Saturday, 26 January 2013

Me and My Sambal Recipe on Camera

I hate being on camera; I get really awkward, my voice never sounds right, my face never looks right, my body doesn't feel right. But a very good friend of mine requested this for her birthday so I made a video, and now I think I'll share it with everybody anyway because I haven't blogged this week and I owe you all something.

It's a good alternative for those lazy to read recipes, plus I share a couple of tips that I didn't write about. I must say I wholeheartedly understand and agree if you rather not hear me awkwardly rattle on in front of the camera. You can read my sambal recipe here in the original blog post instead.

Ok here it is, cringe.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

How to make Asian egg (alkaline) noodles

First off, sorry for the long space between posts these days. Now that I'm into my final year, the work has been crazy and I only hope you guys don't get bored of waiting and never come back. I'm not very good at multi-tasking and separating work from play, or just one part of my life from another part of my life. But it doesn't mean I give up one for the other, it just means that I tend to throw my two interests together and hope something exciting/delicious happens. If you follow me on facebook or twitter, you should have an idea of what I've been pulling my hair out over these days.


Yes the weird sorts of things that occupy my mind when I should rightly be concerned about deep world issues while expressing mad genius creativity. It started with a bowl of wanton noodles. My fellow diners launched into an hour-long discussion about the subtle differences between noodles, throwing words like saang mein, you mian, mee kia, jian shui, and QQ around, to the confusion of the only English guy sitting there. I felt almost sorry for him.

Asians have so many kinds of noodles it's crazy people think we only eat rice. Some are clearly distinctive, but some look similar yet taste or feel kind of different because of the ingredients used. There's noodles made from rice, wheat, egg, mung bean, sweet potato , buckwheat, oats and probably more; there's the usual long noodle threads in thin, fat, or curly shapes; there's the more obscure noodles in the shape of cat's ears or rat's tails... Add to that the confusion between the names people from different regions call the same noodle, and you get a complete nightmare. I've been trying to sort that nightmare into an infographic (and more, let's see how far I can push myself for this project), but for now, I bring you a teeny tiny piece of my mind.

Besides riling all my chinese foodie friends on twitter with my constant noodle questions and spending too much time staring at noodles on the shelves of Chinatown, I've been doing a bit of experimenting myself. Yes, as if it's not enough having noodles in my sketchbook, my Illustrator window and my dreams, I'm having noodles for dinner a lot these days. (See last few Instagram photos/ posts). 

And I decided to try make my own Chinese egg noodles. Egg noodles, fyi, don't actually have eggs. Well, sometimes they do, but what really turns it that shocking yellow and gives it that characteristic chewy texture and that jian taste is a magic ingredient, kan sui. Most recipes call for this highly alkaline lye water but if you want to do it without hunting down obscure ingredients in the Asian stores, you can mimic the results by using baked baking soda. Yep, by baking this common household ingredient, you turn it from sodium bicarbonate into sodium carbonate which is a stronger alkaline (though not as strong as lye). These noodles are actually not too difficult to make and strangely satisfying, because I know that they contain none of those nasty preservatives and colourings, and because, well, I MADE MY OWN NOODLES COME ON, so they aren't just a result of project-related insanity and are well worth trying for yourself.

Credits to norecipesHarold Mcgee's NY Times article, David Chang's Lucky Peach article
makes 2 massive/ 3 normal portions

225g organic unbleached plain flour*
2 tsp baked soda (see below)
100g lukewarm water

for baked soda
baking soda (I baked a whole small tin since you can do more at a go and store)

*For a harder, more chewy texture, like in mee pok, you can use bread flour. If you're making the hokkien egg noodles aka you mian 'oil' noodles, which are a bit more slippery and soft, don't use bread flour; I get away with using my favourite white spelt flour even. 

1. To make baked soda, spread it out evenly on a lined baking tray and bake at about 120 degrees celsius for one hour. You will lose about 1/3 of its weight in water and carbon dioixide. Keep this in a tightly sealed jar for future egg noodles/ramen making to prevent it from absorbing moisture in the air. Be careful not to touch it, it's not as strongly alkaline as lye, but it's still strong enough to irritate!
2. Dissolve 2 tsp of baked soda in the warm water, and then add this alkaline water to the flour slowly, mixing it in just till it comes together to form a shaggy dough. I don't like to add it all at a go just in case I need less or more, so play by ear, but do note this dough is kind of rough and crumbly. You will see the flour turn yellow almost instantly. Magic. 
3. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, then clingwrap and set aside for 20 minutes. Work those biceps again for another 5 minutes or till you get a nice pliable dough. It's actually quite hard to knead so don't give up.
4. Wrap again and give it a final rest in the fridge for anytime from 1 hour to overnight, I did for 2 hours.

5. Cut the dough into 2 or 3 portions. Roll out each portion using a pasta machine, going from the thickest setting down to as thin a setting as you like. The final thickness and width is up to you. Keep it well floured to avoid sticking.
I've done the hokkien noodle, mee pok, and non-curly ramen noodle (in pasta terms, think spaghetti, fettucine, and spaghettini respectively).
For hokkien noodles, I only did it till the 3rd setting, and then I used the spaghetti cutter to cut into round noodles.
For mee pok, I did it till the thinnest setting, and then I just sliced it into 5mm wide flat noodles.
For ramen noodles, I did it till the 2nd setting, and then used the spaghetti cutter (if you have an angel hair cutter, even better).
6. To cook, simply drop these noodles into boiling water till cooked. The timing will depend on the type of noodle, but note as these are fresh noodles, they take really quick. 
Mee pok and ramen noodles will only need a very quick blanching to keep them al dente, while hokkien noodles should have a slightly softer texture.

It's not as shocking a yellow as your usual lye-added (or, more likely, artificial colouring-added) egg noodles, but it is yellow, and it's got the right texture and taste of these noodles. Slightly chewy and with a slippery feel that makes for exceptional slurping, and that distinct jian taste. If you choose to enrich your dough with an egg yolk or as in some traditional Hong Kong noodle houses, a duck egg, you might get noodles that are more golden and also richer in taste. Or maybe you can cheat by boiling in water with a shake of turmeric, if you really must get that bright yellow.

But even sticking to this one recipe, depending on the way you cut your noodles, you could get a lot of different results (trust me, looking at the mindmap of noodles in my sketchbook, it is A LOT, in caps). I've done those three because these were the most straightforward, but you should go wild.

Now back to ..more noodles. Oh one last bit, thanks Charlene for the pasta machine :) Best birthday toy ever!


Other handmade noodles recipes:

And some ideas for what to do with your noodles:
BAK CHOR MEE (noodles dry-tossed in crack)
Smother in Black Bean Sauce (how to make bbs noodles from scratch)
Fry with Sambal Belachan (aka mee goreng)
Toss with Ginger-garlic-springonion Miracle Sauce (momofuku-improved)
Make fishball noodles soup or mee pok tah (how to make bouncy fishballs!)
Spend 16 hours boiling pork bones for Tonkotsu Ramen
Or simmering chicken bones with malay spices for Soto Ayam for the soul

ps. Londoners, I'm making bak chor mee for this sunday's plusixfive supperclub, COME EAT!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Braised Black Cabbage and Noodles in Black Bean Sauce (From Scratch!)

Ah, I missed having a bursting fridge. The farmer's markets took a break for Christmas, so it has been two weeks since the first farmer's market of the new year. Maybe it's because I've been surrounded by all sorts of beautiful fresh produce and been spoilt for choice for so long, but the few wanders down Tesco's aisles had been stifling. I'm not a snob at all, but I just felt very bored and uninspired to do anything exciting with the third bag of spring greens or shrunken savoy cabbage.

It felt good to wake at 5 and return to the market last Saturday and to see my fridge bursting with food like a happy fat man, post-buffet. People seem to think that winter doesn't really bring much excitement on the produce front (especially if you're stuck with the aforementioned spring greens and shrunken savoy cabbages), but I love all my winter roots and hardy greens. My favourite is the black cabbage, also called the tuscan kale, or dinosaur kale, or if you want to sound posh, cavolo nero. It's a magnificent deep deep greeen, almost black, and has a gorgeous texture that stands up to long slow stews and braises, so it's perfect for all those winter soups. 

I braised it with fermented salted black beans, Chinese-style, kind of because I wanted to go for a sort-of alliteration and the double 'black', hur. But it turned out great and I thought it a wonderful chance to show you how you can make black bean sauce (and noodles) from scratch. It's stupid to buy a jar of the ready-made paste when you can make it yourself without any random preservatives; a jar of salted black beans can last you for ages and is nothing but salt and black beans, fermented the good old way so you can just leave it on your kitchen cupboard for an infinite (or so my mum says) period of time. This black bean sauce is versatile to be tossed with not just noodles, but your favourite vegetable or animal.

makes 1/4 cup
2 tbsp fermented black beans
4 cloves garlic
1/2 cup homemade (asian) stock, or water if desperate
1 tbsp good soy sauce (traditionally fermented)
2 tbsp unrefined dark brown sugar
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp groundnut oil or lard from happy pigs
1 tsp cornstarch + 1 tsp water to form a slurry

1. Rinse the fermented black beans of excess surface salt. Chop the garlic and mash together with the black beans into a rough paste.
2. Heat the oil and saute the black bean-garlic paste till fragrant.
3. Add the stock, soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil, and bring to a boil, let simmer till reduced by half.
4. Add the cornstarch slurry slowly and stir and continue to let it simmer until thickened.
5. You can now pour this over blanched veggies or noodles or toss pre-velveted chicken or flash-fried slices of beef back into the wok for a black bean sauce <insert>.

I'll give you an example.

serves 1-2
1 large bunch of black cabbage, chopped into bite size pieces
1 free-range chicken leg, skin on
1 handful of dried thick rice noodles
ingredients for black bean sauce, above
1 tbsp of groundnut oil

1. Heat oil and when medium hot, add the chicken leg skin down to sear. When golden brown on the outside, but not yet fully cooked on the inside, remove and set aside.
2. Follow instructions for black bean sauce as per above, till Step 3.
3. Add the black cabbage and seared chicken leg to the simmering black bean sauce and stock, cover and let simmer for a good 30 min before lifting the lid to let it reduce.
4. Meanwhile, add the rice noodles to a pot of boiling water with a drop of oil added to cook, for about 5 minutes (or as per package instructions). Drain and scoop into bowls.
6. Thicken the black bean sauce with the cornstarch slurry (see Step 4 above) and pour the sauce along with the cabbage and chicken over the noodles. If you can be bothered to/ am taking photos for your blog eh hem, pick out the chicken and cabbage and place nicely on the side before pouring the sauce over.
7. Dig in with your chopsticks making sure it's all well mixed and the noodles are coated with the sauce. Slurp.

These black bean noodles are sometimes known as jajangmyeon (Korean), which came from the Chinese zha jiang mian, which is however made from fermented broad bean (dou ban jiang, I talked about this before) or soybean paste. Both are typically made with wheat flour noodles, but I used the thick rice spaghetti instead because I always have them in my kitchen cupboard (just above the black beans!) and I like its slippery blandness against the pungent sauce. It's also gluten-free for all those watching your diet for the new year (or first month of the new year). 

So I'm not sure what it is exactly that I have here, but it's good. These little black beads may not look like much, in fact I hear my friends say they resemble rat's poop, but they pack a punch. The black bean sauce is rich and savoury and intense, and the black cabbage, strong, earthy, and meltingly tender, all wonderful tossed through the smooth noodles. Slurp. CAUTION: Messy affair, do not eat with white shirt on.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Those Sambal Deep-fried Eggs

I celebrated yesterday with the handing in of the first cookbook drafts (see post before for a sneak peek of my cluttered desktop) and a party complete with a whole leg of, er, unicorn (my friend does not eat pork, or rather, his mum would not like to know that he does). It felt good today to finally not be hunched over my laptop with tired eyes and a aching back, going through folders and folders of photos and stories, and having multiple Adobe windows running at the same time.

I didn't have anything new that was complete enough to blog about without launching into another few hours spent in front of the screen, so I thought I would bring up an older recipe. I say old, but it's not really up on this blog before; it was a short guest recipe for plusixfive, the very first thing I cooked for the supperclub: sambal eggs. I complain each time people request these eggs, but they really aren't that much of a pain to prepare (if for less than 50 and/or if you do not hate peeling eggs).

Because the elements of this recipe are so simple (basically, egg and sambal), I do request that you start with good eggs. I love eggs; fried, scrambled, poached, steamed, omelette-d or whipped beyond recognition in a batter. But when you have a good egg, even the simplest hard boiled egg tastes amazing. And for all the fancy egg-y things possible in the kitchen, I remember starting with the basic boiled egg. It was one of the first few things I could cook, and really, how difficult can it get? Plonk egg in water, boil. I couldn't understand the rubbery whites and powdery yolks with grey sulphurous rings then. I've since improved my egg-boiling skills, and indeed, there's still nothing better than cutting into a hardboiled egg from a happy hen to reveal orange yolks that are still slightly creamy.

Or at least, nothing better except that same egg, deep-fried to create a crisp golden surface, and then smothered with sambal.
serves 6
6 large free-range eggs
1/2 cup sambal belachan tumis sauce
(See here for the full post with photos, tips, blood, sweat and tears)
groundnut oil or lard, for frying

1. First, to get perfectly cooked eggs:
Put room temperaure eggs in a single layer in a saucepan with enough cold water to cover.
Bring to a boil over high heat, and once boiling, take the pan off the heat and let the eggs sit in the hot water for exactly 6 min.
Immediately remove to a bowl of ice water, and peel when cool enough to handle, then pat dry. The whites will be firm but the yolks will not be fully cooked yet.
2. Heat oil in wok or fryer and deep fry the eggs until golden on the outside. Drain and set aside on kitchen towels.
3. Fry sambal, and when hot, add the eggs to gently warm up and toss them in the hot sambal to coat.

*Using old eggs will make it easier to peel. But don't worry about ugly pockmarked eggs; these only create more crispy edges when you fry them later. Think roast potatoes.
*That crispy jacket isn't just for show. Besides adding a wonderful 'fried' fragrance, it makes sure that yummy chilli sauce doesn't just slide off the smooth surface of the boiled egg.

To be honest, nothing can taste bad when smothered with this sambal, but it is especially good clinging to the crispy golden jackets of eggs with equally-golden creamy yolks. I know this probably doesn't seem like the best way to start off your weight-loss plan for the new year, but do some burpees, have an extra bowl of veggies on the side and you'll be fine. Stressing out about unhealthy food is more unhealthy than just eating it. Happy new year you all!