                         1 tbsp

Oyster sauce                            ½ tbsp
Ginger juice                              ½ tsp
Japanese cooking wine           ½ tsp
Light soy sauce                         ¼ tsp

  1. Marinade duck wing and chicken feet for 1 hour. Drain.
  2. Heat oil. Gently fry garlic until golden brown. Remove and drain. Set aside.
  3. Saute mushroom for 5 minutes in low heat. Add sugar at mid-point.
  4. Increase heat to maximum, sauté meat until it is golden brown.
  5. Add oyster sauce and white pepper, and continue to fry for one minute at high heat.
  6. Pour Japanese cooking wine and let the spirit evaporate.
  7. Add chicken stock and cover the pot.  Simmer for 45 minutes or until the meat is tender. Don’t overcook the meat.
  8. Add garlic and simmer for another 10 minutes with the lid removed.
  9. Reduce stock until it thickens.
  10. Season with salt and dark soy sauce.
  11. Serve hot.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Baked Ice-Cream Cake - A Different Approach

Someone gave me a tub of ice-cream that I didn’t quite like. As I was taught as a kid not to waste food, I ran through my cookbooks and googled for recipes trying to find some use for the ice-cream. My eye caught on some key words and the idea of baking flashed through my mind.

I began to piece together a recipe which I thought doable; and so, here is an idiot-proof recipe to bake ice-cream into a lighter version of a pound cake. I loved the result, especially the fragrance that came from the red-bean ice-cream. If you have a sweet tooth, add another 20 g of sugar to the recipe below.

Baked Red Bean “Ice-Cream”

Ice-cream                    230 g, any flavours and liquefied
Self-raising flour          190 g

1.     Set oven to 180 degree C
2.     Sift flour.
3.     Stir ice-cream until completely melted.
4.     Add self-raising flour and mix well.
5.     Pour mixture into a cake mould and bake for 35 to 45 minutes.
6.     Test cake with a toothpick. If it comes out clean from the batter, remove the cake from the oven.
7.     Let the cake rest on a rack.
8.     Serve cake plain, or with a dollop of ice-cream.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Keng Eng Kee Seafood – A Promising Start

Walked past Keng Eng Kee Restaurant for years and never once had the urge to dine there. Perhaps I was confused by what I saw: an air-con room without an attached kitchen and a cze char stall a few meters away that I much later learned were, in fact, two parts of a single restaurant.

Having said that, my foodie friends were talking about this restaurant of late, and I had read some favorable reviews of it on the Net; so I decided to give it a go. The prices on the menu shocked me in a very pleasant way. They were cheap, and cost the same if you had dined in the air-con room (so I was told) -- if you could get a table there.

The first dish that arrived at our table was, in fact, the first photo to catch my eye on the menu. Pearl Roll or明珠卷 in Chinese, looked good and sounded poetic. Deep-fried bean curd skin with salted egg yolk, ham and mushroom, the dish was visually attractive and I liked the crispy skin. The inclusion of ham was odd though, and didn't help the taste much, but it made a nice starter, and, at least, was eye candy.

For those who long for the taste of home cooking, the second dish was it -- a very straightforward version of sweet & sour pork! Unfussy, uncomplicated, and easy to replicate, just like mum’s cooking. The only nitpick I had with the dish was that its batter was a bit too soggy for my taste, but hey, not all mothers cook like a chef.

The next dish was by far the one I enjoyed most. Cuttlefish Kang Kong doesn't require much cooking, but the sweet sauce is key. The sauce served here was delicious but it tasted familiar. A final drop of white wine before leaving the kitchen would have made it perfect. However, I noticed another version of this dish featured in the post of one of our leading food bloggers, but his raving review of the dish obviously differs from mine. Do I detect a double standard here? Hmmmmm…..

The next dish got me thinking: Maybe it's the quality of pork available, but is getting a good Claypot Liver in Sg as difficult as looking for an attractive guy who isn't gay? One of the best efforts I’ve tasted thus far belonged to Manhill Restaurant. I was told the chef at Keng Eng Kee was a lad of 30 or so, and that he took pains to work at his wok technique. His mastery of heat control showed in the perfect ‘doneness’ of the liver. However, the liver slices were insufficiently uniform and were definitely too thin such that they lacked bite. I only wished the chef could have lavished as much time and effort on the knife as he did on the wok. It would have made him more rounded as a traditional Chinese kitchen master. He should have been more generous with the ginger and Chinese wine too.

The finale was a dish I was so looking forward to – Moonlight Hor Fun or 月光河粉. To begin with it was a dish that never fails to receive raves on the Net, and deservedly so. Secondly I had been on the hunt for a truly good specimen of it ever since the famous stall at Zion Food Center closed. Maybe I had set my hopes too high, but what I was served was utterly disappointing. The dish was lukewarm, with a raw egg nestled in the middle of hor fun that lacked any wok hei – and this from a chef who was known to be good at ‘throwing smoke’. The lack of heat in the dish actually raised the specter of Salmonella in my mind as I tossed the noodles.

Keng Eng Kee is a restaurant I would gladly return to, but it has its its rough edges, some glaringly so. The chef has much of his career ahead of him, and would do well to take all the accolades hurled his way, in stride. He obviously has a lot to learn, but his heart, as far as cooking is concerned, is in the right place.  

Keng Eng Kee Seafood
Blk 124 Bukit Merah Lane 1
Telephone: 6272 1038