Saturday, 17 September 2011

Hokkien Prawn Noodle – sweet smell of success!

If like me, you are Chinese and grew up in Singapore, it is hard to find anyone among us who does not like Hokkien Prawn Noodles. Whatever the version -- fried, soup, or braised -- we all have a favorite, or favorites. Even the Peranakans, many of whom are Hokkien in descent, have their own version. Me, I love them all.

Hokkien Prawn Noodle arrived in Singapore with the immigrants from Fujian province in southeastern China, and quickly became a mainstay of roadside hawkers and coffee-shop stalls. But, what was once a cheap meal for working folks has become, in today’s affluent times, a dish that can easily cost close to S$10 with its add-ons of bigger prawns, pork tail, and even abalone. Let’s focus on the soup version.

Back in the 60s when ingredients were much cheaper, hawkers and stallholders were more generous when they were brewing their soups. They would fry loads of prawn heads and shells and pour them into their pork soup base. The resulting brews would often be so pungent with prawn odor that I used to joke they smelled like the Singapore River, before it was cleaned up! To aficionados that smell was the sought-after hallmark of a well made prawn soup.

Apart from the all-important prawn-and-pork broth, the other key ingredients would be boiled prawns, slices of pork or pork ribs, egg noodles, bean sprouts, kang kong, and fried spring onions.

I have always hesitated to cook this dish at home, because of the expense of buying a sufficient amount of prawns to make a quality broth. However, on a recent trip to Hong Kong, I came across dried prawn heads and shells that cost a fraction of the price of fresh ones, and work just as well. So, here’s the recipe. Enjoy!

Prawn Noodle Soup

Lean pork                                250 g, cooked and sliced
Fish cake                                200 g, sliced
Yellow mee (油面)                  1 kg
Rice noodle (米粉)                  300 g, optional
Bean sprout                             500 g
Kang kong (通菜)                    200 g

Water                                       5 litres
Prawns                                    750 g
Pork bones                              300 g
Sugar cane                              250 g, optional
Ginger                                      50 g, bashed
Oil                                             2 tbsp
Dried prawn shells                   250 g, soaked in water for 1 hour and drained
Ikan bilis (鱼仔)                    100 g
Garlic                                       100 g, minced
Belachan                                  100 g
Chilli paste                                2 tbsp
Lemon grass                            2 stalks, bashed
Rock sugar                              100 g
Salt                                           2 tsp

Spring onion
Pork crispy
Sesame oil      

1.      Boil water. Add prawns and cook until the shells turn pink. Remove the prawns and place them into a bowl of chilled water; making sure the chilled water covers the prawns by 1cm. When the prawns have cooled, remove their heads and shells and set them aside for the broth.
2.      Add pork bones, pork, sugar cane, and ginger to the previously boiled water and continue to simmer for 1 hour. Remove the pork once it is fully cooked and allow it to cool. Slice the pork.
3.      In a clean wok, fry the dried prawn shells until it they are completely dry. Add oil, the fresh prawn heads and shells that have been set aside, ikan bilis, ginger and belachan, and fry until the mix is fragrant. Add chilli paste and fry for another one minute. Remove the mixture, add 1 cup of stock, and blend. Add the blended mixture to the stock and simmer for another 40 minutes. Drain the stock. 
4.      In a clean pot, put sugar and 4 tbsp of water and boil until the sugar caramelizes. Pour in the stock (step 3) and continue to boil for 10 minutes. Season it with salt.

1.      Boil mee with bean sprout and kang kong for 30 seconds.
2.      Drain and pour it into a serving bowl.
3.      Add sliced prawns, pork, and fish cakes.
4.      Pour in the stock until it fully covers the mee by 2 cm.
5.      Garnish with dried spring onion and pork crispy.
6.      Add a dash of sesame oil and pepper before serving.
7.      For those who like it spicy, add chilli paste, dried chilli powder, or even sliced fresh red chilli.

Note: Yellow mee is commonly used for this dish, but you may prefer a mix of yellow mee and rice noodle. I myself prefer rice noodle only. It’s simply personal preference.