If there is a definitive breakfast of champions for any Singaporean, this would be it. Like the big fry up for the British or the croissant and black coffee for the French, Bak Chor Mee (Dry mixed noodles with mince pork) is a staple in many Singaporean's diet, often appearing on the breakfast table. If fact, we love it so much we now consume this throughout the day. It is such a popular dish that if you ever were to travel to Singapore, you will almost certainly find yourself tripping over a Bak Chor Mee stall at every turn. Yes, that many!
The composition is nothing extravagant; lightly blanched springy noodles dressed in a salty, spicy and tangy sauce, flavoured with all the garnishes that served with it. When balanced in perfect harmony, all these flavours elevate the humble dish to great heights.
Every Singaporean has their favourite balance of the dish. Some prefers salty over sour and vice versa so it is almost impossible to please everyone with the same basic sauce. What truly make this dish is the essential braised mushroom and its gravy. This add a touch of umami to the otherwise humdrum noodles. The crispy pork lard too, adds a distinguished aroma.
I adore Bak Chor Mee and it is something that never fails to remind me a bit of home. For my version, I have created a classic combination with the minced pork, liver, lean pork, braised mushrooms and the crispy pork lard which many would omit these days due to healthy reasons but where is the fun in that? So sod all the low-fat diet and give me crispy pork lard any day. Just to stay true to the original version, I have even included the mandatory lettuce leave which I must admit is the only ingredient that I can never quite understand why it is there. Not entirely sure what function it add to the finish dish and most people, including myself tends to leave this limp and insipid tasting green behind anyway. So feel free to substitute them with some blanched Chinese greens such as choy sum or pak choi if you wish. And if you are feeling a tad generous, add some cooked prawns or even fried wantons to bling up this humble dish. But for me, I love it as it is, warts and all, even with the floppy lettuce.
Ingredients (Serves 4)
150g fatty mince pork
150g fatty pork chop, remove the fat to make the crispy pork lard cubes for garnish (see method in my Char Kway Teow post), thinly sliced across the grains
80g pork liver, washed and thinly sliced (omit if you can get hold of this)
400g mee pok (flat eggs noodles) or mee kia (thin egg noddles)
8-12 pork balls, optional (available in all good Chinese supermarket)
2 large red chillies, cut into rings
3 tbsp soy sauce
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the stock:
350g pork ribs (the presence of both meat and bone is crucial for flavours)
1 head garlic, cut into half horizontally
50g dried ikan bilis/anchovies (available in all good Chinese supermarket)
1.5 l water
For the crispy shallots:
6-8 shallots, skinned and thinly sliced
5 tbsp groundnut or sunflower oil
For the braised mushrooms:
5-6 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp soft brown sugar
For the sauce:
3 tbsp chilli sauce (any of your favourite shopbought or homemade)
3 tbsp Chinkiang black vinegar (this is lightly sweeter and more fragrant than the normal rice vinegar)
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp liquid pork lard (from making the crispy park lard)
1/2 tsp ground white pepper or freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp flavour oil from making crispy shallots, optional
For the garnishes:
Crispy pork lards
Crispy fried shallot (available from any good Chinese supermarket or make your own, see method below)
4 lettuce leaves or a small handful of blanched Chinese greens of your choice (choy sum, pak choi etc)
1 spring onion, cut into rings
Additional Chinkiang black vinegar
For the stock, cut the pork spareribs apart into manageable size pieces. Bring a pan of water to the boil, add the ribs and blanch for 2-3 minutes before draining and rinsing with plenty of cold water to get rib of any visible blood. Combine the ribs, garlic and ikan bilis with the water over high heat in a large pot and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 2 hours, skimming of any floating foam occasionally. Strain the stock through a fine sieve and set aside.
For the braised mushroom, soak the mushrooms in enough warm water to cover for 20 minutes until soften. Drain and reserved the soaking liquid. Cut off the thick stem and slice the cap thinly. Strain the soaking liquid into a pan and add 150ml of pork stock, sliced mushrooms, light and dark soy sauces, oyster sauce and sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook gently, partially covered for 20 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender and the sauce has reduced by more than half. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
To make the crispy shallot, heat the oil over medium heat in a small pan. Add the shallots and fry for 5-7 minutes, until golden brown. Remove with slotted spoon and leave to drain on some kitchen paper. Reserve the oil, this can be add to the dish later for added flavour.
Mix all the ingredients for the sauce together and set aside.
Bring the pork stock back to the rolling boil. Add the minced pork, sliced pork and liver to stock and poach for 1-2 minutes, until just cooked through. Drain and set aside. Keep the stock on a simmer and add the pork balls, if using and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Top Tips: Always loosen the fresh mee pok/mee kia before blanching to ensure they cook quickly and to stop them from forming clumps.
To serve, divide the noodles, mushroom slices and a little of the mushroom gravy, pre-mixed sauce, cooked meats into separated dish and toss well to mixed. Top with the garnishes and serve immediately with the pork stock along with the pork balls on the side as soup.
Place some light soy sauce in a small sauce dish with some sliced red chillies on the side and offer additional vinegar for the diners to adjust the seasonings to their liking.