Saturday, 22 February 2014

Hakka Yellow Glutinous Rice Wine Chicken 客家黄酒鸡

I love this dish.

I think the reason might be that the broth is almost entire made with glugs of potent rice wine. If you are a fan of a tipple or two, this is just the dish for you and even if you are not, believe me, you will still enjoy this.

Despite the copious amount of alcohol, rice wine chicken is actually consider as a highly nutritious dish in all Hakka household. They would serve up this dish to the women in confinement period after giving birth. It is believed to help with blood circulation, build stronger immune system and restore the new mum back to good health.

Traditionally, this will be made with home brewed glutinous rice wine. A good home brewed rice wine is a laborious process and can take anything from one month to a year, depending on how mature you want the wine to be. They are stronger in alcohol content compare to commercially available ones and many older generations would swear by it, painstakingly making their own.

But as the privilege of owning a bottle of home brewed is not within my reach. I have to make do with shop-bought. The end result is just as delicious and aromatic.

Make sure that you check the label when you shop for the wine. It should indicate specifically glutinous rice wine as oppose to the more common Shaoxing wine, which is not the same. Glutinous rice wine is much sweeter and do not have the harsh, bitter taste.

Even though this is more commonly prepared as a nutritious herbal dish for women in confinement but personally, if you ask me, a dish as easy to prepare and as delicious as this, just seems a waste not to make it more often than that.

And so I did.


1kg small chicken, cut into bit-size pieces or alternatively use thighs and drumsticks
4 slices ginger, lightly bruised
2 tbsp sesame oil
350ml yellow glutinous rice wine (do not confuse this with shaoxing wine)
100ml water, you might not need to use all
4-5 pieces dried black fungus, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes, drained and cut into rough pieces
1 tsp sugar
salt, to taste
1 spring onion, only the green part, cut into rings


Soak the clay pot, if using, in water for 1 hour before using. This stop it from cracking when cooking.

Heat the sesame oil in a wok over medium heat. Add the ginger slice and stir-fry for about 1 minute, until fragrant. 

Add the chicken pieces and continue to stir-fry for 5 minutes, until lightly browned on all sides.

Add 200ml of glutinous rice wine, black fungus, sugar and bring to the boil.

Transfer the contents to a clay pot and add enough water to cover the chicken. Cover with a lid and bring to the boil before turning down the heat to low and gently simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through.

Add the remaining glutinous rice wine and simmer for another 5 minutes (not too long as you don't want to completely cook off all the alcohol content), until the chicken is tender. Skim off the surface fat and season with salt to taste.

Garnish with the spring onions and serve hot straight from the clay pot with some steamed rice. Make sure you provide a spoon for all that boozy goodness.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Nyonya Bubble And Squeak - Chai Buey 菜尾

The name Chai Buey 菜尾 (also known as Kong Assam or Kiam Chai Boey) means 'leftovers'. Although by the sound of it,  doesn't really strike you as an enticing dish. However, in many Peranakan household, this is considered as the best part of the Chinese New year celebration.

This humble sweet and sour stew is comforting and incredibly easy to prepare. After spending days cooking up a huge feast for the big day, making this feels like you are giving yourself a well earned break.

The recipe - well if you can even call it that - is very simple. Think of it like a bubble and squeak if you like. It's just a matter of chucking leftover roast meat you happens to have knocking about into a stew pot. This can be either pork belly, duck or chicken etc. As for whether to use one type of roast meat or a selection is entirely up to you and really depends on what you have at hand.

Add some chopped Chinese mustard greens (Gai Choy), sour fruit slices (asam gelugor), tamarind, dried chillies and water and Bob's your uncle.

Let the stew simmer gently for an hour while you put your weary feet up. After that, the stew should have developed a wonderfully sweet, tangy and spicy flavour. Season and then chow down with some piping hot steamed rice.

See, how easy is that! You don't even have to break into a sweat cooking this. That's why this is a firm favourite after the hectic New Year's day.

If you don't have any leftover (well sometime those crispy roast belly are just too good to resist), this stew can also be made with pork ribs. Although it will lack the same richness but that's not to say it won't be just as delicious.

Chinese mustard greens (Gai Choy) are crucial in this stew. Only the spicy, peppery mustard greens will stand up to the robust stew. Any other mildly flavoured vegetables will just disappears into the background.

If you can't get hold of the dried sour fruits slices, you can omit these but increase the amount of tamarind to compensate. Adjust the saltiness and tanginess according to your own personal taste. The finished dish should have a perfect sweet-sour balance.

Just between you and me, this is so good that I sometimes make a special effort to nip down to Chinatown for some roast pork belly just to make this. Delicious!


500g leftover roast meat (I used roast pork belly), chopped into chucks (substitute with pork ribs if not available)
1 stalk Chinese mustard green, cut into large pieces
1l water
3 asam gelugor (sour fruit slices)
1 lemongrass stalk, lightly bruised
8 dried red chillies
2 tbsp tamarind pureé
2 tbsp soy sauce
salt and sugar, to taste


(If you are using pork ribs, blanch them in some boiling water for a few minutes first, drain and rinse under running tap water)

In a large pot, add all the ingredient, except for the salt and sugar, and bring to the boil over medium-high heat. 

Place the lid on, turn the heat down to a low and simmer for 1 hour. 

Season with salt and sugar to taste and served hot with steamed rice.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Penang Assam Laksa (Nyonya Rice Noodles In Spicy, Tangy Fish Broth)

As temperature falls, there's nothing like indulging in a big bowl of hot steaming noodles soup to keep yourself warm, is there? For me, slurping on some thick rice noodles glistening with rich, tangy fish broth sounds just about heavenly right now.

Penang Assam Laksa has always been the less well known cousin of the more widely popular Curry Laksa. The strong tasting fishiness of the dish might be the  reason. It is an acquired taste.

To the unfamiliar taste buds, the pungent fish stock would be hard to bear. With additional toppings like the strong-tasting black shrimp paste, it does take a brave palate to even contemplating on giving it a go.

But once you get past all that pongy façade, you will be greeted with the most complex but perfectly balance of sweet, tangy and spicy flavours, all working together in harmony. The kaleidoscope of  fresh toppings such as cucumber, pineapple and mint etc, make this a truly refreshing and unforgettable dish. It is also a beauty to look at. Once you tasted and fall in love with it, you will never go back.

The ingredient list below does look intimidating but the actual construction of the dish is pretty easy and straight forward.

The stock is made by boiling fresh (it's got to be fresh) mackerel with onion, celery and bruised galangal. Once cooked, the flesh is delicately flake off the bones. Aromatic spice paste is then cooked until fragrant, the reserved stock added and gently simmers away to make the most fantastic fishy gravy. All the rest of the accompaniments can then be prepared in advance and other then some chopping and slicing, there's really nothing more to it.

Some ingredients might be slightly trickier to get hold of but a trip to Chinatown should procure most of them.

Do not confuse the black shrimp paste (hae ko) with fermented shrimp paste(belacan) as the former is a black, treacle-like gunge. (This is also a vital ingredient in making Rojak dressing, click on the link to see a pic of this).

The daun kesom or laksa leaves can also be found in most good Chinese supermarkets, often in the Vietnamese food section as it is more commonly known as Vietnamese mint. I'm rather fortunate as I do have pot of this peppery, zingy herb growing healthily in my garden. Getting my hands on this is a doddle. Just a matter nipping out into the garden with a pair of scissors and *snip snip*. They grow surprisingly well in British weather.

The only tricky ingredient to procure will be the torch ginger bud. I have been searching for this fiery bright pink blossom for years and have yet to come across them here in London. I have included them in the recipe as for those of you who are lucky enough to be able to find them, you must add them to the toppings. Their floral aroma and subtle gingery taste are a wonderful addition to finished dish.

If you happen to know where I can find them here in London, please drop me a line.


Ingredients (serves 4)

300g dried thick rice vermicelli
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp tamarind pureé
2 pieces asam gelugor (dried sour fruit slices)
1 sprigs of daun kesom (Vietnamese mint/ polygonum leaves), leaves picked and finely chopped
1tbsp sugar (add more to taste if necessary)
salt, to taste

For the stock:
2 medium sized fresh mackerel
1l water
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into halves
1 celery stalk
5cm length galangal, lightly bruised 

For the spice paste:
7-8 dried red chillies, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes
2-3 fresh red chillies
5 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 stalk lemongrass, finely sliced
1 tsp ground turmeric
2cm square piece or 1 tbsp belacan (shrimp paste), toasted on a dry pan or in a hot oven

For the toppings:
1/2 cucumber, halves, soft core removed and cut into matchsticks 
200g pineapple, cut into matchsticks
1 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 fresh red chillies, cut into thin rings
1 lime, cut into quarters
a small handful of fresh mints, leaves picked
1 torch ginger bud (optional ) , thinly sliced
2 tbsp black prawn paste (hae ko), mixed with 1 tsp warm water


Start by preparing the stock. Put all the ingredients in a pot and bring to the boil over medium heat. Simmer for 5 minutes, until the fish is cooked. 

Gently lift out the fish with a strainer and leave to cool. When cool enough to handle, flake the flesh off the bones. Try to retain them in large chunks if possible. Double check for any odd pieces of bones. Set aside.

Return the bones to the pot and continue to simmer for 1 hour. Strain and reserved the stock.

Pound all the ingredients for the spice paste into a smooth paste with a mortar and pestle. Alternatively, blitz in  a food processor. 

Heat up the oil in a pan and cook the spice paste over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly, until fragrant. Add the tamarind pureé and assam gelugar and cooked for another 2-3 minute before adding in the reserved stock and the chopped daun kesom. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes, adding more water if the gravy become too thick.  Season with sugar and salt to taste. 

Bring a large pot of water to the boil and cook the rice vermicelli according to instructions on the packet, about 5-6 minutes. Drain and rinse in running cold water. 

To serve, bring the gravy to the boil and add half the reserved mackerel flesh. This will help to thicken the gravy. Put some vermicelli into individual serving bowls. Top with the some mackerel flesh and the toppings (except for the black prawn paste) before ladling over some piping hot gravy. 

Serve with the  diluted black prawn paste on the side for the diners to drizzle over the noodle soup according to their taste.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Muah Chee (Hakka Chee Bah) 客家糍粑/麻糍

Sticky, chewy and gooey rice morsels coated with crunchy nuts awesomeness is how I would describe Muah Chee 麻糍 (known as the Hakka Chee Bah in Malaysia). Perhaps not the most enticing adjectives to describe a snack if you are not used to those texture. Like faced with a trembling jelly, some might quiver at the thought of the tucking into such strange elastic texture. But to those who are more used to the Japanese equivalent - Mochi. This will be an absolute delight.

Unlike it's Japanese counterpart, this is no refined sweets. You do not go to a fancy counter adorned with beautifully crafted gems for these but instead, you'll find them served casually by a street hawker. The prepared elasticated dough will be snipped and coated with a nutty mixture to order. The only acceptable way to eat them is by using the toothpicks provided, spearing into each morsel of golden nuggets and pop them into your mouth. These are so addictive, once you get past that distinctive gooey-ness, you'll be wondering how on earth have you never had them before.

The good news is that Muah Chee are an absolute doddle to make. You mix some glutinous rice flour, water and oil together and then you steam it. The hardest part is the beating of the cooked dough to stretch and smoothen it. If you have a particularly tough day in work, this will be no problem at all. Vent all you frustration on this, don't worry, the dough will take it. In fact, the harder you beat it, the smoother it will become and the better texture it will be.

So not just a great treats but also a great way to introduce some workout/exercise into your busy life. You might just burned off enough calories to justify munching through a bowlful of these Muah Chee.


250g glutinous rice flour
350ml water
2 tbsp groundnut oil, plus more for greasing

For the peanut coating:
300g peanut, roasted and chopped
50 g toasted sesame seeds
50g granulated sugar


In a large mixing bowl, combine the glutinous rice flour, water and groundnut oil and mix well. Set aside to rest for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare a steamer and bring the water to a boil. 

Lightly grease a cake tin, pour the mixture into the tin and steam over medium heat for 30 minutes, until cooked through. The mixture should turn from translucent to completely opaque when cooked.

Remove from the steamer and tip the dough into a large mixing bowl. Now it's time to exercise your arm muscles and give the dough a good beating with a wooden spoon. Think of all your frustrations from the day in the office. Believes me, it helps. Beat the dough for about 5 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Brush the surface of the dough with oil, this stop the dough from hardening. Leave to cool.

In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients for the coating thoroughly together. 

To serve, grease your hand with some oil and pinch the dough. Stretch it while snipping them into small bite-size chunks with a pair scissors with greased blades. If you can't bear to touch the gooey dough, use a pair of greased tong instead to pinch the dough while you snip away.  Drop each pieces into the peanut coating and turn to coat thoroughly before serving.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Gula Melaka Huat Kueh (Nyonya Steamed Prosperity Sponge Cake) 蒸发糕

It took twelve years of waiting and finally, I'm happy to announce, it's my turn this year. That's right! It's the year of the horse on the lunar calendar - Gong Hei Fatt Choy everyone. For those who celebrate the Chinese New Year - 龙马精神! 万事如意!

As part of the tradition during the new year, you are expected to shout out auspicious sayings and well wishes to your families and friends, and anyone that crosses your path. Obviously I don't meant just yell out randomly on the street, that would just makes you look a bit doolally.

Chinese are firm believers in luck and good fortune hence during the fifteen days of New Year, any dishes that have auspicious sounding names and ingredients will be served up in great abundance. One such magic dish is this steamed sponge cake.

Known as Huat Kueh (in Hokkien - a dialect spoken by most in Singapore) or Fa Gao (in Mandarin), the signature 'blossom' top of this cake symbolises prosperity.

These cakes are usually steamed in individual porcelain bowls. This helps to spread the heat evenly and encourage the batter to rise, yielding a light and spongey texture. However, if you do not have enough bowls, feel free to use a mini muffin tin. Make sure they fit into the steamer and line them with either greased parchment paper or muffin case. Once steamed these will looks just as attractive.

The difference between the Chinese's version and the Nyonya is that we uses Gula Melaka (palm sugar) and coconut milk which enriches the cakes, giving them a more fragrant twist. These are usually eaten warm just as they are. However, I like to serve it with palm sugar syrup,  drizzled generously over the sponge cake, smothering it with caramel, toffee-like sweetness…mmm…delicious.

Ingredients (makes 4)

175g rice flour
175ml tepid water
1 tsp dried yeast
2 tbsp sunflower oil
100g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
oil, for greasing
caster sugar, for shaping the cake

For the syrup:
150ml coconut milk
150g Gula Melaka/palm sugar 
25g soft brown sugar
2 pandan leaves, cut into small pieces

For the serving syrup:
200ml water
200g Gula Melaka/palm sugar 


Start by making the syrup. In a small pan, combine the coconut milk, palm sugar, brown sugar and pandan leaves and simmer over medium heat until the sugar has fully dissolved. Strain into a bowl and leave to cool completely.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the rice flour, water and yeast and whisk until smooth. Cover with a clean tea cloth and leave to stand for 1 hour to allow the test to work it's magic. After these time, the batter should be frothy.

Add the cooled syrup and oil into the batter. Mix well and then sift in the plain flour and baking power and whisk until smooth. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to stand for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the steamer and bring the water to a vigorous boil.

Lightly grease the rice bowls with sunflower oil. Place the bowls in the steamer and steamed for 5 minutes.

Give the batter a final stir and ladle into each bowl until just below the brim. 

Dip a spatula into some oil, follow by some caster sugar and draw a 'X' shape across the top of each bowl. This helps to encourage the top to 'blossom' or Huat when cooked. Cover and steam for 18-20 minutes, until the cake is well risen. Test by inserting a skewer into the cake, it should come up cleaned. 

While the cakes are steaming, make the accompanying serving syrup. Combine the water and the palm sugar in a pan and warm over medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved completely. Remove and leave to cool.

Serve the cakes warm, with the syrup on the side for the guest to drizzle over as desired. 


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