One of the things I told myself I must do when I flew back to Singapore this summer, is learning my mum's secrets to great, actually the best imo, home-cooked food. Just watching her in the kitchen, I've picked up so much. But I'm starting from the basics, and these are the 3 basic toppings/ flavour boosters that my mum keeps on standby beside the stove: Fried shallots, fried ginger, and fried garlic, and of course, the resulting byproduct-- fragrant flavour-infused oils.
Fried Shallots and Shallot Oil
shallots (do more at once, you can use them on everything)
groundnut/palm/coconut oil/ghee (evoo is not the best option here because you're frying here)
pinch of sea salt
1. Peel shallots and slice thinly, and break apart into little rings by tossing with your fingers gently. Dab dry first, then toss with the salt, which helps them crisp up better (do this at the last moment before you fry them or they might sweat).
2. Heat 2 inches of oil (I didn't give an amount because you'll use less if you're using a wok because of the round bottom) to medium, you should see really tiny bubbles. If it's too low, it'd be useless; if it's too high, the shallots will burn.
Beautiful glittering (golden, because of wrong camera settings) shallots
3. Add shallots to the heated oil. They should bubble mildly. You can then turn up the heat a little. Let cook about 8-9 min till the edges get a bit brown.
4. Ok now PAY ATTENTION. From this point onwards, you can go from beautiful golden crispy caramelised shallots to a burnt mess really easily. Once more than half of the shallots are golden, remove from heat and let them continue to sizzle in the residual heat of the oil until they are perfectly golden brown.
If you wait until they are already golden brown before removing from the heat, they will end up burning.
I speak humbly from personal experience.
5. Drain the fried shallots, they crisp up as they cool. DO NOT discard that fragrant flavourful oil. You can store the shallots in the oil too, but still drain and let cool or else the shallots will keep cooking in the hot oil.
I know it sounds like a lot of oil, but you are not eating all that oil! It's used sparingly as finishing drizzles like toasted sesame oil for that extra oomph. If you're stingy with the oil, you end up stewing the shallots and you end up with sticky (and in fact, oilier) caramelised shallots (which isn't such a bad thing because they still taste yummy but it's no longer the multi-purpose condiment you're after).
I speak humbly from personal experience, again.
It's the same method for fried garlic and fried ginger.
Fried Garlic and Garlic Oil
garlic, peeled, chopped roughly
Same as above, but garlic burns a lot quicker. Remove from heat once you smell that garlicky aroma. They are done right when they are golden, not brown!
My mum's stir-fried pea shoots with crispy garlic.
The garlic is very good on top of vegetables, with (or without) oyster sauce.
Fried Ginger and Ginger Oil
groundnut/palm/coconut oil/ghee + some sesame oil (this combination of sesame oil and ginger is very popular in chinese confinement dishes. I've never had a baby but all the same, I'm in love with anything that uses these 2 together- the aroma is enough to make me hungry.)
Same as above, but my mum will smash the ginger first so they fall apart into fibrous threads, then go ahead to thinly slice/julienne them. They are done right when they are golden.
The ginger is particularly good for fish as it counters any fishy smells.
One of these three will usually be used to top simply cooked dishes, her final flourish to anything from stir-fries to soups to steamed to braised dishes to just plain rice congee, or she might use that fragrant oil as the finishing drizzle for instant yumminess.
Easiest vegetable side dish, and one of the first few I did when I first started cooking.
Blanched/Steamed Bok Choy drizzled with shallot oil