Monday 27 May 2013

White Asparagus with Brown Shrimps Butter

I love spring for its many wonderful produce. One such gem is the white asparagus.

These ivory white shoots are grown underground, away from the sunlight which is why unlike its green counterpart, do not develop chlorophyll and attribute to its white appearance. They are harder to cultivate as they have to be constantly recovered with soil to shield them from the sunlight and this labour intensive farming is reflected on its heftier price.

As much as I adore the traditional asparagus, this white cousin of their has a much milder flavour which I do love.

These shoots are not that common here in Britain and they are normally imported from other European countries like Germany or France. Usually only available from a handful of farmers market or online and only for a short period of time (from April to June). But of course that is all set to change with a recent announcement that the first batch of British grown species will be sold to some of the giant supermarkets making it more widely accessible. But if you ask me, I would still prefer to tread my way to a farmers market to get hold these homegrown white beauties.

Try to seek out the thicker spears as unlike the green varieties, the chunkier they are, the more tender they are likely be. But as it start losing it flavour as soon as it is picked, its best eaten on the day to make the most of its sublime flavour.

Due to its delicate flavour, steaming is my favourite method of cooking them. As I've mentioned before in my last asparagus post, I do not believe in wasting the goodness by boiling them in water. They are fantastic with a dollop of homemade aioli, hollandaise or top with a perfect poached egg, sliced open and watch the golden yolk oozes down the nooks and crannies, coating each spears with glorious yellow blanket.

My ultimate favourite however, is to serve it with a luxurious brown shrimps and browned butter sauce. This nutty sauce inject such wonderful buttery sweetness that it just make this dish definable only by the word - Awesomeness. A dish truly worthy of this rising star. 

Ingredients (Serves 2 or 4 if you are in the sharing mood)

1 bunch white asparagus (about 10-12 spears)
50g unsalted butter, cut into cubes (this helps them to melt evenly and quickly, so less likely to burn)
100g brown shrimps
juice of half a lemon
a small handful of fresh parsley, chopped
sea salt and black pepper, to taste


To prep the white asparagus, snap off the woody end, lay the asparagus flat on a chopping board and peel the tough bitter skin with a vegetable peeler. Repeat until all the asparagus are trimmed.

Prepare a steamer and steam the asparagus for 8-10 minutes, depending on the thickness, until tender and cooked. Remove and place onto a warm plate and keep warm while you make the sauce.

Heat a frying pan over medium heat and add the cubes of butter. Once the butter has melted and starts turning light brown (this takes literally seconds so do not move away from the stove, you don't want it to burn!), add the brown shrimps and cook for 1 minute until heated through. Squeeze over the lemon juice and throw in the parsley. Season with salt and black pepper. 

Spoon this over the white asparagus and serve immediately with a glass of chilled white wine and some crusty bread to mop up the sauce.

Saturday 25 May 2013

Chicken Macaroni Soup

Pasta is perhaps not something you would associate Singaporean cuisine with. And I'm not talking about egg noodles here but as in bonafide Italian pasta, one made with durum wheat. So it will come as a surprise when I tell you that this is actually a very classic Singapore comfort dish. One that I have had many times while growing up. Like the Jewish have their chicken soup for when feeling under the weather, we Singaporean have this, a comforting chicken macaroni soup with all the healing properties for the soul.

The components are simple. You start off with the basic chicken stock, best made from scratch and never of those dreaded stock cubes. This stock after all, forms the cornerstone of this divine soup upon where all other flavours and texture are build on. So only the best will do. Macaroni is the classic pasta shape for this. Back in Singapore, our macaroni is of a half doughnut shape, quite unlike the typical short tubes version you get here in Britain. Although taste-wise it made no difference whatsoever, but visually, I will forever mourned the demise of our familiar curved doughnuts-shaped macaroni.

My mum's classic toppings are some shredded chicken, fried shallots and Chinese cruller a.k.a. You Char Kway. Simple but delicious and have the perfect textures and flavours balanced. You can of course go free-style and add some blanched Chinese greens like Pak choy or Choy sum, chopped spring onions, coriander sprigs, bean sprouts, sliced chillies, slivers of ginger etc. The combination is endless so go wild and try a few different combo to find your favourite. But for me, Mum's way is the best!

Ingredients (Serves 4)

1 free-range chicken, about 1 kg
300g dried macaroni
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the toppings:
1 Chinese cruller (you char kway), lightly toasted in the oven and cut into rings (you can get this fresh or frozen in Chinatown)
Crispy fried shallots (see my steamed yam cake for recipe)
a small handful of fresh coriander, leaves picked

Alternative toppings suggestions:
Croutons (made using sliced stale bread. Cut into cubes, drizzled with sunflower oil and toasted in oven)
Spring onion, cut into rings
Beansprouts, lightly blanched
Pak choy or other Chinese greens, lightly blanched
Red chillies, deseeded and thinly sliced
Ginger, skinned and thinly sliced


Place the chicken into a large pan and fill with enough water to cover the chicken. Add the black peppercorns and bring to the boil. Cover partially with a lid and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes, skimming the surface occasionally to remove any impurities that floats to the top.

After this time, lift out the cooked chicken set aside to cool slightly. Once cool enough to handle, remove the skin and tear the chicken into shreds and set aside. Place the carcass back to the stock and simmer for another 30 minutes. Season with the soy sauce, sesame oil, salt and pepper to taste.

While the stock is gently simmering, you can use this time to prep the toppings.

For the macaroni, brings a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the macaroni according to the instructions on the package, until al dente. Drain and run it under cold tap water to stop any further cooking.

To serve, place a portion of cooked macaroni in a bowl, top with shredded chicken and ladle over some pipping hot soup. Garnish with you char kway, fried shallots and coriander leaves or any toppings of your choice.


Thursday 23 May 2013

Foraging (A Wild Garlic Chase)

As a promise that I've made to myself at the very beginning of the wild garlic season, this year I will finally try my hands on some foraging. Since I have more or less publicly announced my intention to do it this blog  , I can no longer back out on this ambitious plan. I must bravely go where I have never been before - Into The Wild.

*Picture a brave and proud looking face*

Now I am by no means a seasoned forager and have absolutely no clues as to where to begin. With no clear directions and no one willing to share their secret stash, I resorted to the next best thing - lots of serious google research. Through means of elimination,  I have pin pointed a location which is not too far from me and have great potential. Mainly due to it being described as 'lots of woodland' where wild garlic (also known as ramsons) are reputed to be found. 

So brimming with confidence in myself, an upbeat heart and a rather large and optimistic empty bag, I set off for my first ever foraging endeavour. Half an hour tube ride later, and a short stroll down the familiar sight of a typical high street, I arrived at this wilderness jungle (slight exaggeration it might be but as we are still within zone 4 territories, this piece of woodland is practically remote rainforest) 

After an initial failure at catching some delicious looking grouse lurking amidst these green woodlands, mainly due to a tribe of hostile looking goats. One even decided to charge in my direction. Ferocious little thing! I had no choice but to abandon this plan and retreat towards into the deep forest and resume on my wild garlic hunt.

For the first hour or so, there were no wild garlic to be seen and hardly any blue bells, which are normally found near wild garlic. And hard as I might, trying to sniff the air for their distinctive faint garlicky aroma resulted nothing more than  the smell of damp earth. But as luck would have it, just as I was about to throw in my gloves and trod off, I spotted some familiar looking leaves amongst the vast patches of stinging nettles and some unidentifiable weeds. And it didn't take long before I gathered a large handful of these beautiful wild garlic.

Unfortunately, all I've managed to find was some patchy wild garlic crop, so my ginormous bag still remained half empty. But as my first ever foraging experience, I was rather gleeful with this  handful of rewards and the best part of this is, I've even managed to procure some with their roots intact which I've decided to plant in my garden.

Now, this crowning glory is comfortably residing in my humble little garden and blossoming. Yes, this elusive wild garlic plant is now tamed and coaxed to remain domesticated. Hopefully it will produce more of its kind in time to come and spread freely and wildly to forever cater to my affection for this delicious greens. I can't wait for next spring.

Grow my pretties! Grow!

Some of my recipe for wild garlic :
Chinese Wild Garlic Pancakes with Gochujang Dipping Sauce (New-Style Cong You Bing 蔥油餅)
Clams, Chorizo, Wild Garlic and Cannellini Beans with Soda Bread
Linguine with Wild Garlic, Lemon, Olive Oil and Pecorino
Deep Fried Courgette Flowers Stuffed With Wild Garlic

Saturday 18 May 2013

The Sum Of All Good Things - Roti King, Charing Cross Road and Sedap, Old Street

Seeing that I have not been on the ball (so to speak) with updating my blog lately due to one too many commitments, I thought just to let you folks know that I am still alive and kicking, I'll just quickly recommend a couple of places that I have been dining in lately which have impressed the fussy Singaporean eater in me. 

Many who have been following me closely on the blog/twitter/facebook would have known of my constant look out for good authentic Singaporean and Malaysian restaurant. Many were sheer disappointments not worth of writing or mentioning but lately, I have found a couple of hidden gems that I truly felt that I ought to share.

First up is this quiet little establishment called Roti King, situated within the Malaysian Kopi Tiam on Charing Cross Road. I cannot vouch for the rest of the faire on the menu of this rather ordinary looking restaurant. I still can't resist the obligatory order of roti canai a.k.a. roti prata every time I visit. These were made fresh to order by the in-house Roti King himself. And I have to say this is the best of its kind that I have tasted since I left Singapore. 

For £5.50, you get a portion of two circular dough of heaven. They were light and flaky, just as it should be and not overly greasy. The accompanying chicken curry was rich and had a decent amount of spiciness to it (can be hotter but that's only because I've been brought up on copious amount of chillies). The chicken was on the generous side. On an average, there were two to three large pieces of chicken on the bone and not some measly boneless, insipid meat. I have also tried their mutton curry which were just as good. So if you are after some seriously good roti canai/prata, this is the place to be. 

Accept no imitation!

Malaysia Kopi Tiam on Urbanspoon

For those who are seeking a good plate of Char Kway Teow (Fried Rice Noodles), Sedap on Old Street is the place to go. This Malaysian Nyonya (female Peranakan) restaurant has been on my radar for quite some time and as a Baba (male Peranakan) myself, how can I miss this. Of the couple of times I've visited, their Penang Char Kway Teow have been consistently good, albeit a bit on the stingy side. Saying that, the size of the prawns more than make up for the £8.50 price tag. However, a bit more of the rice noodle wouldn't go amiss as my dining companion on one visit had to double up the portions just to feel adequately satisfied.

Their Char Kway Teow were by far the best I have tasted this side of the pond. Different to a Singaporean version, Penang CKT is lighter in shade and not as dark soy sauce heavy. But what made this dish stood out is the smokey undertone from the wok hei or the 'breathe of wok'. To achieve that, the dish will have to be stir-fried at a scorchingly high flame thus yielding that unmistakable charred flavour. And by gosh, this plate of CKT was packed full of that umami-ness, even though the lack of the ubiquitous blood cockles do sadden me. I am destined never to savour those bloody (literally) treats again unless I take a trip back to Singapore.

Another worthy mention was the Blachan fried chicken (£7.50), these crispy chicken bites were marinated in the pungent shrimp paste before deep fried to their crispy concoction. The traditional Nyonya kuih selection too, at £2 for three small pieces, were decent offerings and had the authentic texture and taste that harks back to my childhood. Sambal Brinjal (£6) was however, a disappointment for me. The sambal were a tad weak and bland and could have been done with more cooking time to really concentrate on the flavours. Once again these suffered the 'stingy' portion syndrome. The teh tarik (frothy tea) was OK but nothing to shout about.

All in all, this is still a very worthy joint to visit if only for the Char Kway Teow. Just make sure that you double up on the portion. I know I most definitely will and I know I will be back again and again for their CKT.

Sedap on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Monday 6 May 2013

A Refreshing Asparagus, Cucumber, Mint and Coriander Salad

The arrival of the first batch of asparagus excites me. I have been patiently waiting for them since last summer. And I'm not talking about those inferior imported varieties that you get down the local supermarket. These are the true glorious English asparagus, sweet and full of flavours, and the only asparagus you should ever really be bother with. 

In the weeks leading up to the harvest of these spears of life, I have been tweeting my disappointment of not being able to spot them in numerous farmers market. This unfortunate delays caused by the sudden arctic weather of recent weeks has made me yearned for this even more. I've even tweeted to the British asparagus to query about the due date. Yes, that's how crazily in love I am with this Brit Spears. Hit me baby one more time!

The first few batches of these shoots are the best and I like to treat them with minimum fuss and let the flavours speaks for itself. Due to the Chinese heritage in me, I'm a firm believer of steaming your veg and never to boil them, especially for delicate greens like this. Boiling them in water is sacrilegious as it will mean losing some of their sweetness to the water and unless you are planning to use them as stock, I would strongly advise to use the steaming method instead. This will not only cook the asparagus gently but also retain all of it's flavours.

This is a very simple salad and it makes the best of spring flavours. It is clean tasting, refreshing and uncomplicated. The preparation takes no time at all and sometime, this is the best kind of food. When the sun is out and all you want to do is to sit out in the garden rather than slaving over a hot stove. I have deliberately left out any salt and pepper as the dressing is salty enough and I didn't want the harshness of the pepper to interfere with the overall freshness of the salad but you can use it by all means.

This makes a great side dish so feel free to serve it alongside some beautifully fresh pan-fried fish or at a BBQ. I like to eat it as it is to truly savour the full-flavoured new season asparagus.

Ingredients (Serves 2)

1 bunch of asparagus (about 10-12 spears), snap off the tough woody ends and cut into thirds on the diagonal
1 whole cucumber
1 large red chilli, deseeded and thinly sliced
a small handful of fresh mint, leaves picked
a large handful of fresh coriander, leaves picked

For the dressing:
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp caster sugar
juice of 1 lime
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 small red chilled. deseeded and finely chopped


Place all the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl. Mix to combine and set aside.

Prepare a steamer and steam the asparagus for 3-4 minutes, until tender and cooked. Tip the asparagus into a bowl of ice water or alternatively, rinse under running cold water to stop any further cooking.

Shave the cucumber into thin long strips using a vegetable peeler. Avoid the mushy core and discard this. You don't really want a wet salad!

In a large bowl, place the asparagus, cucumber, chilli, mint, coriander and half of the dressing. Toss well to combine before plating them onto separate dish.  Drizzle with more dressing and serve.


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