Sunday, 31 March 2013

Nibbles For The Bunnies And Me - Easter Hot Cross Buns

I know for most people, the sentiments of Easter lie more than just nibbling on the delicious hot cross buns. But for me, this was my first encounter with a true British baking delight when I first move to Britain from Singapore many years ago.

It was in a traditional Teashop down in Malvern that I came across these fruits-filled buns. I can still remember the excitement of spotting them in the glass cake cabinet. Along with the freshly baked scones, homemade jam and clotted cream, that was the best ever cream tea of my life. Or the fondest that I can remember.

Coincidently, this was also one of the first two traditional British cooking that I attempted. The other being the scones obviously, in that very week after my little road trip. The end results were not as good as those that I had in the Teashop but I was rather please with myself.

From then on, I have a little guilty fixation with these sweet little buns so what better way of celebrating this Easter than to bake some of these spongy buns. For my recipe, I have included some maple syrup, not the most traditional I know but I do find this give a lovely floral sweetness to the finished hot cross buns. And the best part in all these, cutting them into halves and spreading some butter and sweet damson jam. They do make some darn fine breakfast, don't you think?

Now before I sign off to start my prep for my Oriental spiced roast lamb supper, I shall wish you all a very Happy Easter!

Boink! Boink! Boink!

Ingredients (Makes 12)

250ml warm milk
1 tbsp fast action dried yeast or 25g crumbled fresh yeast
450g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
50g caster sugar
100g currants or raisins
50g mixed peel, chopped
2 tbsp maple syrup or honey
50g unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, beaten

For the piping paste for the cross:
4 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp water

For the sticky glaze:
4 tbsp caster sugar
3 tbsp water


In a large bowl, whisk together the warm milk and the yeast until the yeast has dissolved. Cover with a cling film and leave in a warm place for at least 2-3 hours, until the surface is thick and frothy, a clear sign of the yeast is active. 

In a separate large mixing bowl, sift in the flour, salt and mixed spice. Then add the raisins or currants, mixed peel and mix. Make a well in the centre and pour in the maple syrup, melted butter, frothy yeast mixture and beaten egg, stir and mix everything together to form a sticky dough. 

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for 10-12 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Put into a clean bowl and cover with a damp tea towel. Leave in a warm place to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour until double in size. The damp tea towel will help with the proving/rising process. 

Knock back the risen dough. Imagine the face of your worst enemy if that helps and give it a few ferocious punches until it is back to its original size. Tip out onto a clean surface and knead for a few seconds before dividing the dough into 12 equal pieces. Form each pieces into a neat balls and arrange them onto a pre-lined and greased baking tray. Cover once again with a damp tea towel and leave to rise for another 45minutes to 1 hour, until doubled in volume. 

In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 220ºC.

To make the piping paste for the cross, mix the flour and caster sugar with the water to a smooth paste.  If you have a piping bag, fill it with this paste or if not, use a clean squeegee sauce bottle. If not, a teaspoon will do the job.

Once the buns have risen, mark a cross a with the back of a small knife and pipe the paste in the indentation in each bun. Place in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until they are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the base.

While the buns are cooling, prepare the sticky glaze. Heat up the sugar and water in a small pan over low heat until the sugar are completely melted and you have a thick syrup. Brush these liberally over the buns and transfer to a cooling rack to cool. 

Friday, 29 March 2013

Face/Off ! - Singapore Nyonya Fish Head Curry

Singapore fish head curry, what can I say about this dish?

It's big, mean and scary, that's what!

But do not judge a fish by its head, behind the daunting and ferocious looking monster lies some of the most  succulent flesh by any self-confessed gastronomy junkie. Soft tender cheeks and glossy white eyeballs. Yup! You've heard me right....Eyeballs! The Jaws of all culinary dishes. With their gelatinous and melt-in-the-mouth properties, these were my Nan's favourite. She would wait for the meat to be devoured from all nooks and cranny of the fish, then like a well oiled machine, she'll picked up the naked carcass and suck the eyeballs right out of its socket. If you think this sound absolutely disgusting, you are missing a trick here.

There are many different variations to this popular Singapore dish and this is a Nyonya recipe which contains a richer rempah and the used of dried sour fruit slices or asam gelugar. This give the dish that distinctive tanginess. However, if you are unable to get hold of this, simply replace it with some lime juice toward the end of the cooking time. Although fish head is what truly make this dish so unique to Singapore. But if you are a bit squeamish, there is no reason why you can't substitute it with the less intimidating fish fillets or steaks. I would though try to keep the skin on or on the bone and use firmer white fish such as hake or even monkfish so you don't end up with curry fish pulp instead and reduce the cooking time accordingly. Whatever you decided to do, just make sure that you serve this glorious dish with loads of steamed rice as you'll be surprise how quickly that dwindle once the diners discover the true joy of pouring these decadent gravy over the rice, they'll be wolfed down in no time at all.

I recently made this for my supperclub to 20 discerning diners, who cleared the plate, eyeballs and all. A veracious bunch! The best part was seeing them attacking the eyeballs which I wasn't expected to see (Pun intended)

Ingredients (Serves 4-6)

1 meaty fish head, such as red snapper or grouper, about 1 kg in weight 
salt, for cleaning fish head
200g okra/ladies fingers, cut into half if they are slightly big, otherwise keep whole
2 large tomatoes, quartered
4 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
1 tsp mustard seed
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
3 sprigs curry leaves, leaves picked and the stem discard
3 tbsp tamarind puree or paste
1l water
500ml coconut milk
2 slices dried asam gelugur/sour fruit , optional (available in all good Chinese supermarket)
1 tbsp sugar, or more to taste
sea salt, to taste

For the rempah/spice paste:
12 shallots or 1 medium onion, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, skinned and finely chopped
80g fish curry powder (shopbought or see recipe below)
2 tbsp chilli powder (less if you don't like it too spicy)
1 tbsp dried shrimp paste/belacan, toasted on a dried pan or in the oven
2 stalk lemongrass, chopped
2cm piece of galangal, peel and chopped
2cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

For the fish curry powder: (yield about 80g)
4 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp fenugreek seeds
2 tbsp red chilli powder (depending on how spicy you like the mix to be)
2 tsp white peppercorn
1 tsp ground turmeric


Prepare the fish head. Wash thoroughly with running water to rid of any blood. Place the head in a large bowl and rub salt all over the head. Fill with enough water to cover and leave to stand for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse well to remove the salt. Set aside.

Grind all the spices for the fish curry powder in a spice/coffee grinder or pound in a mortar and pestle.

Pound all the ingredients for the rempah/spice paste in a mortar and pestle to a paste or alternatively, blitz in a food processor.

Heat the oil in a wok or a pan large enough to accomodate the fish head over medium-low heat. Add the mustard, cumin and fenugreek seeds and fry for 30 seconds before adding the curry leaves. Fry for another 30 seconds. Add the spice paste and gently fry over low heat for 15-20 minutes, until fragrant and thickened and the paste develop a richer and darker colour. 

Add the tamarind puree, followed by water, coconut milk and the assam gelugur/sour fruit slices. Turn up the heat and bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently for 30 minutes.

Add the okras/ladies fingers and aubergines. Increase the heat to medium and gently bring to the boil, Carefully lower the fish head into the wok or pan and simmer, covered for 15 minutes. Add a little more water, if necessary so that the fish head is almost submerged.

Finally, add the tomatoes, cover and simmer for another 5-10 minutes, until the fish is completely cooked through and the vegetables are tender.

Season with salt and sugar, to taste, Serve piping hot with lots of steamed rice to soak up all those spicy gravy.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Yipin China, Islington

Before I have even enter Yipin China, I have heard good things and rave reviews about this place. Quietly tucked away from the main thorough fare of Upper street in Islington, where most restaurants tend to gather is this Hunanese dining venue. The last time I had food from this region here in London was at Ba Shan which I thoroughly enjoyed. That restore my faith in the possibility of finding good Chinese restaurant after all. So I had high hopes.

The restaurant, like most Chinese dining places, is slightly utilitarian and lack of any distinguishing character. Not that that was a bad thing as it is not something that you expect unless you are going to a poncy, Michelin-starred chasing restaurant. 

The fully illustrated menu, complete with pictures of the finished dish were a brilliant way to dispell any confusion about what the named dishes were. You just simply point and order which is what I did with my absolute favourite dish - Chairman Mao's red braised pork. Boy, did they look good in the photo! The rest of my dining companions swiftly did the same and then the waiting game began, which was not that long really. A smooth parade of dishes appeared before our eyes and in a matter of minutes, an arrays of colourful dishes landed on the lazy susan awaiting for our assault.

The dish I was most excited about unfortunately was also the dish that I was most disappointed with. The red braised pork were not melt-in-the-mouth as they should be but instead was tough and chewy, miles away from the meltingly tender version at Ba Shan.

Chairman Mao's Red Braised Pork (£10.80)

Both the mouth-watering chicken and the spiced fungus were nice and refreshing. Although I found the chicken to be a tad tasteless and in comparison, I had a better version of this from Seventeen which had a better texture, taste and kick to it.

Mouth-watering Sichuan Chicken (£8.90)

Spiced Fungus (£4.90)

The sea bass was perfectly cooked, velvety and tender but unfortunately, suffered the same lack of taste as the chicken dish, which was a shame as otherwise would be perfect. As for the Lamb skewers, they were just too tough and chewy.

Sliced Sea Bass in a Soup of Pickled Mustard (£12.90)

Lamb on Skewers (£7.80)

Saving grace finally showed up in the form of the Man-and-Wife offal slices. It was punchy, had a good spicy, sweet and numbing balance which was divine and definitely perks me up a bit after navigated all the lack lustre offerings so far.

Man-and-Wife Offal Slices (£7.90)

Thankfully, the good dishes did not end there, both of their signature dry-wok dishes were indeed superb. Served on a hot sizzling mini wok on burner, each contained beautifully flavoured content, filled with smoky, numbing heat that were so typical of Hunan cuisine and were fine specimens. The chicken, in particular were the better out of the two. So good that I could not help but continued picking on all the garnishes even when the chicken pieces were devoured. The mini wok were practically wiped clean by the time the waiter got his hands on it.

Dry-wok Beancurd (£9.90)

Dry-Wok Chicken (£13.80)

The stir-fried pork with green peppers was good but the dry fried green beans were once again a let down for me. It was rather oily and overcooked. That signature 'squeaky' noise that I was after was sadly, not to be heard.

Farmhouse Stir-Fried Pork with Green Peppers (£7.50)

Dry Fried Green Beans (£7.50)

On a whole, there were a few top notch dishes that managed to savage this meal from being a complete disappointment. But seeing that there appears to be some great reviews about this place around, perhaps I'm judging it a bit too harshly.  I guess this is the reason why it's been very tricky for me to find a good Chinese restaurant that will cater to my palate. These are familiar flavours that I grew up with and of course I would expect more from these venue. But I suppose for around £15 per person, 4 out of 10 dishes ain't bad. Perhaps I just need to choose my dishes more wisely on my next visit.

Yipin China on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Teochew Dry Mixed/Tossed Noodles With Minced Pork (Bak Chor Mee 潮州肉脞面)

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

 Bring a pan of fresh water to the rolling boil. Loosen the noodle thoroughly before blanching them for 1-2 minutes and no more. This help to retain their bounciness. Drain thoroughly.
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.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Hokkien Prawn Noodles Soup (福建虾面 Hae Mee)

My freezer contain many treasures. It is full of  delicious leftovers from all my culinary adventures. Food that I just can't simply bear to let them go to waste. They are perfect for times when I can't be bother to cook. A little bit of defrosting and reheating and Bob's your uncle. The freezer is also packed with piles of hasty ad hoc purchases from my many trips down to Chinatown. Fresh beancurd sheets, wanton skin, dumpling skin etc. But amongst all these exciting wonders, there is always a bag of prawn heads and shells that had been lovingly tucked away in one of the compartment, waiting patiently for me to be used up to make my favourite Hokkien Prawn Noodles / Hae Mee 虾面

I have a habit of making sure that I only ever buys fresh shell-on prawns for any cooking session, even if the recipe do not call for them. Then what I do is to remove the heads and shells, pack these into a zipper bag and pop them in my freezer. And when I accumulate enough of these, I will treat myself to this truly amazing Singapore hawker's classic.

This is not a difficult dish to make but it does takes a bit of time in order for the soup broth to develop a  rich and umami laden flavours. The perfect hae mee broth should have a dark brown appearance with puddles of red-tinted oily sheen from the prawn shells. It should also have a gutsy porky depth and a rich prawny (if that's even a word) flavour. Once the broth is done, the rest is a matter of assembling and then you'll be able to enjoy your labour of love. 

For an even more special treat, I would sometimes add half a soft-boiled egg for the toppings too but on this occasion, I forgot. Oh well, hopefully it won't be long before I'll have another bag of frozen prawn heads and shells for this again.

Ingredients (Serves 4)

For the broth:
250g pork spareribs
250g fatty pork chop, remove the fat to make the crispy lard cubes for garnish(see method in my Char Kway Teow post)
16 large raw tiger prawns
2 tbsp lard (use sunflower oil for a healthy option)
2 tbsp crushed rock sugar (from any good Chinese supermarket, alternatively use granulated sugar)
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
3 litres water
30g dried anchovies/ikan bilis (optional but will yield a tastier broth)
2 tsp light soy sauce
2 tsp dark soy sauce
sea salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper

For the garnish:
Fried shallots (you can buy these ready made from any good supermarket)
1 spring onions, green parts only, cut into rings
Crispy fried lard cubes

To serve:
400g fresh egg noodles
200g kangkong (water spinach)
100g bean sprouts
2 large red chilled, cut into rings
2 tbsp light soy sauce


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. These will give you a clearer stock. Set aside.

Prepare the prawns. Remove and reserve the heads and shells. Cut a slit along the back and remove the thin black thread intestines, Wash thoroughly and pat dry. Set aside in the fridge.
(Note: If like me, you have plenty of frozen prawn heads and shells laying about in the freezer, you can use them instead and leave these prawns whole and skip this step. )

Heat the lard or oil in a wok over medium-high heat. Once smoking, add the prawn heads and shells to the wok and fry for 1 minute before adding the rock sugar, garlic and peppercorns and continue to fry for another 3-4 minutes, until the prawn heads and shells have turned a deep red colour and coated with glossy lightly caramelised sugar. 

Pour in the water, add the blanched ribs, trimmed pork chop and anchovies and bring to the boil.  Lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 2 hours. Skim off any floating foam occasionally.

Remove the pork chop from the simmering stock after 30 minutes, which should now be cooked and tender and set aside to cool. Once cooled, thinly sliced the pork and set aside. 

After this time, remove the ribs from stock and discard as they will have no more flavour. Strain the stock through a fine sieve lined with a muslin cloth into a clean pan, pressing on the heads and shells to extract as muck stock as possible. Season with light and dark soy sauce, salt and pepper to taste. Bring the stock to the boil, add the shelled prawns and blanch for 2-3 minutes, until they turned pink and just cooked through. Lift out with a slotted spoon and set aside. Keep the stock on a simmer.

Bring a pan of water to the boil. Blanch the noodles until just heated through, then drain using a slotted spoon and divide into separate serving bowl. 

Using the same pan of boiling water quickly blanch the kangkong and bean sprouts for a few seconds, until just cooked through. Divide the vegetable, cooked prawns and sliced pork and arrange neatly onto the noodle among the serving bowls. Pour enough hot stock over these to cover the noodles and top with the garnishes.

Place some light soy sauce in a small sauce dish with some sliced red chillies on the side.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Duck Confit And Other Stories - Parmentier de Confit de Canard or Duck Confit Shepherd's Pie

Sometimes, the best moment in life is finding hidden delights lurking at the back of your fridge. Especially on days when you are unsure about what to cook for supper. And lucky for me, yesterday was such a day. 

About 6 months ago, I made some duck confit and was planning to write a blog post about it. Somehow amidst all the trial and tribulations of daily lives and more exciting posts that I decided to write about, it got lost. So this jar of duck confit have been sitting quietly at the bottom of my fridge, neglected by me all these time. This is what happens when you have simply to much stuff in the fridge, you can't see the confit for the bottles.

But guess my excitement when I saw this majestic jar as I paved my way through the bottles of condiments and sauces. So in complying with the National Pie Week, a thought went through my head. I'm going to make a pie. But not just any pie. I'm going to make a French classic Parmentier de confit de canard. Similar to a Shepherd's pie but with a far richer duck confit filling. 

Of course, this can be made using shop-bought duck confit which means that creating this dish will be a doddle. However, I have also included my recipe for making your own, this is so easy and I think nothing will ever beat a homemade version. The duck confit will keep for at least 6-12 months in a cool place or at the bottom of your fridge so it is worth making some and save it for a rainy day, like making this delicious classic French pie. Bon appétit!

For the duck confit:


4 duck legs
1 kg duck fat
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 head garlic. leave whole but cut into half horizontally
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


The day before, rub the duck leg generously with sea salt and season with freshly ground black pepper. Place in a dish, cover with clingfilm and leave to chill overnight in the fridge.

The following day, remove the duck legs from the fridge, rinse with cold water and wipe dry. 

In a pan large enough to fit the duck legs, melt the duck fat over low heat. Add the thyme, bay leaves and garlic and immerse the duck legs into the fat and simmer on a very low heat for 2-3 hours, until the flesh are tender flakes off the bones easily.  

Meanwhile, sterilise a 1.5 litre jar by washing it thoroughly with warm soapy water, then place it upside down and allow it to drip dry in a low oven, roughly 140ºC, for 20-25 minutes.

Transfer the duck legs carefully into the sterilised jar and cover completely with duck fat. Sealed and allow to cool completely before storing. 

For the Parmentier de Confit de Canard:

Ingredients (Serves 4)

For the mashed potatoes topping:
1 kg floury potato, such as Maris Piper or King Edward
200g unsalted butter (use less for a healthier options if you like), plus more for finishing
100ml creme fraiche
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the duck confit filling:
4 pieces of duck confit, remove the skin and pull the meat of the bones and shred roughly
2 tbsp duck fat from the jar of confit
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
a large handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
125ml red wine


Bring a pan of water to the boil and cook the potatoes skin on for 20-25 minutes, until cooked through. Drain and allow to cool slightly before removing the skin and mash together with the butter, creme fraiche and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. 

Heat up the duck fat in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and onions and cooked for 2-3 minutes , until soften. Add the garlic and cook for another  minute before adding the shredded duck meat and fry for 3 minutes, until the edges have turn slightly crispy and golden. Toss in the parsley and pour in the wine to deglaze the pan. This helps to release all the crispy bits that stuck to the bottom of the pan and create a delicious sauce. Cook for a further 3-4 minute before transferring this to an ovenproof pie dish. Top with the mashed potatoes and run a fork across the top to create rough peaks. To finish, dot with small pieces of butter and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the potato crisp and turn gold brown. Serves immediately.

And the following day. . . . . Duck Confit Hash

The leftover makes for a great light brunch the next day. Lightly mash up the leftover pie and fry in some butter on a hot pan until the edges are crisp. Scatter with some chopped parsley and top with a crispy-edge fried egg. Cut into the yolk and watch the golden yellow flow out. Enjoy...

Saturday, 9 March 2013

When Is A Chicken Not A Chicken? When It is A Kampar Chicken Biscuit (Gai Zai Beng 鸡仔餅)

You are probably wondering after reading the title, 'why on earth would somebody attempting to bake biscuits for their pet chicken? ' but let me clarify this for you. First of all, unlike a dog biscuit, this is actually not for chicken's consumption and secondly, I DO NOT HAVE A PET CHICKEN, unless you count Tamagotchi as one which I'm still pretty sure will make a popular comeback someday (fingers crossed). And lastly, no chicken was harmed in the making of these biscuits. Despite the name, it doesn't really contains any traces of chicken (let's not bring up the egg or I can sense another one of those Chicken or Egg debates coming).

Gai Zai Beng, literally translated as Little Chicken Biscuit is a confectionary biscuits that are made using flour, lard, candied melon, five spice powder, maltose etc. A cross between savoury and sweet if you like. Immensely popular back in Ipoh, Malaysia, especially those from Kampar, a nearby town are famous and highly sort after. Many tourists to the region will almost certain to buy some to take home with them. Unfortunately, such luxury is beyond me, being thousand of miles away so the next best thing is to bake these myself.

Having established earlier that since there is no chicken in the ingredient, so why the name? For the purpose of this post, I have done a bit of googling research. Chicken biscuit was apparently invented during the Qing Dynasty by a servant of the famous Chengzhu Restaurant in Guangzhou. The biscuit derives its name from its inventor Siu Fung,  which means Small Phoenix but is also used to describe a small chicken in Cantonese slang.

Does anyone know any other explanations on how the name came about, let me know.

There are two type of Chicken biscuit, the thicker version, which contains candied pork lard is slightly doughy and chewy and then there is this, the flat, crispy type. This is slightly easier to make as candied pork lard take days to prepare. I have a bunch crystallising in the fridge at the moment so I will hopefully attempt the thicker biscuits at a later date. But for now, these will have to do and you know what, I'm not complaining, they tasted just like how I remembered them. Yum Yum!

Ingredients (makes about 25 biscuits)

300g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
100g candied melon, finely chopped (available from any good Chinese supermarket, substitute with caster sugar if not available)
120g caster sugar
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp five spice powder
80g sesame seed, toasted in a dry pan
100g lard or butter (or sunflower oil for a healthier option)
2 cubes or 1 tbsp Nam Yee/fermented red beancurd
1 medium free range egg
2 tbsp maltose or honey
1 tbsp kecap manis or dark soy sauce
50ml water (you may not need to used all, see method below)
Sunflower or vegetable oil, for greasing


In a large mixing bowl, sift in the plain flour, bicarbonate soda and baking powder. Add the chopped candied melon, caster sugar, garlic, salt, black pepper, five spice powder and sesame seeds and mix well.

In a separate bowl, mash up the lard and Nam Yee/fermented red beancurd and add this to the flour mixture, along with the egg, maltose or honey, kecap manis or dark soy sauce and mix thorough to bring the mixture together, adding the water a table spoon at a time. Stop adding water when the mixture resembles a crumbly dough. Don't allow it to get too wet and sticky or it will be tricky to manage at later stage. Cover with clingfilm and set aside to rest in the fridge for an hour. This allows the dough to firm up.

Preheat the oven to 140ºC. Line a baking tray with parchment paper lightly greased with oil.

Remove the dough from the fridge. Pinch a small ball of dough, roughly the size of a large grape, and roll into a flat 1mm thick disc between two sheets of greased clingfilm. Transfer onto the prepared tray and repeat with the rest of the dough. Bake in the oven for 7-8 minutes, until golden brown.

Transfer the biscuits onto a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Naughty Bites (Oink! Oink!) - Hakka Fried Pork Belly With Fermented Red Beancurd 客家南乳炸五花肉

It's no secret that I adore fried food. I think I may have publicly proclaimed that many times over my twitter rants or even here on my blog. Sometimes I think anything deep fried seem to increase their tastiness by ten fold and appears that much more alluring to me. Take chicken for example, very often, I will have some leftover juicy pieces of poached, steamed or roast chicken that although it might be nice and delicious at the time but somehow always managed to avoid my gluttonous jaw. I frequently blame it on the sheer amount of food that I tend to conjure up. Yet if I swap those with crispy fried chicken and lord and behold, the sentence ' I think I have had enough' will never be uttered from these grease-smeared lips of mine. Like a caveman on heat, I will devour them in less than two shakes of a lamb's tail. And believe me, that was no exaggeration.

Fried pork belly falls into that 'blink-and-you'll-missed-it' category in my house. And this is a fine example of how something so simple can be magically turned into a Michelin status worthy (that may be an exaggeration but work with me here folks) dish. This is something that made many appearances back in Ipoh when I was a child visiting my nan. 

A popular pastime in the community where my Nan lived was the mahjong game. My uncle was quite frankly addicted to this. Every weekend, the neighbours would popped round and the table will be set up for the game. On a little side table will be bottles of Tiger beer as well as a selection of snacks to get them through the never-ending round of mahjong. A plateful of my Aunt's famous Hakka fried pork belly bites would always be there amongst the nuts and melon seeds. Due to my naivety as a child, I would make a few deliberate 'accidental' strolled past this feast-filled table and bypass the beer ( What was I thinking ???!!) and reached for a handful of this crispy, salty bites and popped them into my eager mouth. So juicy and moreish there were. Later on as I grew up, I 've learnt how to make this from my Aunt, it was only then I realised this simple treats can now be forever within my reach.

The secret to this lies in the used of the fermented beancurd. There are two different varieties of this: the white ones are known as Fu Yee/Fu Ru 腐乳 (as featured in my stir-fried water spinach recipe) or the red variety known as Nam Yee/Nan Ru 南乳 that's shown in the photo above. This contains red yeast rice in the brining liquid thereby giving it a glorious ruby red appearance. One of the most indispensable ingredient in Hakka cuisine and is frequently used to enrich braising dishes for extra depth. It can be rather salty so always use sparingly. It is also a popular accompaniment with bowls of plain white rice porridge.

This goes perfectly with ice cold uncle was right.

Ingredients (Serves 2 hungry pork lover or 4 normal diners)

500g pork belly, cut into 3cm cubes
2 small cubes or 2 tsp fermented red beancurd  
1/2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tsp yellow glutinous wine or hua tiao wine (use shaoxing wine if you can't get hold of these)
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp five spice powder
1/4 tsp ground white pepper, or to taste
1 tsp sesame oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp corn flour
sunflower or vegetable oil, for deep frying


In a large bowl, combine the pork belly pieces with the fermented bean curd, soy sauce, glutinous rice wine, sugar, black pepper and sesame oil and mix throughly. Set aside to marinate in the fridge for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight in order for the flavours to permeate the meat.

When ready to cook, take the pork belly out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature. 

Heat the oil in the wok until a piece of bread sizzle and turn golden brown in 30 seconds when dropped into the oil, about 180ºC or alternatively, use a deep fat fryer.

 Lightly beat the egg in a small bowl. In a separate bowl/dish, mix the plain and corn flour together. Add the pork belly pieces into the beaten egg a small batch at a time and coat well. Then dredged in the flour fixture thoroughly and shake of any excess flour before deep frying for 7-9 minutes, or until cooked through and golden brown. Removed and drain on some kitchen paper. Keep warm in a low heat oven while you repeat with the rest of the pork.

Serve immediately with some ice cold beer. 


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