Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Half-Boiled Eggs

These are also called soft-boiled eggs in some Singapore coffeeshops and is a must-have accompaniment to kaya toast, but I don't think that's an accurate translation, because they're completely different. Instead of a solid white and a runny yolk, you have runny whites and a fake-solid yolk (it looks like a cooked yolk but gives way to delicious gooey mess once poked). I believe the Japanese have a similar thing called onsen tamago, "hot spring eggs", cooked in a very similar but more rigorous way using hot spring water.

This is much easier to make, but as with soft-boiled eggs, timing is important.

Half-Boiled Eggs
Room temperature large free range eggs
Boiling hot water

To serve
dark soy sauce, traditionally brewed and fermented
white pepper

1. Arrange eggs in one layer in a heatproof bowl or pot.
2. Pour boiling water over to cover the eggs, then cover the bowl or pot with a tight lid.
3. After 6 min (5 min for medium eggs), drain and rinse with cold water.

And now, the fun part:
4. Crack egg open and slip the egg out.

As you can see, I clumsily broke one yolk while cracking it.

5. Add a dash of soy sauce and pepper, to taste.

I know it looks like an artistic experiment, but it's delicious. The white is so so soft and slippery, and the yolk, a perfectly-formed orange bubble that bursts into a warm sticky egg-river that runs into the soy sauce river. Dip your kaya toast in it if you like, and/or just slurp the rest down, with a nice cup of coffee or tea, Singapore-style.

I'm flying tonight, back to London ): I'm going to miss all the people and food here.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Kaya (Pandan Coconut Curd Jam) Toast

Kaya toast with an English twist, kind of (see end of post)

The term "kaya toast" usually refers to more than just the pair of thinly sliced white bread toasted on a charcoal grill, spread with sweet kaya and a slab of salted butter; it also includes a couple of half-boiled eggs (more on that next time), and a cup of freshly made coffee. Instead of latte or mocha or cappucino or frappuncino or I-really-don't-drink-Starbucks-much, you can have:
kopi (coffee with condensed milk),
kopi c (with evaporated milk),
kopi 0 (black without milk with sugar),
kopi o kosong (black without milk or sugar),
kopi siu dai (with less sugar)
kopi po (thin), kopi gao (thick),
kopi kosong (plain).
Or you can have tea, and actually I'm more of a tea person, but that brings up another even more confusing list.

Kaya toast is considered our national breakfast, and kaya, probably our national spread of choice. Making kaya is like making curd or custard, but the Singaporean way. You only need eggs, sugar, coconut milk and pandan (screw pine leaves), oh and LOTS of patience. I just shared my lime curd, which was done directly over the stove on low heat, but this time round, I took care to do it with a double boiler, because you need to stir-cook the curd jam for close to 2 hours. Yes.

One of the 4 key ingredients- pandan leaves, freshly pinched from my backyard

The ratios of the 4 ingredients vary but I'm using the ratios used by the boss of the Good Morning Nanyang Cafe, voted Singapore's best kaya, though I've taken some extra steps to make it greener and smoother.

Kaya (Pandan Coconut Curd Jam)
makes about 2-3 jars' worth i.e. lots of servings, so really it's not that much sugar and eggs and coconut milk ;)
12 medium (or about 10 large) free-range eggs
1 cup (250ml) thick coconut milk, fresh if possible
1 cup (250g) unrefined cane sugar
1 bunch of pandan leaves (less than half that photo)

1. Beat the eggs and sugar till egg yolks are broken up and the sugar is dissolved. Add coconut milk to the mixture and mix well.
2. Sieve into a large metal/porcelain bowl. (He skips this for a more rustic, lumpier texture)

Sieving for smooth kaya

3. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water (i.e. your double boiler. Choose a pot size that allows the bowl to balance and sit snugly on top.)
4. Tie the pandan leaves into knots and add into the mixture. Reserve one leaf and pound/blend it to get the green pandan paste.
5. Stir the mixture for 1.5 to 2 hours constantly (but taking 2 min breaks between stirs is fine, although do be more vigilant when you see it thickening up). It'll be a mucky colour. Add the pandan paste towards the end to up the colour and pandan intensity.
6. (opt) Puree with a hand blender for an even smoother texture if you like.
Let cool, store in clean jars in the fridge for about a week or so, as there aren't preservatives.


I know it's kind of a dubious green, but it's just delicious- thick and rich with all that egg and coconut milk, and with the unmistakeable fragrance of pandan. You can also try the slow-cooker method which takes longer but with no effort on your part, but I think the sweat/love contributes to the x factor of homemade kaya.

There are two versions, the Hainanese one is a toffee brown because the sugar is caramelised first, whereas the Peranakan Nonya version I'm sharing is greenish because of the pandan paste added and has a stronger pandan smell, which is perfect with the sweet full flavour of the coconut curd, and just irresistible against salted butter on fresh warm toast.

Oh and yes, those are english muffins (homemade, sourdough, recipe soon) instead of your usual commercial white bread slices. I was going to make eggs bennies with the muffins and eggs, but suddenly craved something a little more local before I went back to London (next week ahhh).

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Shortcrust Pie Pastry, as easy as 1- 2- 3 (even when it's gluten-free!)

It rhymes!

Oh gosh I want an iPhone. Not for angry birds or even for Google maps (which I actually do need given how often I get lost), but for all those gimmicky chef-y apps. My bank account/frugality/stinginess forbids me from getting one though.

If you've got one though, do get the Ruhlman Ratio app- "Forget about teaspoons, ounces, cups and (shudder) fractions; it's all about the 'parts'. This is a refreshing, illuminating and perhaps even revolutionary look at the relations that make food work. " I think it's ingenious! And I'm not saying this in hope that he comes across my blog and decides to give me the app (and come to think of it, the iPhone) for free, though that would be nice.

Pie is supposed to be as easy as pie, but everyone's kind of scared of it, and so was I, but it's really not that scary. According to Ruhlman, it's as easy as 1-2-3 -- 1 part liquid, 2 parts fat, 3 parts flour, plus keep everything cold. And with that you're pretty safe. You can then start thinking about all the additional things to do to make it different or better:

Liquid- cold water's fine, but I sub some of it for apple cider vinegar for a flakier crust, some people suggest vodka too which sounds like a great idea!
Fat- Lard will give a flakier crust, but butter gives more flavour. You can do half half. I like mine all butter and I find it flaky enough. You can use unrefined coconut oil (it's also a semi-solid) for a vegetarian version. Don't use shortening, hydrogenated vegetable oils are horrible.
Flour- White pastry/AP flour (organic, unbleached if possible) is the standard. But the brilliant wonderful people behind the Gluten Free Canteen confirms you can make this totally gluten free too, as long as you keep to the ratios BY WEIGHT. I'm not celiac, but I notice a worrying pattern with pimples when I eat too much wheat (unless it's in sourdough but I don't think sourdough will work here, as much as I love it). I've made normal pie crust a lot of times and so I decided I'll just do the same thing with their suggested gluten-free flour blend, since the ingredients called for are quite simple, no unpronounceable things like xanathan gum. In fact, when making shortcrust pastry, you want to reduce gluten formation, so gluten-free is quite fine.)

Homemade Shortcrust Pastry
for a 9" pie with top and bottom crust, or a quiche with lots of leftover dough for convenient future baking
300g flour (white pastry or spelt or gluten-free flour, really, they will all work fine!)
200g grassfed butter
70g water
30g apple cider vinegar
pinch of sea salt

1. Extra steps, to be done in order before you start, for the obsessive compulsive:
- Stuff the mixing bowl, a fork, and the bag of flour into the freezer.
- Chop up butter into little cubes and put into the freezer. If you freeze it before cutting, you're going to have a hard time.
- Put a cup of water into the freezer (it won't turn to ice that quickly don't worry)

2. Measure out flour and sift into the mixing bowl.

3. Add the chilled butter cubes and "cut" them into the flour with the help of the fork and rub/toss with your fingers quickly, until you get a mixture resembling coarse crumbs. Or you can use a food processor, even Martha Stewart does.

4. Make a well in the centre, and mix in the vinegar and ice-cold water slowly. Combine till it just comes together into a ball of dough, be flexible with the ratios, I sometimes find I need more or less to form a dough. Don't overwork, don't knead, see it's easy.

5. Split into half, wrap with clingfilm, and refrigerate for at least 2h or for a quick fix, freeze for 30 min. You can also just conveniently leave your dough to freeze till whichever day it is you feel like baking.

From here on you proceed with whatever pie recipe. This is what usually happens as a guide:

6. Flatten ball of dough into a disc between 2 sheets of clingfilm, flouring if necessary (with tapioca starch if GF), before rolling out from the centre (roll, turn, roll, turn... don't go over the edge or you get flimsy edges) until it's bigger than your pie pan.

7. Place dough into pie pan. You can partially roll up the dough with the rolling pin to pick it up, if it breaks or if your dough doesn't want to be picked up, just press it into the pie pan, whatever, it will still taste good!

Make-Do Kitchen 1: The clingwrap roll-ing pin..

8. Trim the edges (keep the extra for patchwork). If it's a quiche pan, use a chopstick to fit dough into the ridges. If it's a pie pan, crimp the edges by pinching. Refrigerate for at least 30 min.

Make-Do Kitchen 2: The chopstick

9. If it's a quiche or tart, poke holes, pre-bake the pastry at 180 degrees celsius for 20 minutes, with parchment paper placed over, and dried beans or rice poured over to weight it down. If it's a filled pie, you don't have to because the crust definitely cooks, but do remember to cut slits on top if it's a fully closed pie or your pie will explode.

Make-do Kitchen 3: The kitchen towel pastry brush
Brush surface with an egg beaten with some water or milk for a glossy bakery-like finish.

For quiches/tarts
(Make-do kitchen 4: Dried green beans as baking beans)

For filled pies
(you can also do a lattice or have fun forming the top crust with cutout shapes, as long as there's 'ventilation')

And a close-up of the result:

Delicious, buttery, light, flaky pie crust!

And yes a recipe for a pie of sorts is coming up soon!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Grilled Sambal Stingray on Banana Leaf

I love going to markets, and in London, I'm often the happiest and most relaxed trawling markets or managing the farmers' market on weekends. In Singapore, the markets aren't exactly the peaceful antidote to a stressful week though, in fact, it's often a tense buzz of activity, with aunties set on getting the best bargain, and the place is wet (hence called 'wet' market), chaotic and according to my sister, fishy-smelling. I still like it though. I think my love for fresh produce (especially the aforementioned 'smelly' fish) makes up for all the grunge.

Among the prized snappers and other-fishes-I-cannot-name, I spied a ray wing. Stingray is cheap as chips because no one seems to want it*, in fact it's usually the unwanted fish that a fisherman curses his luck for catching, but its price increases exponentially once it's made into the Singapore hawker favourite--barbecued sambal stingray on banana leaves. The obvious budget solution will be to do it at home. I found a brilliant makansutra demonstration on doing this easily at home, sans charcoal grill. How can I resist? I even have the banana tree in my garden, ready for me to strip its leaves off.

Grilled Sambal Stingray on Banana Leaf
check kitchen tigress' oven-baked method for a neater alternative
serves 2-4
1 medium ray wing (to get rid of any ammonia odour, if any, soak in acidulated water a few hours before cooking)
4 tbsp of sambal tumis chilli
3 A4-paper size banana leaves (soak in hot water, then dry off)
sea salt
2 tbsp of groundnut oil/unrefined palm oil/coconut oil

For the dressing
(adjust amounts according to your own preference!)
1-2 red chillies, chopped finely
1-2 shallots, chopped finely (reserve some, sliced, for garnish)
2 tbsp lime juice (preferably calamansi lime)
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp unrefined cane sugar

1. Rub ray wing generously with sea salt, set aside, rinse, pat dry. Smear skin side of wing with 1 tbsp of sambal tumis.
2. Heat 1 tbsp of oil over medium-high heat. Place banana leaf on pan, let sizzle, and then place the ray wing on it, skin-side down. Let it fry for a min or so, then cover for about 5-7 min.

A peek under the ray wing- delightful sight of scorched sambal on charred banana leaves

3. Take out the stingray with the charred banana leaf, smear the other side with 1 tbsp sambal. Flip the ray wing onto a new banana leaf, now skin-side is up, i.e. sambal-smeared side is always down.
4. Add 1 tbsp of oil to the hot pan again, and slide the banana leaf with the stingray on it. Cover to cook for another 4-5 min or so, till just barely cooked (it'll continue cooking off the heat).
5. Meanwhile, make the dressing by combining the ingredients. Taste and adjust to your own preference!
6. Remove, serve on a new banana leaf (or the charred one for more visual effect, mine was too burnt and crackly), with an extra 2 tbsp of sambal spooned over, sliced shallots, and a squeeze of lime juice, plus the dressing.

Of course, you miss that smoky aroma from the traditional charcoal grill, but you still get a more than pretty good result from the charred banana leaves- fragrant spicy grilled fish topped with the most important sambal tumis chilli of course, and a sweet and sour dressing.

Stingray has really fine, delicate flesh that comes away from the bone with no fuss at all, and in fact I like to eat the calcium-rich soft bones (or rather, cartilage) too, the same way I dig beef tendons. It's especially delicious when it's hot straight from the grill (ok pan), the succulent flesh dripping with belachan chilli, followed by the sharp zesty punch from the lime juice and shallots.

*No one seems to want it, but stingrays and skates are actually on the Greenpeace list of non-sustainable fishes. I was really shocked to read that, especially since the cheap unpopular low-mercury fishes are usually the more sustainable options.
From the River Cottage Fish Book: "The 4 true skate that are present in the UK waters- the common, long-nose, black and white- are all assessed as critically endangered. So no one should be going anywhere near them with fishing net, let alone a knife and fork. As for the ten or so species of rays that are caught around our shores and are actually the 'skate' we eat, most are deemed to be at least near-threatened species." The problem is that skate and rays are slow-growing and don't produce many off-spring. They're also often caught by bottom trawling which impacts the seabed. I'm hoping this stingray that I've got, being local, is at least caught by the traditional spear-fishing technique..
Anyhow, this recipe can be duplicated using other fishes, and often small sardine-like fishes are also grilled whole in a similar way, on banana leaves with sambal chilli, so please don't disregard this super fish dish!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Nasi Goreng "Special" (Malay Sambal Fried Rice)

Nasi goreng's just fried rice in Malay. Unlike the Chinese egg fried rice that more people are familiar with, the egg is fried on the side. It's an optional thing, fried egg just makes this nasi goreng "special". In other words, this fried rice is bare. No chicken or prawns or diced carrots and peas, though of course, you can definitely pimp it up for a super special version.

But you really don't need to. Fried rice was always a quick, easy, tasty and cheap way to use up leftover rice. The homemade sambal tumis (belachan chilli paste), kecap manis (thick sweet soy sauce), tomato paste, and of course, the 'breath of the wok' make nasi goreng very fragrant and more-ish, and is my favourite type of fried rice among the many many types in Singapore.

Fried rice was one of the first things I cooked that was more than borderline edible, so I would say it isn't difficult to get right:
1. Use leftover cold rice (cook rice, fluff up then keep overnight in the fridge). Fresh rice is warm and moist and clumps together.
2. Don't overcrowd the wok/pan, you'll end up with a cooked, half-cooked, and over-cooked mix.
3. A hot hot wok.

Nasi Goreng "Special" (Malay Sambal Fried Rice)
serves 2-3
2 cups of cold cooked long grain rice (jasmine and basmati are good choices for fluffy, separate rice.)
2-3 shallots, chopped finely
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
2 tbsp of kecap manis (or 2 tbsp of soy sauce + 2 tbsp molasses)
2-3 tbsp sambal tumis
2 tsp tomato puree or ketchup
2 tbsp groundnut oil/unrefined palm oil/coconut oil

To serve
2 eggs, fried till edges are crispy (for "special")
1/2 cucumber, sliced
small handful crispy fried shallots
2 spring onion, chopped

1. Heat wok over high heat, add the oil, swirl to coat bottom of wok. Once oil is hot, add the shallots and garlic and stirfry quickly for a few seconds till fragrant.
2. Add the sambal tumis and fry for a while too till fragrant.
3. Add the rice and mix well, breaking up clumps with your spatula.
4. Add the rest of the seasonings, stir-fry for about 3 min more till the mixture is well-combined. Stir in half of the spring onions, remove from heat.
5. Serve with fried egg and cucumber on the side, top with crispy fried shallots and remaining spring onions (and more sambal chilli if you're Singaporean!)

Sambal chilli makes everything taste good, so nasi goreng is no different, especially with all its accompaniments (fried shallots are not optional). The main star though, is still the rice- each separate grain of rice is coated with the spicy chilli, salty belachan, plus sweet soy sauce and savoury tomato. And if it's still not special enough, there's that fried egg on the top. No one resists a runny golden yolk.