Sunday, 30 December 2012

Salt Baked Chicken / Ipoh Salted Chicken 盐焗鸡

One of the finer food memories of going to Ipoh, Malaysia to visit my nan as a child was the chance to indulge in this famous Ipoh salted chicken. My uncle would be asked to drive for miles to a certain popular restaurant with strict instructions to bring this parcel of goodness home. Once the red packaging box landed on the table, the ceremonious unveiling began. Herb-scented steam will float out of the parcel, filling the room with gratifying aromas. Pieces of moist flesh will be then pulled straight off the bone by eager hands. The sweet taste of the chicken was unforgettable.

This dish employs an unusual technique by baking the whole bird in scorching coarse salt. After coating the chicken with aromatic spices and stuffed with some Chinese herb, dang gui (angelica root), it is then wrapped in parchment paper and buried in a wok full of smoking hot coarse salt. The salt itself does not impart a hefty saltiness to the meat but instead, it retain the heat and cooks the bird evenly like an oven, locking in all the flavours and basting the bird in its own juice. This results in a truly succulent chicken.

I have adapted the technique and baked mine in the oven instead as I do not have a wok that is big enough to hold the chicken but feel free to do so if you have the equipment. Otherwise, this oven bake method works just as well.

You can of course joint the chicken for easy serving but the best way to enjoy this is to pull the meltingly tender flesh straight of the bone with your bare hands, juice and all.

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 whole free-range chicken, about 1kg
5 tbsp Mei Kuei Lu Chiew (Chinese rose wine), substitute with shaoxing wine if not available
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp five spice powder
1 tsp sea salt
1 spring onion, cut into 2in length
3 slices of fresh ginger
6 pieces of dang gui (Angelica roots)
2kg coarse salt


Wipe dry the chicken with some kitchen paper. 

Combine the rose wine, soy sauce, five spice and sea salt. Rubbed the mixture all over the chicken, including the inside cavity. Leave to marinate for at least 1 hour, preferably even longer to allow the flavours to permeate the chicken.

After this time, stick the spring onion, ginger slices and dang gui (angelica roots) into the cavity. Place the chicken in the middle of two large sheets of parchment paper and wrap the chicken tightly.

Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 220ºC. Line a shallow roasting tin with a large aluminium foil, fill with the coarse salt and heat in the oven until very hot, for about 10-15 minutes. 

Take the tin out of the oven, remove half the salt and reserved. Make a hole in the centre of the salt and place the chicken parcel in it. Top with the reserved salt earlier so it is completely covered. Wrap the whole parcel tightly with the foil. 

Lower the oven to 190ºC and cook the chicken for 1 hour. Remove form the oven and leave to rest for 15 minutes before unwrapping the parcel and taking the chicken out.

Alternatively, if you are using a large wok, heat up the salt over medium-high heat until it start to smoke. Make a well in the middle of the salt and place the chicken parcel in this. Completely cover the parcel with the salt . Lid on and lower the heat and cook for 1 hour. Make sure to rest the chicken for 15 minutes before unwrapping and serving.

Serves immediately.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Boozy Chicks - Drunken Chicken 醉鸡

Surviving bacchanal days of over indulgence, a change is desperately needed and drunken chicken seems to be the perfect antidote to cleanse my system. Gently easing myself into another round of drinking and overeating New Year's eve celebration. Ironic I know, considering this chicken dish is intoxicated with alcohol which kind of defeat the purpose. But despite the booze-laden ingredients, this is actually a very light tasting dish and rather refreshing.

There are many variations to this classic Chinese dish. Some add medicinal herbs such as goji berries, star anise, clove etc but here I am making the dish in it's simplest form. Even without the bells and whistles, this is still a wonderful dish. The secret is the addition of the Mei Kuei Lu Chiew or the Chinese rose wine. It infuses the chicken with a lovely aromatic rose fragrant and subtle sweetness.

Always make the drunken chicken at least a day ahead of serving as the magic of this dish is that the longer you leave the chicken 'drunken' in the boozy broth, the richer the flavours will develop. My nan used to steeped the chicken for days before serving.

And one last thing. To make sure the dish is at its best, serve it cold. Do not worry about the gelatinous broth that surround the chicken. To me, this is the best bits, especially when eaten with a bowl of fluffy steamed good!

Ingredients (Serves 4)

8 chicken thighs, legs or a mixture of both
200ml shaoxing rice wine
4 tbsp Mei Kuei Lu Chiew (Chinese rose wine)
4 thin slices fresh ginger
2 spring onions, cut into 3 cm lengths
2 tsp sea salt
freshly grounded black pepper
Green part of 1spring onion, thinly shredded, for garnish


Place the chicken pieces in a dish wide enough to fit them all in one single layer. Add the rice wine, Chinese rose wine, ginger, spring onion, salt and pepper.

Steam in a steamer for 35-45 minutes, until the meat is cook through. Remove from the steamer and leave to cool.

Once cool, cover with a cling film or transfer to an airtight container and leave overnight in the fridge, a couple of days is even better. Serve cold or room temperature with a bowl of fluffy rice, along with the flavoursome gelatinous broth. Garnish with some shredded spring onion.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

A Very Merry Christmas (a.k.a. BBQ Turkey with all the trimmings, Mince Pies and Cheese)

It has all gone by so quickly and just like that, another Christmas day has past (although I'm a firm believer that there are 12 days of Christmas, like the song stated). I love Christmas and to me it means more than just the pressies, they might be nice but it's the idea of being with your loved ones and enjoying all the good food that truly makes this a magical time of the year.

As a tradition for Christmas, homemade mince pies are a must. Last year, I made some quick and easy mince balls but this time round, I painstakingly rolled out my egg yolk enriched sweet shortcrust pasty, cut and moulded into the muffin baking tray. Each case is then filled with some fresh batch of brandy-infused mincemeat that I made days beforehand and top with a thin layer of pastry lid. After a light brush of milk, these were then baked in the oven. A dusting of icing sugar transformed these into a snow topped crumbly treats. Aww...nothing beats the smell and the taste of a homemade mince pies.

Keeping with the tradition of my household, I decided to go for yet another barbecue turkey this year. The weather was definitely against me as I woke up to a gloomy morning, it had rained throughout the night since Christmas eve and threatened to continue well into the day. But the defiant spirit in me meant nothing could faltered my determination to chuck the pre-butter rubbed, bacon-blanketed bird onto a BBQ.

Watching the sky like a hawk with bag of coals in one hand. Once I detected the rain easing off a tad, I quickly lit the coals and got the barbecue going, all the while trying every effort known to mankind to hold off the rain. If my neighbours had saw me then, what will they be thinking! A crazy Chinese man doing the rain dance (or no-rain dance in this case) in the garden, chanting the 'Rain rain go away, come again another day' mantra.

Lord and behold, it worked! The rain ceased and the glorious sun decided to temporary peep through the gloomy rain clouds, busking the garden with a spot of well needed sunshine. It's a Christmas miracle! (Yes, I'm that easily pleased)

Once the fire had dies down and the coals were glowing, it's time for the majestic Norfolk Bronze to hop onto the sizzling grill, lid on, for a solitary grilling to gain that healthy glowing tan.

Along with the juicy BBQ turkey, were the usual suspects of pigs in blankets, stuffing balls and crunchy goose fat roasted potatoes. There were also sweet roasted parsnip that have been coated in maple syrup and panfried Brussels sprouts, green beans, shiitake mushroom with a dash of pomegranate molasses. And gravy? Of course!

It was a very full-filled Christmas lunch.

Now the best part is the leftover on Boxing day, the bubble and squeak brunch (with a dollop of chilli sauce) as well as the Chipotle turkey and cheddar quesadillas and lots of cheese.

So that's my Christmas done and dusted for another year, there's still tonnes of mince pies to be polished off but now it's onto the New Year celebration. Bring on the wine and alcohol and let's get this party started.....!!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

A Very Festive Supper - Chicken Biryani / Nasi Briyani

Chicken Biryani or Nasi Briyani is one of those dish that always looks spectacular whenever it land on a dining table. Part of the charm of growing up in Singapore/Malaysia was that I got to enjoyed delicious food from the various diverse culture such as Chinese, Malays and of course Indian. My nan would sometimes made this Indian classic when she was in a more adventurous mood. Just something completely different from the usual Nyonya cooking that she was so good at.

As we are fast approaching the festive season, this seemed to be the perfect time to make and to share this celebratory dish. As you know, in a few days time, I will be stuffing my face with majestic turkey and all the trimmings and once again, I am planning to chuck the stuffed bird over hot coals on a BBQ out in the garden while I seek cosy comfort indoor. But before that, it's rather nice to treat myself  to something very different and yet still have that sense of festiveness and grandness to it and that's where this dish comes in.

It might not have been the most easiest dish to make but the end result certainly make it all seem worthwhile. Hours of marinating the chicken in the yogurt helped to tenderise the chicken, yielding an even more juicier meat. With it's bright luminous yellow and warmth and aroma from the assorted spices, this is the perfect celebratory supper to graze any dining table, especially mine. But the icing on the cake will have to be the fried onion which added a touch of caramelised sweetness making this an even more exuberent meal.Ahh...Bliss!

Ingredients (Serves 4)

4 free-range chicken legs, skinned 
a small bunch of fresh mint, chopped
a small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger
4 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 tsp chilli powder 
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp sea salt
2 star anise
4 cloves
6 cardamons pod, lightly crushed
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
200ml natural yogurt
3 tbsp melted ghee
juice of 1 lime

For the fried onions:
4 tbsp ghee
2 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced

For the Biryani:
600g basmati rice 
Water, to parboil the rice
200ml evaporated milk
a generous pinch saffron
2 tbsp melted ghee
1 tbsp rose water
2 tsp sea salt
4-6 green chillies, to garnish
a small handful of coriander leaves, to garnish


Using a sharp knife, make a few incision into the chicken pieces, this helps the marinade to permeate through. Combine all the ingredients for  the chicken in a large bowl and mix well. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for a minimum of at least 4 hours.

For the fried onions, heat up the ghee in a pan. Fry the sliced onions until golden brown. Remove and drain on kitchen paper. 

Rinse the rice a few times until water runs clear. Soak in cold water for 20 minutes. Bring a large pan of water to the boil and parboiled the rice, about 5 minutes. Drain in a colander.

Warm up the evaporated milk in a pan. Remove from heat,  add the saffron and let it steep for 15 minutes until the saffron imparts its colour to the milk. Combine with ghee, rose water and salt. Set aside.

Heat up a pan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces along with the marinade and cook for about 5 minutes, until the surface of the chicken are just cooked and changes colour. Turn off the heat.

In a large heavy-bottomed casserole pot, arrange half the chicken in a layer at the bottom of the pot. Scatter a third of the fried onions, then top with half of the parboiled rice. Pressed to compress and then layer the remaining chicken. Pour over the marinade, sprinkle the remaining onions (remember to save some for garnish) and then top with the remaining rice. Lightly press down to compact ingredients. Drizzle the milk mixture over the prepared rice.

Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and cook over a low heat for 30 minutes. (To make sure it's completely sealed tight, I've layered some kitchen foil over the pot before putting the lid on) Turn off the heat and leave the pot covered for another 15 minutes. Uncover the lid and transfer to a large serving dish. Garnish with the fried onions, coriander leaves and green chillies. Serve immediately.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Cock Scratchings Anyone? - Bone Daddy Ramen Bar

There have been a lack of restaurant post from me recently. Too many night shifts over Christmas period and with hectic work schedule were to blame. But that is not to say that I haven't been dining well. As those who have follow my blog will know, I am a huge Ramen fan, especially when it comes to Tonkotsu. I have over the years trying to find a good bowl of this comforting noodle dish with little success. That is until now...

Bone Daddies Ramen Bar opened about a month ago.  I was there on the first day of soft opening and almost without any hesitation, I ordered a bowl of Tonkosu (£11) with an addition shot of fat pipette. So the verdict, it was rather good, rich and porky despite lacking the signature milky-white appearance. The fat pipette gave an added 'dirtiness' and aroma. The noodles were perfectly cook still with a light bounce to the bite. The toppings were of the most generous proportion compared to most ramen restaurants that I've been to. There were beautifully cooked soft-boiled seasoned eggs, a bunch of menma, two huge slices of melt-in-the mouth Chashu, fried garlic and bean sprouts. I happily slurped up the bowl of noodles. 

Tonkotsu (Before improvement):

Tonkotsu (After improvement and with cock scratchings):

So impressed I was with the effort that I've also asked for a second bowl of ramen, the T22 (£9), a chicken broth-based ramen. Yup, TWO bowls of ramen in one seating! It was deliciously rich with good depth of flavours. As for the toppings, along with the usual suspects of seasoned eggs, beansprouts etc, it also came with shredded chicken, nori and the wonderfully named 'cork scratchings'  a.k.a. crispy chicken skins. This gave the ramen a much added oomph. 

I went back the following week and once again, I had the Tonkotsu. This time round, it has the undeniably intense porky richness and a milky complexity that is Tonkotsu's signature. Even though I liked it, it did felt a bit heavy and thick. After speaking to the resident chef, Ross Shonhan, he explained that he wasn't entirely pleased with his first attempt and hence been working on improving the original recipe.

Since then, I have been back a few more times, and I must say, without a shadow of a doubt, I believe Ross has nailed it! Every time I was there, I was greeted by a hot, steaming bowl of milky Tonkotsu with that perfect 'dirty' richness. The noodles too, have since evolved into one that proved perfect match for this thick liquid umami. Be it that it might not be those thin, straight noodles that I'm used to for Tonkotsu, it still has that perfect bite and thickness that allows you to slurp up with just enough broth to coat it, thus no 'heavy' aftertaste. And I have also found the perfect way to enjoy this bowl of porky broth - additional cock scratchings! It complemented the Tonkotsu perfectly. This is not on the menu but do ask for it.

T22 Ramen:

Something else worthy of mention was the Tantanmen (£10). This modern ramen had the same rich chicken broth base as T22 but it had been spiced up with some sort of chilli paste which tasted like Chinese Toban Jang and accompanied with minced pork, bok choy, black sesame, menma, chashu and seasoned eggs toppings. It has a good kick to it and has a delicate sweetness. It reminded me of Laksa but without the same coconut richness, still delicious nonetheless.


There were also a good selection of snacks available on the menu. The fried chicken or karaage (£5) was my favourite, pieces of marinated juicy chicken bites with light greaseless crispy coating. Yellowtail sashimi (£9) too were served fresh and the Soft-shell crab (£8) along with the delicious green chilli ginger sauce was very moreish, especially the sauce.

Many new Ramen restaurants has pop up all over London recently promising the true Ramen experience, but failed to live up to expectations. It's rather refreshing to find premises like Bone Daddy, which actually deliver the goods. And after speaking to Ross on my numerous visits, I cannot but admires his passion for the perfect ramen. By his own admission, he is not here to make the most authentic ramen, he just want to make the best ramen in town. Although at times, I do feel that they needed a touch more broth although that can be easily fix (at an additional price) but to date, this is the best ramen, especially tonkotsu, I have had in London.

My quest has ended for my ramen holy grail.

Bone Daddies on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Cincalok Omelette - Nyonya Fried Eggs with Fermented Shrimp

This dish is at risk of almost disappearing into complete obscurity due to it's deceptive simplicity. Not surprising as the main ingredient, Cincalok, is almost near impossible to get hold of outside Southeast Asia. Personally I have not had this since I last went back to Malaysia to visit my Nan who always seemed to have a never ending supply of this pungent stuff.

Cincalok is made by fermenting tiny shrimps, known as gerago/geragau, in salt and cooked rice in a sealed container for a few days, resulting in a pongy (in a good way), salty and sharp condiment. It is rather similar to the Philippino's Bagoong which is much more widely available in London but however, they have very different taste. In a traditional Peranakan household, this will sometime be served as a cincalok sambal to pair with rice. This is also frequently used to jazz up some beautiful fish dishes but out of all these options, it is this simple omelette that struck a chord in me as it stirred up fond memories of my childhood.

Now you'll be wondering how on earth did I managed to snag myself a bottle of this elusive condiment? Well, it all started very innocently on the world of twittersphere. My friend, Yolanda of the Wild Serai supperclub tweeted photo of bottles of these pinkish cincalok and that sent me into a hyper ventilating frenzy. I was so excited at the sight of them that after a few exchanges, mostly of me going Ooo, Aah, and Wah on the social media platform, she very kindly offered to pass on a bottle to me. And so the dodgy dealing took place outside an undisclosed tube station, secret handshake and code word were exchanged and within minutes, a bottle of this treasure descend into my hands. Along with this was the brilliant suggestion of making this cincalok omelette and who am I to refuse on finally able to conjure up this delicious childhood snack of mine. It might look simple but if like me, the mere mention of cincalok get you burst with excitement, this will no doubt pleased the inner Baba (or Nyonya if you are a female) in you.

The squeeze of lime is completely optional but the sambal belacan, however, is mandatory. After all,  no self respecting Peranakan will be seen dining without this important condiment.


3 medium free-range egg, lightly beaten
2 tbsp cincalok
1 tsp light soy sauce 
freshly ground black pepper
1 small red onion, sliced
2 red chilles, sliced into rings (deseed if you want it milder)
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1/2 lime (optional)

sambal belacan, to serve


Lightly beat the eggs in a bowl. Add the cincalok, soy sauce and black pepper and mix well.

Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the onions and chillies and cook for 2-3 minutes, until soften. 

Pour in the beaten egg mixture. Using a spatula, move the egg around quickly and allow the egg to set. Flip the omelette and cook for another minute until nicely brown. Remove and slice into bite size, squeeze over some lime juice if you like and serve immediately with sambal belacan.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

It's Flipping Time - Indian Roti Prata/Canai

Roti Prata/Canai is a Singapore Indian classic. Found in many hawker stalls and is a particular favourite snack of mine. When I was in the National Service and was based in the Singapore Seletar army camp. There used to be a rather popular stall right near the exit of the base camp. Well, it's popular possibly because it was the nearest prata stall to cater for the glutton hunger of thousands of servicemen. But from memories, I could still remember it being really good. Anyway, I frequently cycled over to this delightful hawker stall in the late night, yearning for some crispy and flaky roti prata and the spicy lamb curry that comes with it. So good it was that I find myself salivating at the though as I am typing this post.

Other than being a fantastic night snack, they also make for excellent breakfast. Yes, we do have prata for breakfast. Think of it as toast if you like and it just make logical sense. Fried to crispy awesomeness, it's just like a freshly toasted bread. Well, the curry sauce might be a bit more unusual but there's no reason why you can't dunk your toast into curry and call it breakfast. If this idea of curry dunking worries you, try scatter over granulated sugar. It's like jam, no? It provide a sweet and crunchy mouth feel which is why this is another popular way of eating prata. Sometimes eggs are also added to the prata to enrich them but this is entirely depending on your preference as both the plain and the egg version are just as delectable. Stretching the dough will be the trickiest part of this recipe but as with most things, practice makes perfect. In the hand of a professional prata maker, the ball of lubricated dough will be tossed and flipped into this ultra-thin flaky bread.

Any curry can be used to accompanied this but the most common and traditional type are the lamb or dhal curry. However, I have eaten this with my left over Nyonya chicken curry and beef rendang and it is just as equally delicious.

Ingredients (Makes about 8 prata)

500g strong white bread flour
1 tsp salt
50g cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 tbsp condensed milk
250ml tepid water
150ml melted ghee

Curry, to serve
Granulated sugar, to serve


In a large bowl, sift the flour and the salt. Rub in the butter until it resembles a crumbly mixture. Add the condensed milk and water and mix to form a dough.

On a clean working surface, knead the dough for 10-15 minutes, until it is soft and has a smooth appearance.

Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll into balls and coat each pieces with the melted ghee. Place them in a clean bowl and cover with cling film. Set aside for at least 2-3 hours.

After these time, oil the work surface with the remaining ghee to prevent the dough from sticking. Flatten each ball using your palm into very thin sheet. Stretch it out even thinner by pulling the edges outward until it is almost translucent. You should have a rough circular shape. 

Fold two opposite ends inward so you'll end up with an oblong shape. Now fold the other two ends to form a square.

Note: For an egg roti prata, break an egg onto the centre of the dough, prick the yolk to burst it and spread the egg before folding the ends. 

Heat up some ghee in a frying pan over medium-high heat until smoking. Place the folded dough fold-side down and cook for 2-3 minutes, until brown and crispy before turning over to cook the other side for another 2 minutes. Once cooked, remove and using the palms of both hands, crush the still warm prata to fluff it up so that it's flaky. Set aside and keep warm. Repeat with the rest of the prata dough.  

Serve immediately with either curry or a liberal sprinkle of granulated sugar.


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