Sunday, 17 November 2013

Hainanese Pork Chops As I Remember It

Personally, I feel that one of the greatest inventions by the Singapore Hainanese chefs is Hainanese Pork Chops. From the European households whom most of the chefs worked for, they learnt how to use foreign sauces such as HP sauce, Lea & Perrins sauce, and the wonders of roux as thickener in making sauces.

While the British were used to apple sauce and mustard as accompaniments to their pork chops, the Hainanese substituted these with HP sauce and Lea & Perrins, as they agreed better with their taste buds.

Over the years, Hainanese pork chops would undergo further changes to make it even more appealing to the Chinese rather than the Caucasians. That included the use of ketchup as the key ingredient in the sauce. And bread crumbs or Jacob’s crumbs – one of the original ingredients – also disappeared from the recipe in most restaurants.

The recipe I’m trying to replicate here is much closer to the version I was brought up on in the 60s, the version that was served at most coffee houses and Hainanese restaurants.

Hainanese Pork Chops

Pork chop                                           6 slices, about ¾ cm thick each
Flour                                                    2 cups
Egg                                                      2, lightly beaten
Bread crumbs/ Jacob’s crumbs            2 cups
Oil                                                       3 cups
Potato                                                  2, cut into chunks
Mixed vegetables                                1 cup

Oyster sauce                                       1 tbsp
HP sauce                                             ½ tsp
Pepper                                                 ¼ tsp
Corn flour                                           1 tsp

Butter                                                   3 tbsp
AP flour                                               3 tbsp
HP sauce                                             4 tbp
Lea & Perrins                                       3 tbsp
Meat stock                                           ¼ cup
Pepper                                                 a dash
Salt                                                      ¼ tsp
Sugar                                                   2 tbsp

1.    Use a heavy mallet to break up the muscle fibers of the pork chops.
2.    Rub marinade into the pork and chill for at least 30 mins.
3.    Dust pork chops with flour, soak the meat thoroughly with egg mixture, dust with bread crumbs. Put it aside to rest for 5 minutes. This step will prevent excessive crumbs from falling off the meat during deep frying.
4.    Deep fry pork chops until both sides turn golden brown. Drain off the oil and slice into ½ cm thick. Place it on the serving plate.
5.    Boil potato until it is cooked. Drain and shake off the water completely. This step will create uneven surfaces on the potato, which will give the chips extra crisp. Deep fry the potato chips until golden brown. Drain and transfer to the serving plate.
6.    Pour sauce generously over the pork chops and serve immediately.

1.    Melt butter over medium heat. Saute mixed vegetables for 1 min.
2.    Add flour and cook for another 1 to 2 mins to create a roux.
3.    Add the rest of the sauce ingredients gradually and whisk until the sauce thickens.
4.    The sauce should not be too thick. If it is too thickened, add some stock to dilute it. Adjust the taste with salt and sugar.
5.    Set aside and keep warm.

Friday, 8 November 2013

There’s Nothing Like Oxtail

I have a soft spot for any dish that contains oxtail. Although this animal part seldom sat on my family’s dinner table, I’ve always loved its rich robust flavor. And I’m always on the lookout for it whatever the cuisine. I haven’t had much luck, though, searching for oxtail in Chinese cuisine; I’ve done much better with Malay and western food.

I remember that when I served oxtail at the restaurant I used to own in Hong Kong, it would draw ooohs and aahhs whenever the lid was lifted off the pot, because the space would immediately fill with its luscious aroma.

The following recipe is the one I used in Hong Kong.

Oxtail Stew with Guinness

Oxtail                          750 g
Plain flour                   4 tbsp
Oil                               4 tbsp
Onion                         2, chopped coarsely
Carrot                          2, diced 
Celery                         4 stalks, diced
Potato                         2, diced
Button mushroom     150 g, halved
Salt                              1 tsp
Butter                          2 tbsp
Bacon                          100 g, diced
Garlic                           5 cloves
Shallot                         5
Red wine                     ¼ cup
Tomato paste              3 tbsp
Guinness stout            1 can
Coconut juice              1 cup
5-spice powder           1 tbsp
Lemongrass                 2, bashed
Salt                               1 tsp

  1. Preheat oven at  180 degree C.
  2. Dust oxtail with flour. Brown oxtail with oil. Set aside.
  3. Saute the vegetables and salt with the remaining oil in the French oven for 5 mins. Lower the heat, cover the pan, and sweat the vegetable for 10 minutes. Remove and set aside.
  4. Saute bacon, garlic and shallots with 1 tbsp of butter. Return oxtail to the pot and deglaze it with red wine. Add tomato paste and stir well.
  5. Pour Guinness stout and coconut juice into the pot. Add 5-spice powder and lemon grass.
  6. Put parchment paper directly onto surface of the stew. Make sure parchment paper covers the surface completely.
  7. Cover the lid and bake for 1½ hours.  Add the sauted vegetable and continue to bake for another 30 minutes.
  8. Season with salt and serve.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Por Kee – A Name That Had Run Its Course

Por Kee Eating House closed its shutters for the last time on 30 September 2013.

That brought to an end another chapter of my childhood. I will miss it much, not so much for its food which was very pedestrian in its early years, but because I had patronized the eatery since the 60s.

The Chinatown that I remember from back then was abuzz with activity. Smith Street -- on which Por Kee was first located -- was a street market by day and sold all manner of exotic animals. Yes, in those days, pythons, monitor lizards, civet cats, and anteaters were displayed in cages and slaughtered live just like chickens and ducks. By night Smith Street was lined with food stalls, many well known even then, and some of which have survived until today, such as Heng Ji Chicken Rice, Run Ji Braised Duck, Tong Heng Confectionery and etc.

Por Kee occupied the ground floor of a two-unit shop house at No. 76 Smith Street. On the street in front of the shop sat a long aluminium table, above which hung a variety of roast meat. On the tabletop were metal trays displaying fried spring rolls, carrot cakes and buns. There was also a row of huge pots that contained cooked food such as braised pork, steamed chicken, and steamed ribs. These constituted the “one-dish” meals popular with working men who lived without families.

As Por Kee’s premises were at the building corner, a side lane ran next to it, and at its the mouth were placed steamers holding bamboo baskets stacked high with dim sum. There were additional tables along the side lane where patrons could sit and watch rats scamper past.

For me, Por Kee became a favourite place to grab a quick snack of fried spring roll or siew mai before heading off to meet friends. I remember in particular a one-dish meal unique to Por Kee called “smooth chicken rice” or “滑鸡饭”.  From its inception Por Kee was never known for the tastiness of its food, but as a convenient and affordable stop to grab a bite to fill the stomach before heading off somewhere.

Still, it was a pity that the final night of this half-century-old eating establishment should end with such disappointment for me. I had seen first-hand the ups and downs of their business over the years. And after eating there on their “farewell” night, I understood why they failed to grow or keep up with the competition. Their attitude was abysmal. One incident from many that night should suffice: when I mildly rebuked the waitress for the inexcusably poor fried rice that we were served, she snorted, “You complain now also no use, we last day already.”

I went away from the dinner with a heavy heart and actually felt glad that they had gone at last.

“Smooth” Chicken Rice

Chicken chop                         4
Chicken stock                         ½ cup
Salt                                          ¼ tsp
Corn flour                               1 tbsp, mixed with 2 tbsp of water
Cooked rice                            12 cups
Chye sim                                 50 gm, blanched
White pepper                         a dash

Ginger juice                            2 tbsp
Oyster sauce                          2 tbsp
Soy sauce                               ¼ tsp
Chinese wine                          1 tbsp
Sugar                                       ¼ tsp

  1. Marinate chicken chops for 30 minutes.
  2. Steam chicken until cooked.
  3. Divide rice into 4 portions. Slice chicken chops and distribute evenly into 4 portions. Place chicken and chye sim on top of the rice.
  4. Pour steamed chicken juice in a small pot. Add chicken stock and stir thoroughly. Simmer and season with salt.
  5. Thicken gravy with corn starch.
  6. Pour over the chicken and sprinkle with pepper.
  7. Serve hot.