Seafood

Singapore hawker marathon: Coconut rice part one, tomato chili sambal and lemongrass ricotta

 

An incredibly fragrant coconut rice cooked in pandan extraction, a tomato-based chili sambal boosted with Italian anchovies, and a lemongrass-infused coconut milk ricotta crumbled with thinly sliced shallots and bird’s eye chili marinated in fish sauce

WHAT:  Nasi Lemak, Malay’s signature fragrant coconut rice cooked in coconut milk and served with a spicy and sweet chili sambal.

WHY:  You haven’t really had rice until you’ve tasted nasi lemak.  And if you have tasted nasi lemak and consider this statement grossly exaggerated – as I once was – then it’s highly probable that it’s because you haven’t had this nasi lemak.  Best yet, most components can be made days ahead of time.

HOW:  Let’s face it.  There are a lot of underwhelming nasi lemak out there.  And I say this with the full acknowledgement that it’s an explicitly personal opinion resulting from my deeply rooted disagreement with more than one of its traditional, possibly beloved, practices.  The coconut rice, without any dispute, is the heroine of the entire dish.  We should all agree that if this part isn’t done right, then none of the others shall matter.  But in my three to four encounters of nasi lemak in Malaysia and Singapore, more often than not, the rice appears fragrance-less and purpose-defeating, a crime that even if I could overlook, is sentenced to death with an aggressively sweet chili sambal slapped over the top where the scattered insult of dried anchovies and roasted peanuts lurks nearby.  I don’t care for whole dried anchovies and/or roasted peanuts.  Two ingredients that, in its entirely intact, crude and un-manipulated form, is only acceptable as cat snacks and dive bar nuts.

So here I’m setting out, if for no one else but myself, to make things right.  In order to inject my desired level of fragrance into what is truly coconut rice in my mind, the cooking liquid is blended with pandan leaf and lemongrass before brewing for a short while over heat.  The result is a jade-like green extraction that in conjunction with coconut milk and coconut oil, nursed the most incredibly fragrant pot of jasmine rice that I’d be happy eating with just a sprinkle of sea salt.  Then in exchange of the overdue removal of whole dried anchovies, I went for a tomato-based chili sambal flavored with Italian anchovies in olive oil and dried shrimps, which provide a deeply nutty, seafood-y backdrop as the tangy sweetness of tomatoes and apricot jam forms an addictive conflict with fiery and condensed red chilis.  It is a general wisdom – and happens to be true – that amongst two rich and intently juggernauts, a refreshing and preferably sharp medium is duly warranted.  In rejection of the common trifling of sliced cucumbers, I say a lemongrass-infused coconut milk ricotta crumbled with thinly sliced shallots and bird’s eye chili marinated in fish sauce, is just the creamy yet laser-sharp liaison to bring this epic coalition to focus.

These few components without much else (or at least how they are traditionally made), together inside cleverly folded wrappers, are little pouches of portable delights grabbed on the go by busy Malaysians and Singaporeans alike.  But for the most insatiable amongst us all, there are also some much available overkills.  For lemongrass fried chickens, and fragrant fish cake they call otah, please proceed to Part Two.

 

TOMATO CHILI SAMBAL 1

TOMATO CHILI SAMBAL 2

TOMATO CHILI SAMBAL 3

COCONUT RICOTTA 1

COCONUT RICOTTA 2

COCONUT RICE 1

COCONUT RICE 2

COCONUT RICE 3

COCONUT RICE 4

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BEEF TARTARE WITH SEA URCHIN FROM THE NEIGHBORHOOD

IT HAD ME AT HELLO

Oh geez, in between life in general and an unexpectedly eventful visit to my OBGYN which involved an adorably named chocolate cyst, I’m going to quickly leave you with, nonetheless, a recipe for my favorite thing to eat these days.  This is a dish inspired by a restaurant called Neighborhood in Hong Kong’s central district, which serves predominantly French bistro-style dishes with a spritz of Japanese infusion, and in this case, classic beef tartare served with fresh sea urchin roe on top.  For the record, I have NOT had this particular dish at the restaurant.  It wasn’t offered on the menu by the time I visited, and so I created my own rendition at home.  The major difference is that their standard beef tartare is mixed with chopped raw oysters, which I omitted because fresh oysters just isn’t something that Hong Kong markets excel at, and for the many times that I’ve pushed my luck, I wish I hand’t, so.

But, having said that, you’ve got to try this.  I would want to sell you on how the creamy sweetness and foie gras-like richness of the sea urchin blend almost biblically beautiful with the irony savoriness of the beef tartare, and how the infusion of the two, including the cold and silky touches it feels on your taste buds, comes to a marvelous clash with the warm crunches of the toasted baguette. And I could go on.

But the truth is, if you’re my kinda people, it had us at hello.

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PORK CHOP W/ TUNA-SANDO SAUCE

 

MAKE THIS RECIPE RESPONSIBLY, OR NOT AT ALL


I haven’t eaten tuna for almost 10 years.  Except one time in Hawaii when/where it was responsible.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or conveniently turning a blind eye, you should know exactly what I’m talking about.

It is estimated that by 2050, a large number of species of wild fish, tuna especially, will be gone.  That statement was made more than a decade ago.  It still stands.  Are we better than locusts?  The question is, are we worse?

So why am I, a hypocrite on all accounts, posting a recipe that involves tuna?  Because I see it now no longer as a question.  But instead, an opportunity.

I first came across the inspiration of a “tuna-sando sauce” from an espisode of Mind of A Chef on Gabrielle Hamilton, where she made the Italian dish maiale tonnato, thinly sliced pork served with a mayonnaise-based sauce flavored with canned tuna.  I was instantly intrigued.  It was one of those instances where, without actually tasting something, I felt certain about its sublimity, the velvety texture of a sauce that is the sum of all that is awesome about a tuna sandwich but minus the bread and the gritty mouth-feel, the silky-smooth grown-up twin of a childhood favorite, the 2.0 of that inexplicably enticing flavor that have satisfied all palates across the world.  Plus served with pork?  I knew it’d work.  It’s genius.  Especially, in my imagination, with a thick-cut slab of marbled pork chop that is deeply and glisteningly caramelized in browned butter infused with fresh bay leaves and garlics.  I die.

So I spent two years, diligently, not making it.

After all, I’ve been celebrating my tuna-sobriety for a decade.  Not even a piece of hard-core, fat-laden toro could break me let alone this soft porn.  So I guess, that rounds us back again to why do it now.  The answer is simple.  Because I realized me not eating or writing about tuna is as helpful as a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy.  The world simply doesn’t care that I quietly don’t eat tuna.  Over the years, I still see tuna sashimi continuously flying off of the rack from my supermarkets.  I still witnessed the rise of tuna poke-bowls walked through walls of social responsibility without a drop of effort or tear.  I still have friends who, I’m not sure whether intentionally or helplessly, order tuna again and again at gatherings despite my rejection.  I’d be lucky not to get a lecture from them let alone changing their minds.

I realized, thing is, no one can stop the world from eating tuna.  The world does not deal in the absolute, but only in compromise.  If anything, one can only possibly hope that it’s consumed responsibly.

So I’m taking this post as a chance to say this.  If you cannot not eat tuna, at least, make sure that it’s from a sustainable source.  And if you can’t be sure, then seriously, don’t do it.  It’s just fucking tuna, not a limb or dick.  It isn’t all that hard to cut loose.

I dragged for two weeks before posting this recipe, because even with all the precautions taken to  buy the tuna from a sustainable source or to talk to you about it, this could still be considered, on some level, a promotion to eat tuna.  And there’s no way for me to be sure that nobody who loves the idea of a sauce that tastes like tuna sandwich as much as me, wouldn’t just grab a dubiously sourced can from their local grocery stores.  So if that happens, it’s on me.  Yet, so what if I don’t post this?  Just a bleep of silence, one less tuna recipe out of a million and that’s supposed to be heard, let alone make a change?

So I chose to post it.  Not only it’s an opportunity to speak to those who come here to decide what’s for dinner, but also, as a member of the food-blog community which touches this subject all too rarely, it’s an opportunity to remind us all again that, not just our actions but more so, how our inactions matter.  Maybe you’re a food-blogger like me who’s never posted a tuna-recipe before.  Or, maybe you’ve posted recipes of tuna because it’s a popular ingredient, maybe you know about the issue of overfishing and maybe you choose not to mention it, either because it’s off-putting or that you’re scared it will give your readers an incentive not to share it, and maybe, that will hurt your traffic and followers, or maybe, you just don’t give a shit.  We’ve all been there.  We all still do it.

But our maybe’s are deadlier than a nuclear bomb.  Because it will play a part in rendering the ocean fishless.  You think North Korea is scary.  We should see what’s on our plates.

Look, am I a hypocrite?  Sure I am, I’m no vegan.  But not being able to do 100% is no excuse to do zero.  Even a hypocrite can do the right thing.  Starting with, we should at least give a fuck.

This recipe is good.  Really good.  And if you have the faintest hope to enjoy it for years to come, make this recipe responsibly.  Or not at all.

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SALMON RED CURRY CEVICHE

CEVICHE… IS A MONICA AND CHANDLER.

My relationship with foods can be summarized into two types of romance: Ross and Rachel, or Monica and Chandler.

Either it has been a life-long marathon of unshakable attractions, torments, break-ups and make-ups, which I’ll admit including a vast array of things going from pearl bubble teas to cans of SPAM.  Or, I spend my whole life staring at it without much urge or lust, but one day, out of no where, it’s like coal on fire.

I was never a fanatic for ceviche, presumably, chalky-pale chunks of seafoods swimming in a cloudy sour pool.  I mean, I’d eat it if it was right in front of me when I’m marinating in a sweltering hot summer day while my butt-cheeks are unnaturally sticking together and the next frappuccino is 1/2-block-away-too-far.  It promises not to give me any culinarily transmitted diseases, and I promise not to call its number unless necessary, but the casual hook-up pretty much stops there.  It just never really gave me the butterflies is what I’m saying.  Then 18 months ago, I went to Lisbon where I stepped into a restaurant called A Cevicheria that pulled a string in my heart, where I started to look at their playful yet genuine takes on this dish with a whole new set of eyes.  Like noticing a small dimple that has always been there, it’s still ceviche, but all of a sudden, kind of cute.  Reasonably I should have dragged it home immediately, pick a church and make babies, but, a good romance is never without suspense.

It took destiny another 18 months to make the move.  This time, it ran into me.  It was a mid-summer night when I was laying in bed under the brisk wind of air-conditioning, holding an imaginary cigarette for dramatic effect, and it called out my name, a shrimp ceviche recipe by Lauren Egdal from Comparti Catering.  Evidently, that recipe isn’t the one you see me engaged to at this very moment, but it’s very much inspired by.  The idea of using coconut milk to form the base of the ceviche, giving it body, deriving it away from being just “cloudy sour pool”, elevating it even, into something tangy and delicious that one can mop up with a piece of bread, is quite frankly going to be our wedding vows.  The cold, creamy and citrusy red curry sauce gives just enough savoriness and aroma to bite-size pieces of semi-cured salmon, which is sufficiently attractive in itself.  But you’ll learn, as I did, that the true sexiness of a ceviche lies in its popping elements of surprises.  In this case, the sauce is perfumed with lime leaves, Thai basils and tarragons, and lightened up by soft dragonfruits and cherry tomatoes.  Tangy, salty, sweet, creamy and fragrant.

And did I mention it takes less than 30 minutes?  Now who’s blushing?

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FISH WONTON W/ ANCHOVY, GARLIC , TABASCO

 

HOW DARE YOU.  I’M SUPPOSED TO HAVE TASTE-BUDS OF HIGH CALIBER

As we are preparing for our Tuscany vacation that is fast approaching this Saturday, I’m going to quickly leave you with an even faster recipe.

I threw this together in less than an hour today, in a frantic effort to clean out the freezer (duh, to make way for the incoming fleet of smuggled imported Italian goods), and they turned out to be little drops of afternoon delights.  So why fish wonton?  Why fish?  See, I don’t know about you, but when other people stock up their freezer with prime rib-eye steaks from Cosco, I do mine with frozen catfish fillets.  I don’t know why.  Cheapness, possibly.  Don’t make me admit that I like frozen catfish.  I’m supposed to have taste-buds of high caliber.  How dare you.  No, the point is, I was saying… as I was cleaning out my frozen fish tank, I thought, fish wonton, why not?

Ground fish, here in Asia, is actually quite a common ingredient with wide applications.  What it lacks in meaty-ness, it gains in an uniquely light, soft and creamy texture which resembles between ricotta filling and French quenelles.  It makes a wonton that is light in body and texture, with a particular sweetness in its gentle nature.  To dress it up, I used a deeply savory olive oil with salty specks of anchovies and crispy garlic, brightened with fresh grated ginger, chopped herbs and a subtle zing of tabasco sauce.

Satisfying afternoon pick-me-ups, or, if kept ready in the freezer, light and well.. relatively healthy meal on demand.

 
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DIM SUM MONTH FINALE: Tapenade short ribs, plus dim sum party game plan

AT LAST, DIM SUM MONTH FINALE…

WHAT:  Beef short ribs in super garlicky tapenade sauce, an adaptation of a classic dimsum item – pork ribs with fermented black beans but with an American/European twist.

WHY:  The unexpectedly supple texture of the beef (thanks to baking soda) melting gorgeously into a pool of bold and complex mixture of flavors, a revelation that can be easily prepared ahead of time and cooks in under 8 min.

HOW:  For both flavors and accessibility, I have swapped the traditionally used diced pork ribs with the more luscious and rich-tasting beef short ribs, and Chinese fermented black beans with the equally bold and forward black olives.  Trust me, if I may say so myself, the reinvented combination works even better than tradition.  The surprisingly tender and velvety texture of the beef – achieved by adding just a tiny pinch of baking soda into the marinate – disintegrates in your mouth in a medley of perfectly orchestrated flavours that you didn’t even know would go together.  Black olives, strawberry jam, soy sauce, sesame oil, Dijon mustard, and a depth created by using both raw and fried garlics.  It’s easy to put together, and a cinch to cook in a blink of an eye.  You’ll wonder where it’s been your whole life.

Now, simply follow the instructions below on how to throw a hassle-free dim sum party!

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DIM SUM MONTH: Creamy salmon & egg in rice wrapper rolls

DIM SUM MONTH CONTINUES…

WHAT:  Stuffed rice wrapper rolls they call “cheung fun“!

WHY:  These gorgeous and elegant beauties are often overlooked on the dim sum table because of their less flashy appearances, mellow flavor profiles, and batters with the wrong ratio that results in unfortunate, mushy-textured wrappers.  Well, that ain’t their fault, in fact, cheung-fun is the most versatile blank canvas waiting for someone who appreciates its possibilities.

HOW:  In restaurants, this dish is always made to order.  The rice batter is usually steamed with the filling on top then rolled into a log and served with sweet soy sauce.  This method has its virtues but also, many flaws.  It is convenient from a restaurant’s perspective, allowing them to serve the dish hot and speedy, but not necessarily so from a creative point of view.  Making the dish to order will be unrealistic to pull off for at-home dinner parties, and steaming the wrappers and the fillings simultaneously will greatly limits its possibilities.  So, we are going to prepare the rice wrappers beforehand, and assemble them with the filling at the last minute.  In my wildest dreams where money flows like abs in a Channing Tatum movie, I would make the filling with gently poached lobster meat and XL lumpy blue crabs tossed together with herby mayonnaise and a few popping jewels of ikura (Japanese cured salmon roes).  But I live in the real world.  As you can see that my XXL Magic Mike-version is reduced down to slow baked then torched salmon with cheap-but-not-sad 15-seconds magic scrambled eggs.  Still Magic, just less Mike.  Serve the dish on a hot plate and simmering sweet soy sauce to bring the warmth back.  Hey, still fucking sexy.

By the way, most of the recipes in DIM SUM MONTH is designed to be prepared ahead of time.  Make each items and store them in the freezer (well, not this particular recipe), and at the end of the month, we’re going to have a dim sum blowout party.  See ya!

CREAMY SALMON & EGG IN RICE WRAPPER ROLLS

Yield: Approx 8~10 rolls

For the RICE WRAPPER recipe, I strongly recommend measuring by weight (not volume).

Ingredients

    RICE WRAPPER/CHEUNG FUN:
  • 3/4 cup + 1 1/2 tbsp (100 grams) short grain rice flour
  • 1/4 cup (33 grams) potato starch
  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp (267 grams) water
  • FILLING: (see note)
  • 1 lb (500 grams) mid-cut salmon
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 2 tbsp finely diced scallions
  • 1 tbsp plain mayonnaise
  • 1 portion 15-seconds magic scrambled eggs (3 eggs)
  • fresh cilantro leaves
  • SWEET SOY SAUCE:
  • 1/3 cup (94 grams) soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp + 2 tsp (31 grams) light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp (30 grams) water

Instructions

  1. This instruction differs from how restaurants typically do it, which is to always steam the cheung-fun/rice wrapper and the fillings together simultaneously, right before serving. Here, I prepare the cheung-fun/rice wrapper separately and beforehand. It gives me more control to play with the fillings, and makes them easier to prepare for a party.
  2. PREPARE THE CHEUNG-FUN/RICE WRAPPER: Make the wrappers up to 4 hours before serving. Check out RICE RIBBON for more referrences. In a jar that's easy to pour, whisk together rice flour, potato starch and water.
  3. For steamer, you can use any large pot with a rack placed in the middle to hold the mold/pan. I used a 6" (15 cm) square cake-pan as my mold to make the rice wrapper because 1) It fits into my steamer/pot (see photo). 2) It's just the right size for one single roll. If you have a larger steamer that can allow a bigger pan that will cut down the number of time of steaming, you can do that as well.
  4. Fill the steamer/pot with enough water just below the steamer-rack, then bring to a boil over high heat. Brush the pan with a bit of canola oil and place it on top of the rack. Give the batter a little whisk (do this every time before you pour), then pour just enough batter to create a thin film on the bottom of the pan. ADJUST THE POT so that it's LEVELED, and that the batter is evenly thick on all sides. Close the lid and steam on high heat for 1 min. The wrapper is ready when you see large air bubbles when you remove the lid. Brush the top surface of the wrapper with a little canola oil, then tilt the pan over a piece of parchment paper so it faces downward, then scrape the wrapper off so it falls onto the parchment. Repeat until you've used up all the batters, and keep each wrappers sandwiched between parchments. Plastic-wrap the whole stack and set aside until needed.
  5. PREPARE FILLING: Two hours before serving. Preheat the oven on 155 F/70 C. Rub the 1 tbsp of salt all over the salmon and let sit for 20 min, after which, rinse and pat dry with a clean towel. Place on a piece of parchment paper and rub the salmon with a bit of olive oil, then wrap tightly with the parchment. Place in the middle baking-rack (NO BAKING SHEET) and bake for 1:20 hour. Crumble the salmon into large pieces, and if you have a blow-torch, torch the surfaces so they're a bit charred. Gently toss the salmon with scallions and mayo (do the same if you're using lobster or lumpy crab meats). Set aside. Make the magic scrambled eggs. Set aside.
  6. Lay one cheung-fun/rice wrapper with the oiled side down (that would be the top surface when it came out of the steamer, which is the pretty side). Scatter a few cilantro leaves across the middle, then a bit of salmon fillings and scrambled eggs. Gently roll it together, and repeat (only make as many as you're serving).
  7. Place the rolls on a hot plate (the dish should be warm when served). In a small pot, bring soy sauce, light brown sugar and water to a simmer until the sugar has melted, then spoon the sauce over the rice rolls. Serve immediately.

Notes

If your budget allows, you can switch to using lobster or large lumpy crab meats, or a combination of the two. I would gently poach the lobster, then cut the meat into small pieces. Toss the lobster meats together with lobster roes (or the "brain"), lumpy crab meats and the scallion mayo. If you have enough of this, you can even omit the scrambled eggs and go delux.

https://ladyandpups.com/2017/02/14/dim-sum-month-creamy-salmon-egg-in-rice-wrapper-rolls/
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DIM SUM MONTH: Crystal shrimp dumpling w/ shrimp oil mayo

EXACTLY WHAT DIM SUM IS SUPPOSED TO, BUT SOMEHOW FORGOTTEN TO BE,

LITERALLY, AS TO TOUCH HEART

Welcome to DIM SUM MONTH!

WHAT:  I’m dedicating this whole month to the delicate art that is dim sum.

WHY:  I’m slowly and painfully realizing how scarce a good, thoughtful and delicious dim sum can be.  Even in Hong Kong – the supposedly promised land of dim sum – I found my expectation being shattered with sloppy, tired, and borderline unethical display of dimness.  Frankly, I’m fed up.

HOW:  Just as unfamiliar as most of you are in terms of making dim sum, I’m going to show you that it is possible for us to create these little baskets of happiness at home.  We are going to take each conventional dim sum item, and mix them with a bit of thoughtfulness and fun.  Almost every items can be made ahead of time, and hopefully at the end of the month, we’ll be able to host our own dim sum party that is more awesome than most.

Let’s start with the classic of the classics – crystal shrimp dumplings.

We are going to correct all of its frequently ignored mistakes: soggy and texture-less wrappers, and frankly, boringness.  This recipe will yield a wrapper that is beautifully translucent, shiny, and just a bit bouncy to the bite, filled with a generous amount of whole tiger shrimps held together by fatty ground pork.  Last but not least, a small dollop of mayonnaise made with shrimp oil and thickened up with cashew butter, will knock this out of the park.

It is a single bite that embodies a carnival of senses: textures, flavors, esthetics and imaginations.  Which is exactly what dim sum is supposed to, but somehow forgotten to be, literally, as to touch heart.

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