Thursday, December 27, 2012

Cook Singaporean? CAAAAAAAN!

Having studied in Singapore, and having visited it thrice in the last four years, I have been one of its biggest fans for years - not in the least because of the food. I have made Laksa a couple of times before, but I never got down to cooking a Singaporean meal. Of course, that is a little tricky, because Singaporean food is a mix of various regional and immigrant influences, and ingredients are not all that easy to find here. But I was determined, and invited my sister and brother-in-law, and a friend couple (both of whom recently became parents) to taste of my first shot at making a full Singaporean meal.

To start with, I prepared the requisite Laksa. I did not post the process here, because I used a premix packet for the Laksa curry paste and flavor, pouring this over blanched noodles and bean sprouts, and topping with shrimp, surimi, fried tofu, fishball, and sambal chili. Still, its looks (and taste) warrant a picture.

But here's where the actual cooking begins.

For the vegetable dish, I chose to make Sayur Lodeh, a Malay/Indonesian vegetable curry popular in the region. We start by quartering shallots and chopping garlic.

Then we crush candlenuts (I used brazil nuts) in a mortar.

We add them to the mix, along with turmeric, sauteed shrimp paste and roughly chopped dried red chile peppers.

We mash this together and fry it in a pot until the garlic and shallots soften.

Then we slice and add galangal (substituted with fresh ginger)

We add coconut milk and bring to a simmer.

Now we can add the vegetables: carrots cut into thick sticks, pieces of cabbage, and cut beans, with some sugar and salt.

Finally, we add fried tofu, and allow to cook until the vegetables start to soften.

Served hot, Sayur Lodeh can be eaten as a delicious hearty soup, or with rice.

For the meat dish, I went for a Malay/Singaporean Chinese classic called Bak Kut Teh. It literally translates to "meat bone tea" from the Hokkien language, but it does not contain tea (tell you why later). It's normally made with pork, but one can use any meat, and I went with mutton. I secured a combination of stewing mutton and backbone mutton, and selected a large mutton leg that I had a butcher chop up into hefty chunks.

We start by chopping garlic.

We fry those a bit at the bottom of a pot (I used a pressure cooker), and add water, followed by the real distinguishing components: the Bak Kut Teh herbs and spices.

When this is simmering, we can add the meat and some shiitake mushrooms.

Finally, we add some broadly cut napa cabbage, oyster sauce and bean sauce, after which we put the lid on and allow the dish to slow-cook.

A few hours is sufficient, but I went for 18, and in a pressure cooker to boot. Almost all the bones in the Bak Kut Teh were completely softened out, and meat was tender and flavored through and through with the Bak Kut Teh herbs, sauces and spices. It was the hit of the night (and the next couple of days >_^)

And here's where the tea comes in: despite my repeated skimming, it's quite a fatty dish, and it's traditional to down a few cups of green tea right after (in this case, some of my stash of original Longjing from Hangzhou).

To complement the Bak Kut Teh, I made a Chinese rice dish called Yau Fan, or Garlic Rice.

We start by frying ginger-garlic paste until slightly browned, and adding soaked rice to mix.

To this, chicken stock, sugar and salt is added, and the rice is cooked in a cooker.

The finished Yau Fan is served with brown-fried shallots stirred in. Honestly, this is tasty enough to eat on its own.

And to cap a great meal, Singaporean-style coffee, made with brewed and filtered special coffee imported from Singapore on a recent trip, and a little sweetened condensed milk.

1 comment:

  1. Your bak kut teh looks a bit too meaty! ^_^ Great looking dishes!