Thursday, 24 April 2014

Mum's Ngoh Hiang, 5-spice pork rolls

I'm fulfilling the promise I made earlier with the (hilarious) teaser video of Mum making ngoh hiang.

I spent a good 5 months in Singapore, and I made it my mission in these past five months to tail Mum around the kitchen, much to her annoyance. My mum is an amazing cook, the best I know perhaps. She started cooking for her entire family from the age of 10. The decades of experience have taught her much more than any cooking school could possibly teach anybody. Watching her in the kitchen is like watching a well-practised piece of choreography by a seasoned dancer– the rhythmic movement of her heavy cleaver against the chopping board; the smooth turns and stretches to reach inside cupboards; the fiery flourish as ingredients hit her wok.  

One of my mum's signature dishes is ngoh hiang. They take a fair bit of work so are often only reserved for special occasions like Chinese New Year, or when I'm back in Singapore (yes, I'm a lucky spoilt girl). 

Ngoh hiang, translated, means five spice. These five spice pork rolls are the Straits Chinese answer to sausages. (In Malaysia they call them loh bak.) Like most Chinese dishes, there are sub-cultural variations; the Teochew version has taro yam added, while the Hokkien version I grew up with has none, though there are plenty of shallots, water chestnuts and prawns added for sweetness and a refreshing crunch. Every household also has their own special combination of seasonings/ ingredients. My mum adds fish to the mix too, and her trademark (shitload of) white pepper.  The whole mixture is rolled in beancurd skin so none of the moist yumminess escapes, then these rolls are steamed and fried till golden brown and crispy. 

Yeah, pretty much sausage, but better.
makes 12 to 15  6-inch long rolls*
500g minced pork shoulder*
250g Spanish mackerel, minced
250g sea prawns, minced
500g shallots
500g fresh water chestnuts
4 pieces saltine crackers, crushed*
3 tbsp white pepper
1 tbsp five spice powder
5 tbsp light soy sauce
sea salt, to taste
1 large piece of dried bean curd skin

water, for steaming
groundnut oil, for frying

1. Peel and finely chop the shallots and water chestnuts. For the water chestnuts, squeeze them to remove extra juices, or you're going to get a soggy sausage.
2. Combine all the ingredients except for the beancurd skin together, stirring vigorously clockwise (don't ask me why) till well-mixed. Leave aside to marinade.
3. Meanwhile, prepare the beancurd skin wrappers by trimming and cutting into 6 inch long rectangles. The 6 inches is for the very practical reasons of fitting the steaming plate and easy frying in the wok later.
4. Place 2 tbsp of the filling at one end of the prepared beancurd skin wrappers (the end closest to you), leaving a 1/2 inch gap from the edges. Shape the mixture so it forms a sausage. Roll the skin, tucking in the sides as you go, till the meat is fully wrapped. Place seamside down on your steaming plate. See illustration/ video.
5. Once all the rolls are formed, prepare your steamer. Bring water to a boil and then set the plate of rolls onto a rack set over the boiling water. Steam over high heat for 8 min, till cooked. Remove and set aside to cool while you finish steaming the rest.
6. Heat a wok on medium high heat, and when hot, add about an inch or so of oil into the wok. When hot, add the rolls, and fry on medium heat until the skin is golden brown and crisp. Do not overcrowd the pan and repeat as needed. Leave to cool on a wire rack before slicing into chunks and serving.

* Note I halved her recipe. Like all Asian cooks, she always cooks enough to feed the entire extended family and neighbours and possibly a whole army. It's worth making extra though, as you can freeze extra rolls once steamed, for future instant ngoh hiang-gratification.

* You want a fatty cut of pork. The lard here keeps the filling moist and juicy. Don't be afraid, lard is good for you. As always I insist on meat from a happy pig

* This is the binder, much like rusk or breadcrumbs in sausages or meatballs. Saltine crackers (or soda crackers) are a very nostalgic frugal teatime biscuit for the older generation in Singapore. There is also probably something in the baking soda. I don't like using processed food, but this is her original recipe. I'm going to try replacing this with self-raising flour next time, I'll report back.

And here's the full recipe video, with Mum's tips and a bit of Hokkien cursing thrown in. This is my first time rolling ngoh hiang. Chef has only allowed me to peel prawns/ chop water chestnuts/ cut beancurd skin in the past.

People typically serve ngoh hiang dipped in a sweet thick dark soy sauce (kecap manis) or sweet chilli sauce, but with my Mum's version, I've never found the need to dip these crisp juicy chunks in anything. I have on occasion, tossed them with a Vietnamese-style noodle salad with mint, much like a bastardised bun cha, but most often, these are just had as snacks or with rice.