Friday, 31 August 2012

Yong Tao Fu – Stuff It!

Ever since its inception, I had never been a fan of the Asian Food Channel. A couple of imported programmes on the channel did strike my fancy, but these were normally not mainstream or hosted by well-known personalities. What I liked most about these few was that they taught me something new -- be it cooking tips or food cultures outside of Singapore.

Right now, I’m a big fan of Taste with Jason. In every episode, host Jason brings us on an armchair food escapade to little-known corners of Malaysia. Food aside, I have learnt much from the featured hawkers and personalities. Each of them would tell an interesting little history of their food, and display their conviction that preserving food culture is an important aspect of the migrant’s story.

This is one dish that I remember vividly from the series -- Hakka Sa Por Yong Tao Fu. It’s hard to find it in the city; but in some states, they still offer this snack in the villages. The ingredients are simple, but the look of the dish and the footage of people eating it, was so enticing that I simply had to jot the recipe down, and improvise on my own.

Sa Por Yong Tao Fu  沙婆酿豆腐

Minced pork                            100 g, at least 20% fat content
Salted fish                                30 g, deep fried and chopped into bits 
Water chestnut                       3, bashed and minced coarsely
Aniseed seed powder             1½ tsp
Salt                                           ¾ tsp
White pepper                          1 tsp
Spring onion                            2 tbsp, chopped
Soy sauce                                 ½ tbsp 
Water                                       1 tbsp
Cornflour                                 1 tbsp

Bean curd cake (豆干)            2
Chinese lettuce                      1 bundle
Chili sauce                              
Sweet sauce

  1. Mix all ingredients thoroughly and let it rest for 30 minutes.
  2. Half the bean curd into a triangle. Cut a slit and sprinkle with corn flour so that the meat would stay in shape.
  3. Stuff marinated meat paste into the slit to leave a slight mound at the opening.
  4. Deep-fry the stuffed bean curd until the bean curd surface turns slightly golden. Drain and set aside.
  5. Steam the fried bean curds for 8 minutes.
  6. Wrap each bean curd with Chinese lettuce, pour some chili and/or sweet sauce and eat immediately.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Phoenix Eye – Little-Known Delight

I was in Hong Kong two weeks ago; Phoenix Eye seed (sterculia nobilis) was in season.  The pod resembles the slit eye of a phoenix and the seed looks like a black nut with one side flattened. Phoenix Eye is also known as nine-layered skin, as one needs to peel through several layers before the edible pale-yellow kernel is exposed.

In Hong Kong, the kernel is normally used as a substitute for chestnut in stew or soup. It has a powdery nutty texture when eaten boiled, and a distinct flavor with a mild, sweet aftertaste.

Phoenix Eye is used by the Chinese as a medicinal remedy for round worm, gastric discomfort, and even hemorrhoids. If you intend to use it, however, do consult a Chinese physician for the exact prescription.

For me, I have decided on a Western approach for this recipe. A friend turned up at my home unexpectedly bringing a couple of wines, so I decided to turn the Phoenix Eyes I had with me into cocktail nuts for the evening. The end result was surprisingly yummy.

Phoenix Cocktail Nuts

Phoenix Eye nuts        600 g
Sea salt                         60 g
Five-spice powder       1 tbsp
White pepper              1 tbsp, coarsely grinded
Butter                           3 tbsp

1.    Microwave nuts for 3 minutes. Remove the shells until the white layer of the seed is exposed. Set aside.
2.    Mix nuts, sea salt, 5-spice powder and black pepper in a French oven.
3.    Fry the nuts in low flame for 15 minutes. Switch off the flame, add butter and continue to fry the nut for another 20 minutes.
4.    Remove the nuts and strain off the excess butter.
5.    Serve or store the nuts in a glass bottle once they have cooled. 

Monday, 6 August 2012

#CookForFamily: Preserving Heritage with Mui Choy

I received an email from a local blogger, Daniel Ang to participate in this #CookForFamily. Without hesitation, I agreed. This event resonates strongly with what I truly believe in – the importance of home cooking and the need to preserve our food heritage.

As the saying goes, the family that eats together stays together. And helping to make this event more meaningful is, I hope, my little way to encourage families to rediscover their handed-down recipes and bring them back to the dining table. The history of the family table is inseparable from the larger culinary history of a people – and therefore needs to be loved and preserved.

The recipe I am featuring was one of the earliest I learnt; a neighbor of mine taught it to me. A typical housewife in her 60s, she would go to the wet market for the freshest ingredients, dispense with her household chores, prepare lunch for her children, and then settle down to listen to Rediffusion for the afternoon. I had learnt not to approach her until she finished her chores.

So this is what I would do: I would follow her to the market in the morning; gather all the ingredients I would need, and wait for her to finish all her chores. When she sat down in front of the Rediffusion box, I would bring the ingredients I had bought to her.

At each commercial break, my neighbor would impart the necessary instructions to me. I would dash to the kitchen after each set of instructions and cook. For the finishing gravy, I would bring her an empty bowl and different types of sauce bottles. Like a pharmacist, she would mix and stir the sauces under my ever-watchful eye. Once done, I would rush back again to the stove for the final assembly.

It was a time of fun that I remember and cherish. Like most people of her generation who were not very demonstrative of their feelings, these generous little cooking ‘lessons’ were my old neighbor’s gifts of affection to me.

Braised Mui Choy with Chicken Feet

Mui choy                     350 g
Ginger                          4 thick slices
Sugar                           2½ tbsp
Chinese wine              1 tbsp
Light soy sauce           1 tbsp
Dark soy sauce            ¾ tbsp
Lard/Oil                       5 tbsp
Meat stock/water        1½ cups

Braised Chicken Feet
Chicken feet                400 g
Dark soy sauce            1 tbsp
Salt                               ½ tsp
Water                          1½ litre
Oil                               2 cups

1.    Soak and rinse mui choy thoroughly. Squeeze mui choy very dry and dice it about 1cm thick.
2.    Marinate mui choy with sugar, light soy sauce, and Chinese wine for 30 minutes.
3.    Using a dry wok, fry the mui choy until the vegetable becomes dry. Add oil and continue to fry at medium heat for another 5 minutes. Pour stock and deep-fry chicken feet and simmer for 30 minutes.

Deep-fried Chicken Feet
1.    Marinate chicken feet with dark soy sauce and salt for 30 minutes.
2.    Blanch chicken feet in boiling water for 5 minutes.
3.    Remove from water and drain thoroughly.
4.    Deep-fry chicken feet until the skin turns brown and crispy.
5.    Drain the chicken feet thoroughly.

Note:   Mui choy is a preserved vegetable originating from Mei Zhou, a province in Canton where Hokkiens and Teochews meet. Nowadays, this preserved vegetable is exclusively produced in Hui Zhou. There are two types of mui choy: sweet and salty, as the vegetables are dried and heavily soaked in either salt or sugar. Each type of mui choy is used for a specific cooking purpose. The colour of mui choy should be light golden, with a slight scent to the vegetable.