Thursday, 31 March 2011

Garlic fried prawns 干煎蝦碌

Gon Jin Ha Look 干煎蝦碌

This is my mum's Cantonese dried fried prawns with garlic we called gon jin ha look. Simple and so tasty. We always used very large king prawns (about 5 - 6 " long) and always with the shell and head on. Shells and heads are so good licking and sucking the sweet juice from the head. The garlic cloves are fried till light brown and very sweet.

Large raw king prawns can be expensive in the west. I normally get mine frozen from the Chinese supermarket about £10 - 12 /kg.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Ayam Pongteh

Ayam pongteh is nyonya braised chicken with shitake mushroom and potato. This is a popular nyonya dish eaten at most festivals or celebrations. This dish is normally not spicy (unless chilli is added) but quite rich in flavour enriched by lots of shallots, garlic and fermented yellow beans. The recipe is pretty much influenced by Chinese. To add a very Nyonya touch to this dish, sambal belacan can be eaten as an condiment with Ayam Pongteh.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Sambal belacan

Sambal belacan is pungent and delicious. This paste is used a condiment or sauce for many Malay or Nyonya dishes including curries, vegetable stir fries or salad (kerabu).

I have already posted two recipes for sambal belacan previously on this post (raw) and this post (cooked).

Because I love this condiment so much I am going to repost the raw version with a slight change of recipe.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Perkedel - Indonesian potato cakes

Fried potato cakes make great snack anytime. Perkedel I think is an Indo-Dutch fusion. There are various spellings all mean the same potato cake if you ever come across them.
perkedel = berkedel = bergedel = bergedil

This is home cooking make perkedel with any mixtures you like. Other than the potato there are no strict rules what else can be added. Tinned corned beef or minced beef is common, but you can also use chicken, tinned tuna, tinned sardine or even pork mince for non halal version. For a vegetarian version, just leave out the meat use more spring onion or sub meat with corn kernels, when adding more vegetables make sure they are rather dry or cakes can be very soft.

For the potato, some people like to deep fried first then mashed I find this too greasy. I like mine steamed a lot healthier. Do not use peeled and boiled potato, this may absorb too much liquid can lead to very soft cake. Waxy potato binds the mixture better. You can also use leftover roast or baked potato.

The cakes are dipped in beaten egg before frying, there are several advantages by doing this:
  • The egg will form a coating preventing the potato cake falling apart during frying.
  • This egg coating is non stick making frying a lot easier
  • This coating is not supercrunchy but rather nice and nutty flavoured.

This is my version of perkedel if you like to give it a try. It is nice hot or cold. Measurements are all agak agak (Malay saying for approximate). No need to be precised as long as the cake mixture is rather dry or firm. 

This qty will make about 18 - 24 cakes.

about 800g - 1kg of potatoes
about 250g minced (ground) beef
1 medium large onion
1 medium carrot (optional), if you like just beef can leave this out
1 - 1.5 tbsp curry powder (any brand or mix you got in your cupboard), if not just use 2 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp chilli powder and pinch of ground nutmeg
0.5 tsp ground pepper
1.5 - 2 tsp salt
some cooking oil for frying the meat mixture
some chopped spring onion and/coriander (I used only spring onion about 3 - 4 stalks)
few tbsp crispy fried shallot or onion (optional if you have some), I did not add this
some plain flour (optional), I did not add this
3 eggs, beaten

about 2 cups of oil for deep frying 

Cakes before frying

  1. Finely chopped the onion and carrot.
  2. Add some oil to a pan/wok, fry the onion till softened then add curry powder, ground pepper and salt, stir till fragrant. Add beef stir till beef is browned then add carrot. Stir fry for a while till mixture is quite dry. Remove and set aside to cool.
  3. Steam the potato with the skin on. When cooked leave to cool then peel. Mash or crush the potato. I like my potato still quite chunky. 
  4. Before chopping the spring onion or coriander, make sure to give it a good squeeze to remove any moisture. Moisture can lead to soft cake. 
  5. Now ready to make the cake mixture. Mix together potato, meat mixture, spring onion/coriander, half the beaten egg and crispy shallot or onion (if using)
  6. If the mixture is soft add 2 - 3 tbsp plain flour. I did not add flour. 
  7. Take a lump of mixture give it a light squeeze and form into a cake. Continue doing this till finished. 
  8. If you have time leave the cakes to chill in the fridge, this will help to firm them up a bit. If not can fry right away. 
  9. Heat oil till medium hot. 
  10. Coat one cake at a time with the remaining beaten egg then drop into hot oil right away. Fry till golden brown. Do not crowd the pan/wok, fry the cakes in batches. 
  11. For a more crunchy skin, place the cakes on a rack and heat in oven (medium heat) while you are busy frying the rest of the cakes. 
These cakes can be served hot, warm or cold. The cake texture is soft inside but not mushy. if you like a firmer texture add some plain flour. 

You can experiment by adding any vegetables or meat/fish you like. Just make sure the mixture is firm before shaping into cakes. If not add some flour. 

If you are fat conscious, you can shallow fried with less oil or pan fried with just few tbsp of oil. Alternatively can bake at a fairly high oven, just brush the top of cakes with egg.

I had this cakes with an instant sweet and sour chilli dipping sauce by mixing a good squeeze of hot chilli sauce, some lime juice, some sugar and some fish sauce. For an authentic Indonesian touch you can make Kuah Cuko which is also a spicy sweet and sour sauce, with fresh minced/ground chillies and garlic, salt, vinegar, sugar and a little boiling water. Another sauce which is good is sambal oelek. 

Friday, 25 March 2011

Kung Po Chicken 宮保雞丁

Finally got the laptop back after a week. Phew!

Kung po or kung pow chicken (gong bao ji ding 宮保雞丁) is probably the most famous Sichuan chicken dish outside China. It is listed in nearly all Chinese restaurants or takeaways menu worldwide. There are many versions or westernised kung po chicken, many include diced vegetables and most used cashew nuts. The real Sichuanese style has few ingredients include chicken and peanuts with Sichuan peppercorns and plenty of dried chillies to flavour the chicken.

History of Kung Po chicken
This dish was said from a Xing dynasty official with the title 'Gong Bao (宮保)', the recipe was created by Gong Bao's chef.

Here is my version of the recipe as close to the Sichuanese style as I know.


450 – 500 g of chicken breast or thigh (boneless)

1 small egg white (or about 1.5 tbsp) beaten,
1 tbsp light soy
small pinch of salt
1 rounded tbsp cornflour
1 - 2 tbsp Chinese cooking wine (like Shaoshing)

1 cup of cooking oil for velveting the meat

8 - 20 large dried chillies (about 10 - 30g), as many as you dare. I used about 25g
1 tbsp sichuan peppercorns
1 - 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
few thin slices of ginger (about 1 tbsp)
some cooking oil (can use meat frying oil)
pinch of salt or dash of light soy (optional)
some chilli oil (optional)

1/2 to 3/4 cup dry roasted (unflavoured) or deep fried peanuts

1 - 1.5 tbsp light soy sauce
few drops of dark soy (for colour)
2 tsp sugar
1 - 1.5 tbsp black rice vinegar (Chinkiang)
dash of sesame oil
1 tsp cornflour (cornstarch)

Oil velveting the chicken pieces. Then drain on paper towel to remove excess oil. 
After frying the chillies till very dark brown  add garlic, ginger and chicken pieces. 
Add sauce finally follow by peanuts

  1. Cut chicken into small pieces and mix with the marinade. Leave aside for 15 - 30 minutes. 
  2. Most recipes will use the peppercorns dried. I like to soak them with 2 tbsp of boiling water for 5 - 10 minutes. This helps to prevent the spice from burning when frying with oil. Soaking I find really brings out the flavour of the peppercorns and soften them. I don't mind leaving them in the dish. Normally if  the peppercorns are not soaked they are like biting lead pellets, quite unpleasant. Do not throw away the soaking liquid, this has plenty of flavour. 
  3. Rinse whole dried chillies, shake off excess water. Cut chillies with scissors into small pieces and remove the seeds if there are many. Rinsing the chillies will bring out more flavour and prevent burning when frying with oil. Dampening the chillies is something I have T&T and I find this very useful. 
  4. Mix the sauce ingredients and peppercorns soaking liquid together. 
  5. Heat oil in wok till medium hot. Drop in all the chicken pieces, stir and cook the chicken for about 1 minute or till chicken turned white. Do not let the chicken turned brown. This process is called oil velveting, most popular method used by Chinese restaurant to keep the meat really moist. Get ready a large bowl and large sieve. Put sieve on bowl. Pour oil and chicken through the sieve, collect oil in bowl. Put sieve and chicken on several layers of paper towel to absorb excess oil (see picture). 
  6. Put about 3 - 4 tbsp of the meat frying oil into wok, add Sichuan peppercorns and chilli pieces. Fry at medium to medium low heat till fragrant and chillies turning very dark brown in colour. The fried chillies will give a nice smoky flavour to the chicken. If you don't like biting into Sichuan peppercorns fry them first till oil is fragrant. Remove peppercorns then fry chillies. 
  7. Stir in the chopped garlic and ginger, give this a quick stir. 
  8. Add chicken pieces. Stir for couple of minutes till heated through. 
  9. Add sauce mixture. Stir till sauce is absorbed. 
  10. Stir in handful of peanuts. 
  11. Have a quick taste to see if you need more salt or soy sauce. 
  12. If you like to pump up the volume for spiciness add a dash of chilli oil. 

I love this recipe. This is an updated version from the one I posted on BBC food message board years ago.  I used quite a lot of dried chillies but I don't find it overly spicy. Frying the spices in oil brings out the flavour of the spices. The chicken pieces are very tender and flavourful. I left all the Sichuan peppercorns with the chicken. They are quite nice biting into, not hard at all with an explosion of lovely flavour and pleasantly numbing sensation. The dried chillies are edible too. 

Give this a go. I will challenge you not to like it.

dried chillies used
or use this type of Sichuan dried chillies

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Blog now open to view

Apology to all readers. I have problem with the computer and my hmtl. My computer is still on repair. I have to use the library service.

I have managed to open the blog to view again. Thank you for your support.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Making Tempeh

Growing my own tempeh has been on my list of things to try. I have recently received a free sample of tempeh starter from Tempeh Info. So way I go to give it a try. I was a bit nervous to keep a constant temperature of around 30deg C to incubate the beans. I don't want to spend ££ to buy/build an incubator, so I racked my brain and find what I already have at home. I started gathering a few items like an electric plant propagator sitting in the cupboard, an old glass thermometer and a portable light.

If you have a way to keep the beans in a warm area around 30 deg C then an incubator is not required.

To build an incubator (my method)
  • a clean electric plant propagator available from most garden or DIY stores. This is the main heat source. (do not use propagator if murky unless it is scrubbed till very clean)
  • a rack put inside the propagator tray to enable air circulation on bottom side of the bags during fermentation.
  • clean tea towel lining the tray to help absorb any moisture building up in the incubator
  • a thermometer to check temperature, able to read 20 - 40 deg C easily. I used a traditional glass thermometer, you can use any cheap thermometer like a room thermometer or a probe.
  • portable light with a 40 watt bulb for extra heat when needed.
  • some string to tie the light fitting on the inside of the propagator lid. Make sure the light bulb is not in contact with the lid to prevent heat damaging the plastic.
  • a small piece of sticky tap to seal the vent on the lid, remove when temperature gets higher than required.
  • a clean blanket to conserve heat

Other tools or items required
  • large bowl for soaking, cleaning and dehulling beans
  • large sieve for collecting bean skins
  • colander to drain beans
  • large pot to boil beans
  • cooking spoon
  • 2 plastic ziploc bags to fill the beans and shape the tempeh
  • metal/bamboo skewer with pointed tip to prick holes on the bag

Ingredients for tempeh
  • 600g dried soy beans
  • 4 - 5 tbsp vinegar for boiling beans
  • 1 tsp tempeh starter
  • plenty of water for soaking, cleaning and boiling beans

Now that I have an incubator, the next thing to do is soak and prepare the soy beans.

Instructions how to make tempeh follow this link.

Here is my step by step slideshow

My incubator heat control

I used two heat sources, one from the electric propagator and the other is a light bulb tied to the inside of the lid. 
To conserve heat I also covered the incubator (propagator) with a blanket. 
A thermometer put on top of the beans to check temperature. 
With all this preparations my incubator has maintained a regular temperature around 30 - 32 deg C for the first 12 hours. 
After that I noticed the temperature has risen to about 34 - 35 deg C. I then turned off the light leaving the propagator on only. This has perfectly maintained the right temperature for the remaining incubation time. 

During incubation time, check temperature every few hours or as often as you can. During the first 8 -10 hours the beans need to absorb heat, after that they will give out heat once fermentation is well on its way.
If temperature has risen more than 33+ deg C, do any or all of these with my method of incubation
  • turn off the light heat source
  • remove the blanket
  • remove sticky tape to let warm air vented out
  • open the lid for few minutes to cool then put it back on and continue.

Seeing the beans growing into tempeh - incubation time
  • During the first 8 -10 hrs there was nothing much happening. 
  • The beans absorbed the heat from whatever heat source given.
  • Gradually as the beans getting warmer condensation seen on the inside on the bags.
  • By about 12 - 13hours, temperature rose quite high due to beans giving out their own heat during fermentation.
  • By about 18 hours, I saw thin film of white mould on the beans
  • By about 24 hours, the white mold has grown much thicker and beans have stuck together forming a firm piece.
  • By 30 hours, both bags have become solid matured tempeh ready for harvest. 

I was very pleased my first batch of tempeh has turned out to be very successful and harvesting time was much shorter than instruction given by the starter's manufacturer. I will definitely make more tempeh from now on.

The tempeh looked just like a piece of creamy white nougat, no black spots. It has no odd smell quite nice kind of mildly nutty and mushroomy. The white mould feels just like that on a piece of brie.

Yield 2 blocks total weight just under 1kg

One thing I will improve in future is the shape of the tempeh. I will try to make the tempeh thicker into a loaf or log shape block. Maybe I will try wrapping the beans with banana leaf like the traditional method.

Making tempeh is not difficult. The worst job was dehulling the beans which took a bit of elbow grease and time. 

The proof of the pudding is in the eating as they say. I will post the taste test and recipes later. 

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Fried tofu and egg braised in sauce - Guo ta dou fu 鍋塌豆腐

Guo ta dou fu 鍋塌豆腐 is from Shandong. It's fried tofu pieces coated with beaten egg then cooked in a sauce. If you like tofu this is a lovely light dish.

To prepare this,

Take 2 - 3 pcs of firm tofu, cut into 1cm thick. Marinate with pinch of salt , a dash of cooking wine and pinch of pepper.

Chop some spring onion, one small clove garlic, a small piece of ginger and a little red chilli for colour and heat. Set aside.

Beat 2 eggs

Put some potato starch or cornflour (cornstarch) onto a plate.

Prepare a sauce with 1/2 cup water, 1/2 tsp chicken bullion, dash of cooking wine, dash of light soy and 1/2 tsp cornflour (cornstarch).

To cook this first heat wok with few tbsp oil till medium hot.

Tofu, egg and starch
Coat tofu lightly with starch.
Dip into beaten egg
Line the tofu pieces side by side, fry at medium - medium low heat
Tofu pieces forming one large piece.
Pour in some of the leftover egg between tofu pieces.
Fry till bottom is golden and fragrant.
Now ready to fry the other side.  If you dare you can flip the whole piece inside the wok. Easier way is to slip the whole piece onto a plate then tip it upside down back onto the wok. 
Pour in remaining egg around and under. Fry till bottom side is golden.
Sprinkle the spring onion, garlic, ginger and chilli around the side of the wok while the bottom is frying.  Then pour in the sauce around the side. Cook till the sauce is very hot and thicken. Ready.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Steamed chicken with fermented chilli and black beans 剁椒豆豉蒸雞

I made a couple of jars of fermented chilli few months ago, there is still some in the fridge in good condition no sign of mould or smelling bad. It has lasted longer than I thought. This chilli has a great flavour and is very spicy hot due to the added Thai chillies. For next batch I will use milder chilli so I can use more of it.

Here is an easy and straight forward recipe with chicken.
  • About 800g chicken with bones, cut into small pieces. Chicken with bone has more flavour. Can also use boneless chicken about 500g.
  • Marinate the chicken with a dash of light soy, dash of rice wine, pinch of sugar, 1 heap tsp cornflour and a little sesame oil. Leave to marinade for about 30 minutes. 
  • Rinse 2 tbsp dou si (fermented black beans), mix with 2 cloves of chopped garlic and 1 - 4 tbsp fermented chilli (much as you like and how spicy the chilli is). 
  • Put chicken in a deep dish. Spread the chilli mixture on top. 
  • Steam for about 30 - 40 minutes. 
  • Sprinkle with some spring onion (scallion) and coriander (cilantro). 

    Before steaming

    Cooked. Excuse the hot steam

    Add handful of spring onion and coriander

    Wednesday, 2 March 2011

    Imperial yogurt 宫廷奶酪

    Yogurt was not common years ago in China. Yogurt has been and still eaten mainly by the upper northerners, Mongolia area or muslim population who raise sheep/goats and goat milk yogurt is quite common and traditional among them. Today many bigger cities in China are no difference to any cosmopolitan cities in the world, western style yogurt or yogurt drinks are available everywhere.

    I don't want to talk about goat milk yogurt or western yogurt. The topic today is an imperial palace yogurt recipe, a favourite with the Empress Dowager Cixi 慈禧太后. This is a recipe over 100 years old. It's called Imperial yogurt (gong ting nai lao 宫廷奶酪). I think cow milk was precious in China hundred years ago thus it was good enough for the royals.

    Gong ting nai lao is common in Beijing but I have not come across it outside China. I wonder why Cantonese ginger milk curd is common among Chinese all over the world but not gong ting nai lao. If you have a sweet tooth like mine and love this kind of custard like dessert like dou fu fa (soy milk curd), ginger milk curd, double skin custard etc.. you will like this gong ting nai lao.

    This imperial yogurt is similar in texture but totally different taste to Cantonese ginger milk curd. Both must use full cream milk and have none of the sour taste like normal yogurt we know. Ginger milk curd is dominantly flavoured by ginger juice and set by enzyme from the ginger juice. Imperial yogurt main ingredient other than milk is juice from fermented rice called lao zao zhi 醪糟汁. This imperial yogurt is sweet with a fragrant rice wine flavour (like sake) more delicate than ginger. The ingredients for this low alcoholic milk curd is very simple just full cream milk, lao zao zhi 醪糟汁 and extra sugar if needed. I never add sugar, I find the sweetness from the fermented rice juice is enough to sweeten to curd. This mixture is heated till the milk is set. Traditionally the milk mixture was baked in a large wood barrel heated by charcoal. There are recipes using steaming, I have tried steaming and did not like it very much, the curd separated with a thick layer of clear liquid at the bottom, I reckon the heat was too high or I overcooked it. The easiest way I find is simply bake it at low temperature. I am still curious what makes this imperial yogurt set, is it the active friendly bacteria/yeast or the alcohol in the fermented rice juice reacting with milk with the help of heat.

    If you have some fermented rice give this a try it's a lovely dessert.

    I have followed recipes I found on the internet, normal proportion of milk to fermented rice juice (lao zao zhi 醪糟汁) is 2 : 1. I find the flavour too strong and too sweet without additional sugar. I have also lower the recommended temperature of 110 deg C after a few trials and errors, I find lowering the temperature is less likely to cause the curd to separate with a layer of clear liquid underneath.

    This is my recommended recipe after trials and errors.
    1. Proportion of full cream milk to lao zao zhi 醪糟汁 is 3 : 1. Use freshly opened milk that does not have any hint bad milk smell. If yes the milk has already started to turn and will curdle during heating.
    2. Heat milk on the stove or microwave (I normally microwave) till milk is hot but not boiling. This is to kill any unwanted bacteria or nasties that may affect the curd. I normally make two bowls of this curd using 300 ml milk heated for about 4 minutes in the microwave on high. Cover the milk and leave to cool then sieve to remove any solids.
    3. Take some fermented rice and put on a piece muslin cloth. Wrap and squeeze out the juice. Measure required amount (100ml juice for 300ml milk).
    4. Mix cooled milk and juice together, add a bit more sugar if you like it sweeter. Stir and pour into ramekins, rice bowls or glass containers.
    5. Put in oven at about 90 deg C for about 30 minutes or till you can see the surface has set, or when lightly shake the bowl the surface will wobble. Check after 25 minutes in the oven, then every 5 - 8 minutes later. If there is more than 0.5cm layer of liquid separated on the bottom it is overcooked, try again next time with a shorter baking time. To check the layer of liquid on the bottom best use a glass ramekin.
    6. Remove from oven, cover and leave to cool. Chill in the fridge and serve.
    If you like a firmer yogurt add 2 - 3 tbsp milk powder per 300ml milk. Mix this in before milk is heated or when the heated has cooled to warm temperature. 

    * Nai lao 奶酪 normally means cheese in Chinese but in the recipe it is a yogurt. Don't ask me why. 

    Tuesday, 1 March 2011

    Masak lemak labu & udang (Creamy pumpkin and prawn curry)

    If you ask me what do I cook most, my answer will probably be Chinese and Malay food. I love the rich and aromatic Malay/Nyonya curries, salad, cakes and cookies. I can get most of the spices, herbs and other Malay ingredients over here to make almost anything I want, though many ingredients can be quite expensive over here than back home.

    Today recipe is a Malay style pumpkin and prawn curry called masak lemak labu & udang, loosely translated as rich pumpkin with prawns. It is a creamy curry not too spicy hot.

    about 500g peeled and de-seeded pumpkin or butternut squash
    200 - 250g raw king prawns/shrimps (I used frozen peeled raw prawns)
    1 lemongrass
    1 small sprig of curry leaves about 10 - 12 leaves, best use fresh or frozen
    1  - 1.5 cup of coconut milk (I used tin, more coconut milk richer and creamier the gravy)
    1 tbsp wet tamarind
    sugar to taste
    salt to taste
    some cooking oil

    Spice paste:
    1 - 2 clove of garlic, peeled
    3 walnut size shallots, peeled and cut into small pieces
    1 - 3 large medium heat red chillies, de-seeded (as many and spicy as you like)
    1 pinky finger size fresh or frozen turmeric root/ or 1 tsp of ground turmeric
    1 thumbsize chunk of galangal, cut into small pieces
    3 candle nuts (buah keras)
    2 tsp belacan or shrimp paste

    1. Soak wet tamarind with 1/2 cup of boiling water till softened then leave it to cool for a while then knead the pulp to release the juice. Pass this through a sieve to remove pulp and any seeds.
    2. Blend all the paste ingredients till smooth using a mini blender. Can add a touch of water to ease blending. Or if you like you can pound the spices with a pestle and mortar.
    3. Cut pumpkin into bitesize chunks.
    4. Bruise the lemongrass by bashing with a cleaver or rolling pin. 
    5. If using frozen peeled prawns, defrost before cooking. De-vein if required by lightly score the back of the prawn and rinse off dark vein. 
    6. Heat wok or pan with about 3 - 5 tbsp of cooking oil till hot, add curry leaves and lemon grass fry till oil is fragrant. Add spice paste keep stirring for about 5 minutes till fragrant. 
    7. Add coconut milk and pumpkin pieces, then add half the tamarind juice and enough water to almost cover the pumpkin pieces, turn up the heat and heat till liquid is boiling. 
    8. Cover with a lid and simmer at lower heat till pumpkin is cooked through and softened, add more water during simmering if required the pumpkin will absorb the liquid quickly, keep the gravy runny. Add enough salt and sugar. Have a taste to check saltiness, sweetness and sharpness. If required add some or all the remaining tamarind juice. Everyone has their own personal taste. 
    9. Add prawns and cook for 2 - 3 minutes till they turn pink.