Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Tales of The Elusive Black Nut - Ayam Buah Keluak (Nyonya Braised Chicken In A Black Nut Curry)

Ayam Buak Keluak is one of my favourite childhood dish which I will no doubt strike a cord here with anyone who grew up in a Peranakan household. A signature Nyonya dish just like the Babi Pongteh and a firm contender in my Nan's kitchen as the most frequently made delight.

Not the quickest dish to make and it takes a bit of foreplanning. The preparation of the nuts are rather laborious as you first have to soak them in water  for days before cracking them open, scoop out the flesh and then refill them again.

I have always wanted to make this ever since I left Singapore. However, one of the main component, the elusive Buah Keluak (Indonesian black nut), is not exactly the easiest ingredient to get hold of outside Singapore. I personally think that the difficulty level is right up there with See Hum (blood cockles). And it is precisely of this reason why I have yet to make this until now. So what's change? Well, nothing really, they are still as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel. But luck was on my side when I accidentally stumbled upon them in my friend, Goz's amazing fridge freezer after one of my supperclub night.

'Eh, what's this ?'

'Huh? Aiyah, just some buah keluak lah'

'Can I have them please?'

'Ok lah!'

And so, as if my years of prayer have been answered, a bagful of Buah Keluak finally landed on my eager hands. These black nuts may look bizarre and unsightly but to those in the know, they contains delicious black creamy flesh. They are rich and earthy and a true Peranakan delicacy. With these amazing nuts now at my disposal, I knew that Ayam Buah keluak was exactly what I'm going to make with it.

I seek them here, I seek them there, I finally sought the damn elusive Buah Keluak!

Ingredients (Serves 4)

12 Buah Keluak (Indonesian black nuts)
10-12 pieces of chicken thighs and drumsticks (you can remove the skin for healthier option)
5 tbsp sunflower oil
2 tbsp tamarind purée
500ml water
2 tsp sugar, plus more for the buah keluak
sea salt, to taste

For the rempah/spice paste:
1 tbsp belacan/shrimp paste. toasted in a dry pan or a hot oven
2 stalk lemon grass, cut into rings
2in length fresh galangal, skinned and chopped
10 shallots or 1 large onion, chopped
6 garlic clove, skinned
10 dried red chillies, soaked in warmed water (use less if you don't like it too spicy)
1 tsp ground turmeric


To prepare the buah keluak, Soak the nuts in cold water for at least 48 hours, changing the water twice in between. Scrub clean to get rid of any dirt and grit and rinse in running water. Using a pestle, pound the smooth side of the nut to crack open a small opening. Scoop out the flesh using a teaspoon. Combined the flesh with a pinch of salt and sugar in a mortar and pound to form a firm, smooth paste. Stuff the paste back into the shell and set aside. 

Pound all the ingredients for the rempah into a paste using a mortar and pestle or alternatively, blitz in a food processor.

Heat up the oil in a wok or large pan over medium heat. Add the spice paste and cook for 5 minutes, until fragrant. 

Add the tamarind purée and cook for another minute before adding the chicken pieces and prepared buah keluak. Stir well to coat with all the spice paste. Add the water and sugar and bring to the boil. Simmer for 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked and tender, stirring occasionally. Season with salt to taste.

Serve with some fresh steamed rice.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Confessions Of a Spam-a-holic - Sweet And Sour Spam

Most people are not fans of SPAM but then I'm not most people. So here I am, making this declaration of my love for the one and only SPAM - the brow-raising inducing delicacy. Ok, so it may not be the most trendy ingredients around. It has survived a world war and has long been associated with rationing and peasant food and it is precisely this reason that many would raise their nose and snigger at the very thought of consuming this in any shape or form. But to me, it conjures up fond  childhood memories. 

Spam has always been a stable diet as I was growing up, featured in lots of my childhood dishes. There were the mandatory pan-fried spam slices on top of the instant noodle or what we simply called the Maggi Mee (the name of the famous ubiquitous brand). Along with these will be some blanched vegetables and a fried egg to turn this humdrum snack into a complete meal.

Sometimes my mum would use chopped up pieces of spam and these will be fried with beaten eggs for a simple dish to be added to wonderful arrays of delightful dishes on our dining table. Even leftover cold rice would be stir-fried with spam and transformed into a delicious, comforting Spam fried rice, plonked with a massive dollop of chilli sauce (like) or ketchup (dislike). And also, there's the school packed lunch stable, Spam sandwich. Yum! Yum!

Then there was this, the ever reliable Sweet and sour spam. This is basically a variation on the famous Gou Lao Yuk or Cantonese Sweet and sour pork that you will find in many Chinese restaurants and takeaways.  This is very common dish in many Singapore and Malaysia household and so I thought I will share this recipe . Maybe this might not be as high brow as a lot of other dishes but this humble food is something that I will always prepare for myself whenever I feel that bit nostalgic, regardless of what reaction it may provoke. So bring on the Spam I say (but please, not the unsolicited kind).

Ingredients (Serves 2 - 4)

200g spam, cut into bite-size chunks
1 large potato, peeled and cut into bite-size chunks (same size as the spam)
1 green pepper, cut into chunks
1 red onions, cut into chunks
1 large red chilli, cut into rings
2 garlic gloves, crushed
1 tbsp chopped ginger
5 tbsp peanut or vegetable oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the sauce:
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp tomato sauce
1 tsp tomato puree
3 tbsp water
1 tsp sugar


Mix all the ingredients for the sauce together in a bowl and set aside.

Heat some oil  in a wok and pan fry the spam until browned on all sides. Remove and drain on some kitchen paper.

Next, pan fry the potato until browned on all sides. Remove and drain on some kitchen paper.

Pour away all but 2 tablespoon of oil in the wok and heat over high heat until smoking. Add the garlic, ginger and chilli and stir-fry for about 30 seconds, until fragrant

Add the spam, potato and cook for 3 minutes before adding the green pepper, red onion and cook for another 2 minutes.

Add the sweet and sour sauce and mix well to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately with a bowl of steamed rice.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

A Duck In The Sky - Duck And Waffle, London, EC2

Let me take you on a journey...

Hidden high above London city is this beautiful sparkling new restaurant. To get to it, you have to first arrive at the Heron Tower, spot the bright yellow sign, walked past the inquisitorial receptionist and then step into the glass lift (which I'm pretty sure is the same one from Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator). Once the 40th button is pressed, it shoot up at the speed of light and brings you to the desired floor in a matter of nano seconds. You walk out of the lift, all confused and disorientated, walking through walkway, greeted first by the toilets (bizarre), thinking that you have made a mistake, but nope, that was indeed the entrance.

You arrived at the bar, graffiti filled wall, mosaic tiled flooring, clustered bottles lighting and an open-style bar in the middle. Through the bar and you reach the main dining room. The decor is sleek - red panelled ceiling in the open kitchen and yellow waves-like layered ceiling in the dining area. Here you'll see the head Chef, Dan Doherty manning the pass with meticulous precision.

The view from the dining room is phenomenal and on a clear cloudless day, the whole of London looks breathtakingly stunning. But less about the view, as spectacular as it may be, and more about the food.

The chip shop cod tongues (£4.50) were bitesize fish fillet coated in a  light and crispy batter. Served on top of some newspaper cuttings, eaten with a tiny wooden fork with malt vinegar and creamy tartare sauce on the  side.

BBQ-spiced pig ears arrives in a mysterious looking brown paper bag. Once unwrapped, reveals strands of crispy curled pig ears. The aromatic spices coating the crunchy fries-like porcine delights, so delicious that from here forth, let this be declare as the new 'fries' to replaced those humdrum potato version. This is dangerously moreish!

Next up, slithers of scallop, apple batons, topped with shavings of black truffle and lime (£8) on a block of Himalayan salt block.  Fresh and zingy with a light added saltiness, this taste as gorgeous and it looks. Although a larger portion of scallop will definitely give a much better balance. Once the scallops are polished off, feel free to lick the salt block and order a shot of tequila on the side. (this will be ideal).

The octopus (£11) are chargrilled. The tentacle ends are crispy, the flesh is perfectly tender to the bite. The Chorizo gives an added spicy smokey flavour the truly delectable dish.

Duck and Waffle (£13), the signature dish. Spongy light waffle act as the cushion, then topped with roasted confit duck leg and sat on top, is the fried duck egg with a glorious runny yolk. Once drizzled with the accompanied mustard maple syrup, you have a sweet inventive concoction. A marvellous creation. Strange as it sounds, it actually reminds me of a well lacquered crispy Peking duck. It is so beautifully flavoured that dunking the remaining duck straight into the syrup once the waffle has been eaten is the only way to go.

Smoked haddock scotch egg ware  slightly salty. The smoked haddock paste cushioned the soft-boiled  egg within. With the curry mayonnaise, this feels like a new spin on the classic kedgeree. Despite the saltiness, it is still delicious nonetheless.

The pudding to finish is the chocolate brownies (£7), rich and warm with a surprise layer of creamy peanut butter sandwiched between. Served with peanut butter ice cream, caramel sauce and crunchy caramel brittle for added texture. Truly divine and a smooth finish.

The bill arrives, a reasonable price to pay for such a wonderful journey. Now back through the bar for a few drinks if you wish and then enjoy the view on your way down in the great glass elevator.

Duck And Waffle
Heron Tower
110 Bishopgate

Duck & Waffle on Urbanspoon
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Saturday, 15 September 2012

Who Killed Roger Rabbit? - Satay Arnab Bakar (Nyonya-style Grilled Rabbit in a Spicy Coconut Sauce)

Now I admit that I have been rather lazy over the past few months or so, therefore, quite a few of my 'working' posts have ended up in the 'draft' pile awaiting in the long queue. This is one of those hidden treasure that I have finally unearth and got round to writing it up. I made this dish a while back and was an entirely impromptu concoction. I cannot write this post without having to mention the brilliant guys at the Cornish Food Club. Both Matt and Adam started out this market stall venture over summer and have since been a regular stable every Saturday (9:00am to 5:00pm) at the Maltby Street market in Bermondsey selling superb quality fresh Cornish meat and game as well as seasonal organic fruit and veg. My excellent top notch steak and edible flowers supper is a fine specimen.

My following visit led me to discover more fine looking produce from the reliable, jolly pair. Along with the usual edible flowers were some fresh from the field vegetables, still proudly wearing the dirt from where it was harvested. So with my grocery bag filled with roger rabbit and a bundle of the earth cladded root veg (as seen modelled by Adam below), I went home and prepared this disc inspired by my Peranakan heritage - Satay Arnab Bakar or Nyonya-style Grilled Rabbit in a Spicy Coconut Sauce.

Matt Chadfield and Adam Layton from the Cornish Food Club
Cornish meat and game and seasonal organic fruit and veg

Jointing the rabbit couldn't be any simpler. If you don't know how, do exactly like I did (google on youtube for step-by-step intructions ) but of course, it would be so much easier to buy some ready jointed but where's the fun in that?

Even though rabbit is not normally used in Singapore cuisine but the subtle sweetness of the meat worked surprisingly well with the aromatic coconut and spices. If you are curious but is way to squeamish to cook this yourself, there is a saving grace in sight. This will be on the menu to my next supperclub outing on 30th September - A Singaporean x British Mid Autumn Feast. Click on the link for more information.

Ingredients (Serves 2)

1 whole rabbit
400ml coconut milk
2 tbsp sunflower oil
2 tsp sugar
sea salt, to taste
a small sprig of daun kesom/laksa leaves/vietnamese mint, for garnish (optional)

For the rempah/spice paste:
1 tbsp belacan/shrimp paste, toasted in a dry pan or hot oven
2 stalk lemon grass
1 tsp coriander
2 red chillies
1 medium onion, chopped
2 buah keras/candlenuts
1/2 tsp ground turmeric


Pound all the ingredients for the rempah into a smooth paste in a mortar and pestle. Rub the rempah over the rabbit pieces and leave to marinate for at least 30 minutes.

In a pan, heat up the coconut milk. Add all the rabbit pieces except for the saddle and ribcage pieces and gradually bring to the boil. Simmer for 30 minutes over low heat, add the remaining rabbit and cook for another 10 minutes. Add the sugar and season with salt to taste.

Remove the rabbit and continue simmering the sauce until it has reduced and thicken. In the meantime, grill the rabbit pieces under a pre-heated grill until the skin is golden brown.

Pour the sauce over the pieces of rabbit, garnish with shredded daun kesom/laksa leaves and serve with carrots, turnip or any other seasonal vegetables of your choice.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Icelandic Burger Invasion - Tommi's Burger Joint, London, W1

It seems like almost every other day, there's a new burger joint/venture open up on the street of London. At this current saturated market of this glorified street food, do we really need any more of them? And just when I'm pondering about this , a new burger joint popped up round the corner from where I work. Quietly tucked away on Marylebone lane, a stone throw away from my favourite ramen-ya, Cocoro is this Icelandic burger venue, Tommi's Burger Joint.

Quite possibly not the most flamboyant and peacocked-up joint (take note MEATmarket and Meatliquor) but sometimes you don't need any of those unnecessary frivolity. But make no mistakes, the decor in this new vent is decidedly calculative. It is reminiscent of a grungy dirty burger bar that you'll find in downtown manhattan. It is so inconspicuous that you can simply walked past it without blinking. Once inside, the interior of exposed brick walls, wooden panelling, retro high stool and an ultra-cool and relaxed atmosphere further cementing this illusion.

The menu is written on a blackboard in chalk as well as on lots of brown cardboard and paper bags dotted around the counter. If all these looks a bit frantic, fret not cause the staff were friendly and helpful when attempted to place my order at the counter. Sensing my struggle, they quickly handed over a paper menu which makes the decision making so much easier.

The basic burger start from £5.30 and goes up to  £7.95 for the premium steak burger (£8.95 if you have it with cheese and béarnaise sauce). The steak burger consist of mince from rump, rib-eye and fillet, hence the beefed-up price. After some hesitation, I decided to treat myself and went for the steak burger with the extras, along with a portion of fries (£2.75).

Finding a suitable seat in this 25 covers joint, the wait began. It didn't lasted long as my basket of treats arrived just as I got comfortable.  

Glossy shining buns were revealed once the wrappers unfolded. As expected from any self-respected gourmet burger, glistening meat juice dribbled down the side of the buns, announcing a juicy patty in the waiting. The patty were rich with beefiness and had a really deep flavours, top quality meat were obviously used and it was indeed as juicy as it looked without the greasiness. Cooked to a medium-rare perfection, pink in the middle. It was a definitely a good basic burger. Like the venue itself, there wasn't any unnecessary accompaniments.  The only hiccup is the layers of whole lettuce leaves - my burger kept trying to do a runner with every bite, making the eating process ten-fold trickier.

The fries were good. Crispy and not an ounce of oily sheen in sight. Thoroughly enjoyed that but as ever, I'm more of a chunky chip man but that's just my personal preference.

So the final verdict. I'm still unsure whether there is room for yet another burger in the London overcrowded burger scene. Morever, with a higher price point than most street food version, will people be willing to pay premium price for the same top quality burger which you can now find in lots of street food venue such as Eat Street, Berwick Street etc.  And even with an excellent burger offering like Tommi's Burger Joint, it still remain to be seen.

Tommi's Burger Joint
58 Marylebone Lane

Tommi's Burger Joint on Urbanspoon
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Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Clashing Flavours - Gado Gado (A Mixture of Cooked and Raw Vegetable Salad)

After my last Rojak post, I was immediately reminded of an altogether very different salad that we have back in Singapore - Gado Gado. Now this salad requires more effort so I can proudly say that I may have gotten my mojo back.  No more easy lazy cooking, not that there was anything wrong with simple supper.

The name literally translated into 'clash' and what an aptly named dish this is. Like Rojak, the components consist of many varieties of vegetable but rather unusually, you get an eclectic mix of cooked and raw vegetables. The potatoes are boiled and cubed; the beancurd are deep fried to yield a crispy sponge-like texture and even boiled eggs are included amongst this fantastic salad. All these are then dressed with the piquant peanut sauce....mmm....spicy and delicious. Then to top it all off, you must have some Keropok/ Prawn crackers at hand for that crouton equivalent crunchiness. This also proved to be an amazing vessels for scooping up all those leftover nutty sauce.

The most laborious part of this salad is perhaps prepping the different components. But the good news is that these can all be done in advance. Just keep everything int a airtight container and keep in the fridge and when you are ready to serve, throw everything onto a serving dish and drizzled with the dressing. A good cheat for the prawn crackers is that you can actually use a shop bought version straight out of a packet which will make life so much easier. If like me, you are frying you own, just follow the instructions on the packet. To be honest, it literally takes seconds and any leftover will be a great munchies for a chill out evening with a few pint of chilled beers.

Ingredients (Serves 4)

250g firm tofu, fried until golden brown and cut into 2cm cubes
1 large potatoes, boiled, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
3 hard boiled free range eggs, cut into wedges
150g french beans, trimmed and cut into 3cm lengths, blanch in boiling water for 3-4 minutes and leave to cooled
150g kangkong/water spinach or morning glory, blanch in boiling water for 30 seconds and leave cooled
1 small yam bean / bangkwang / Jicama, peeled and cut into rough 2cm chunks
1/2 cucumber, halve lengthwise and cut into rough 2cm chunks
1 small handful of bean sprouts, lightly blanched in hot water and cooled in cold water, drained
8-10 keropok/prawns crackers

For the dressing:
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tbsp Belacan / dried shrimp paste, toasted in a dry pan or hot oven
4 fresh red chillies, more if you like it spicy
500ml coconut milk
200g roasted peanut, skinned and finely chopped (do this in a food processor)
1 tbsp tamarind pureé
2 tbsp Gula Melaka / palm sugar
sea salt, to taste


If making your own prawn crackers , heat up some vegetable oil to 170ºC and in small batches, lower the raw prawn crackers into the hot oil and watch them puff up in a matter of seconds, Removed immediately and drain in some kitchen paper.

In a mortar and pestle, pound the toasted belacan and chilies to a soft paste. Heat up the oil  in a pan over a medium heat and fry the paste for 1 minute, until fragrant. Add the coconut milk, tamarind, palm sugar and slowly bring to the boil. Season with salt to taste. Remove and leave to cool.

To assemble the dish, place the different vegetables together on a serving dish and spoon over the dressing. Garnish with the prawn crackers and serve immediately.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

When One Struck Gold! - Gold Mine, Bayswater, W2

I have never been a fan of Chinese restaurant in London, bad experiences in the past have reduced my faith in ever finding a good one around. That is until I discovered the Gold Mine. This unassuming restaurant that situated in Bayswater is a revelation indeed. First time I came across the name was on the twittersphere and a picture of the steamed egg lured me into almost licking the screen. If it looked that good on photo...now that's something I want to get me teeth into.

And so nine of us invaded this restaurant on this lovely weekday evening for a spot of dinner. The order were quickly placed and then the anticipation began. The surrounding and ambience were plain and uninspiring, although it did exudes a certain authenticity of a typical eateries in Malaysia and Singapore. Even the staff looked strangely familiar, with their ubiquitous white shirt, dickie bow-tie and black waistcoat.

We were presented with a bowl of winter melon and pork ribs soup - typical start of any self-respecting Cantonese restaurant. But what followed was the main reason why this restaurant have been rave about amongst the in-the-know - the famous roast duck. A plateful of glossy lacquered bird laid before us, drenched in this gloriously thick and rich sauce. It was absolutely delicious, the thin layer of fat gave the duck a beautiful flavour and it was juicy and tender and faintly aromatic from all the spices that were infused into the duck. Even the accompanying chilli sauce were an absolute delight.

The stir-fried pea shoots with garlic were decent enough but nothing to rave about. Same goes for the deep-fried fish fillet with sweet and sour sauce.

The roast pork had a set of good cracklings and a perfectly balanced layer of fat and with the sweet sauce it was nice little delectable treat. Along with the roast duck, this ranked high on the taste-o-meter on the night.

The steamed eggs with dried scallops and diced prawns were amazing. It tasted every bits as good as it looked. It was smooth and silky, not an easy feat, and only with the right skills can these be achieved so top marks to the chef indeed!

The two claypot dishes - Braised aubergine with minced pork and the Double cooked belly pork with yam were very moreish. Both have excellent flavours and the sauce made for great pairing with steamed rice or as my nan would put it, 'cha fan'. I especially like the double cooked pork, using only the fattest pork belly assured superb tenderness and the yam integrated into the braising sauce, yielding a thick. rich and divine sauce. M, usually not a pork fan, especially fatty cuts, lap it up without any hesitation so that was a sure sign of approval.

Another highlight was the stir-fried frog legs Kung Pao style. Sticky, sweet and spicy just as it should be and the little legs were tender to the bite.

As for the pudding, in true Chinese style, not a lot of choices but the sweet red beans pastry pancakes were rather tasty. Crispy on the outside with a thick layer of filling within the ultra-thin flaky pancakes. But the garnish of parsley did raised a bit of eyebrow (Is this a savoury dish? How odd!)

And the final verdict - This is, by far, one of the better Chinese restaurant I have ever been to in London. There were enough highlights and gems on the night to lure me back into this little joint again. But as a general tips for Chinese dining, always drag your friends along and the more the merrier. This way you get to enjoy lots more dishes in true Chinese style. And the damaged? All these for less that £20 per head including tips. Such bargain for such good food!

Gold Mine on Urbanspoon
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