Chinese

Marmite Chicken 妈蜜鸡

I’m not sure why, but recently I’ve been in a distinctly Marmite state of mind.

Perhaps its the riots and lockdowns talking, but I think we can all agree these are dark and polarising times. Indeed, seen from that perspective 2020 is turning out to be the most “Marmite” year of them all! Dividing more than it unites, this dark concoction of Brewer’s Yeast claims no middle-ground; making it the pantry poster-child of this “love it or loathe it” culture we seem to find ourselves living in. Alas I adore Marmite, but as a Year, it can go straight to the back of the shelf…but not before I drone on about one of my favourite recipes: Marmite Chicken!

Arguably one of the last ingredients you’d associate with Asian food, Marmite Chicken is a surprisingly popular dish in the Chinese restaurants of Malaysia. Robust, and un-apologetically marmity, this dish isn’t for the fainthearted – but then again neither is Marmite! Much like Horlicks Chicken, there is naturally an element of the novel in play here, but don’t let that put you off. Of course it goes without saying that non-Marmite lovers beware: this may not be the dish for you!

This surprisingly easy dish is, in fact, a triumph of crispy deep-fried chicken morsels, contrasted with, and smothered in, an addictive umami sauce. Balancing both sweet and salty, this certainly isn’t the dubious fusion hash you’d expect it to be. As with similar dishes, Marmite chicken is best plated on  some fresh lettuce, sliced cucumber, and even tomato – anything that will absorb that wonderfully sticky sauce!

Serve with: plain rice, mapo tofu and something “neutral” like Sichuan Cabbage, or egg foo young,

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To discover other delicious Chinese recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Prawn & Ginger Egg Foo Young

I never thought I would say this, but omelettes aren’t just for brunch!

As perfect as they may be for soaking up bubble-heavy mimosas, or stilling those flat-white morning jitters, these eggy envelopes deserve so much more than the standard fare we stuff them with. Quick and versatile, an omelette can pretty much be anything you want it to be, and this is especially true when they are cooked Chinese-style!

Egg Foo Young (Chinese Omelette) is a dish most of us know from our local takeaway, but very few of us realise how easy it is to make at home. If you can make an omelette, the chances are you can make this classic Cantonese dish too! Though similar in almost every way, Chinese “omelettes” are, in terms of flavour, a world apart from their western counterparts. Added to very hot oil, Egg Foo Young is crispy and, as such, benefits from that elusive wok hei (‘breath of a wok’). Add to that an umami laden sauce, and their irresistible flavour is almost complete…

But, of course, what’s an omelette without fillings?

The options for filling your Egg Foo Young are virtually endless, and go way beyond the generic takeaway options you are probably used to seeing. Seasoned with a dash of soy sauce instead of the usual salt and pepper, the egg mix is the perfect foil for anything from the classic char siew (Chinese BBQ Pork) to julienned vegetables. 

For this recipe I’m pushing the boat out and using prawns. It might seem like a waste to use them in something like an omelette, but rest assured it’s not. I love the sweet meatiness of the prawns with the fresh bite of the gingery eggs – its a classic combination and makes the perfect addition to a larger meal, or (if you want to spoil yourself) just have it on its own with some plain rice.

For more Chinese recipes from the Muddled Pantry, please follow the link here.

For tips on stocking a Chinese pantry, please follow the link here. Click here for the recipe

Sichuan Stir-Fry Cabbage 炝炒圆白菜

This may seem like a strange thing to admit, but I’m in love with cabbage.

Yes, it’s true; I’m in a lock-down love affair with arguably the most mundane vegetable out there. Perhaps it’s the prolonged period of isolation talking, but aside from some flatulence, what’s not to love about the humble cabbage?

Cheap and readily available, this cruciferous charmer is a true veggie-hero; albeit one that is too often maligned, and sadly, unsung. Aside from its incredible shelf life, green cabbage is also one of the most versatile vegetables out there. Whether it be fermented into sauerkraut, or sautéed then added to a buttery colcannon, cabbage is the star of countless recipes from across the globe, and is ripe for a comeback!

Typically most of us don’t associate a bog-standard “western” cabbage with Asian cooking; instead, we tend to think of exotics such as bok choy and napa cabbage as the staples of such cuisines. Nothing could be further from the truth! From being a key component in Sayur Lodeh (Malaysian Vegetable in Coconut Milk), and a traditional accompaniment to Phad Thai Noodles, green cabbage is a surprisingly common ingredient in many Asian dishes. In fact, if you have a wedge of cabbage lurking at the back of the fridge, you are actually halfway to making some amazing, and authentic, Asian meals.

Which brings me to this little gem of a dish! 

From wok to plate in just a few minutes, Sichuan Stir-Fry Cabbage is a true “lifesaver” recipe for when you are in a pinch and need to make a small amount of food go far – without compromising on flavour. Satisfyingly spicy and reassuringly comforting, this simple meal has all the hallmarks of a classic home-cooked Chinese dish.

This is a thoroughly adaptable recipe, please feel free to add a protein of your choice if desired. Thinly sliced pork works amazingly well and would be my preferred addition, but chicken is also a good option. Again, a little goes a long way and a small portion of meat can be stretched to feed many. Prefer a vegetarian or vegan version? Not a problem, simply leave out the meat altogether. With or without meat, this tasty and affordable recipe is cheap and nutritious, and delivers a lot of Sichuanbang for your buck, as it it were. 

Now that’s a dish worth gassing about. 

For more Chinese recipes from the Muddled Pantry, please follow the link here.

For tips on stocking a Chinese pantry, please follow the link here. Click here for the recipe

Cantonese Beef Steak

Cantonese Beef Steak

Some days you just wake up with a hankering for a really nice bit of steak, but if you are anything like me, that beefy craving is usually for steak of an altogether different variety: Cantonese beef steak!

Growing up in Penang in the early 80s the only time I really ate steak was at Chinese restaurants, where it was invariably prepared Cantonese-style. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that I’ve only recently begun to appreciate Western-style steak. Unnaturally tender and served with an addictively sweet soya-based pepper sauce, Chinese beef steak was undoubtedly the steak of my childhood! Of course, like all middle-class families in 80s  Penang we occasionally ate at the Eden

Steak House on Hutton Road, with its glorious coral décor and outlandish flourish of curly parsley (as children we were unconvinced that the parsley was, in fact, edible!). Looking back, we actually used to visit the Steak House quite often, but strangely enough I don’t recall ever actually ordering the steak. I’m pretty certain my father might have had it on occasion, but that was “dad food”. At any rate, who wanted steak when you could have lobster thermidor and prawn cocktail instead? This was, after all, the 80s…

So what makes a piece of steak Chinese?

The first thing that makes this dish such a Chinese classic is the sauce. Glossy and rich, this sauce is the perfect mix of sweet and peppery goodness – this isn’t a sauce for the faint of heart! The Worcestershire sauce adds spiced depth, whilst the tomato sauce imparts a hint of colour and extra body once everything has been reduced down to a sticky, gooey sauce.

Secondly (and most importantly) is the texture of the meat. Marinated in a batter made with corn flour, eggs and Bicarbonate of Soda, the beef is rendered meltingly tender – almost to the point that the texture of the steak no longer resembles meat. This might sound unappealing, but this technique of tenderising meat with Bicarbonate of Soda is fairly widespread in Chinese cooking where the quality of the meat is not always guaranteed. As unpalatable as it may seem, the use of Bicarb goes a long way in making the Chinese food you make at home actually taste like the cuisine you are striving to emulate. Authenticity isn’t always pretty, especially when making Chinese food!

For more Chinese recipes from the Muddled Pantry, please follow the link here.

For tips on stocking a Chinese pantry, please follow the link here.

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Sticky Beef Short Ribs

Sticky Beef Short Ribs

If I had to pick a favourite cut of beef, it would simply have to be short ribs; cheap, tasty and meltingly tender, I just can’t get enough of them.

The perfect marriage between meat, bone and fat, short rib is my go-to cut of beef for whenever I am doing a long braise, as it is perfectly suited to being cooked for extended periods. Whether it’s for a spicy Mussaman Curry, a comforting bowl of Beef Phở or a simple cider braise beef, short ribs works a treat with just about any style of cooking, so long as it is afforded enough time to work its magic.

Which brings me to this delectable dish! Robustly flavoured and so tender you can literally suck the meat off the bone, Sticky Beef Short Ribs is a great way to prepare this special cut. Although the dish has all the hallmarks of a classic Chinese style braise, the addition of Korean Soybean Paste (doenjang) does muddle the waters somewhat, resulting in a dish that is equally suited to both a Chinese or Korean spread. If you can’t source any doenjang, regular Chinese Bean Sauce would suffice, or, if you wanted to add a Japanese twist to the dish, you can always try some miso. Personally, if you can, I would stick with the doenjang as it adds a distinctly earthy depth to the dish that neither miso nor Chinese Bean Sauce does.  

Note: As with most other Asian braises, this dish is always best if made the day before, but is still delicious if eaten immediately. If you are making the dish in advance then it is best not to reduce the sauce immediately, but rather wait until you are going to eat it to do so.

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Red-braised Pork Hock 紅燒蹄

Red-braised Pork Hock 紅燒蹄

I love food that you can just throw in a pot, forget about for a few hours and it still comes out tasting like heaven? Thankfully, Asian food is abound with such dishes, particularly so in Chinese cuisine.

Whilst synonymous with the much hackneyed “stir-fry”, Chinese food does love a jolly good braise. Beef ribs, pork belly, chicken feet – it would seem that the Chinese maxim is clear: if you have a pot big enough for it, then it’s good for a braise. Thankfully, it seems, pork hock fits both the maxim and the pot!

Richly flavoured, red-braised pork hock is an old school Chinese classic and is the perfect way to cook an otherwise troublesome cut of meat. Slowly simmered in what is essentially a classic master stock, the meat and fat is rendered meltingly soft – so much so, one can “cut” through it with just a chopstick. Stained a redish brown from the dark soya sauce, the silky sweet meat is tempered with depth, whilst the aromatic sauce is enriched with the rendered juices from the braised pork.

Admittedly, however, like most home-style Chinese cooking, braised pork hock isn’t the most aesthetically appealing dish. Resembling something of a gelatinous heap of meat, skin and bone, it is hardly a feast for the eyes. Rest assured, however, once you’ve taken your first bite you will quickly forget what it looks like.

Indeed, this dish is a triumph of flavour over style.

Note: the stock quantities may initially seem excessive, but the Master Stock can be kept indefinitely and develops depth of flavour each time it is reused. Simply strain the stock and store in the freezer until needed. Add a fresh set of aromatics to the stock and you are good to go.

For more Chinese recipes from the Muddled Pantry, please follow the link here.

For tips on stocking a Chinese pantry, please follow the link here.

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Sang Choi Bao 生菜包

Sung Choi Bao

Literally translated as “lettuce package”, Sang Choi Bao is made with fatty pork mince which is then eaten encased in crisp lettuce leaves, making it a great option for those of us who are avoiding traditional carbs like rice – something that is quite hard to do with Asian food!

Like most Asian recipes this one does have a few specialist ingredients, all of which are readily available from good Chinese supermarkets, but feel free to leave out whatever you can’t source. The key to the dish is actually in the sauce and the various vegetables, rather than the recipe’s more exotic inclusions. Okay, so this recipe does call for a small amount of sugar (not strictly Banting, I know), but you can just leave it out if you are so inclined.

Substantial and satisfying, this tasty dish scarcely feels like a meal that forgoes anything; and although it certainly isn’t conventional, Sang Choi Bao is also delicious when eaten with rice.

Traditionally eaten with your fingers, Sang Choi Bao is great fun to eat, making it a good dish for sharing. I suggest serving it up in a big bowl surrounded by the lettuce leaves and just let everybody tuck in. You can expect lots of sticky fingers after dinner!

For more Chinese recipes from the Muddled Pantry, please follow the link here.

For tips on stocking a Chinese pantry, please follow the link here.

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Bak Kwa 肉干 (Chinese Pork Jerky)

Bak Kwa 肉干 (Chinese Pork Jerky)There are two things in this world that sum up Chinese New Year for me – ang pow (red money envelopes) and bak kwa. Alas these days I’m precluded from receiving ang pow as I have the misfortune of being all grown up (and married), but that doesn’t stop me celebrating the New Year by stuffing my face with ill-advised quantities of bak kwa!

Sweet, sticky and bordering on the addictive, bak kwa is a very Chinese take on jerky. Available all year round, bak kwa is, however, largely considered a Chinese New Year must-have. I’m not sure if bak kwa‘s prosperous red hues ramp up its appeal for the New Year or whether the festivities are simply an excuse to indulge in copious amounts of this gooey treat. Either way, the queues at Bee Cheng Hiang stores in the build-up to the holiday are daunting and are a testament to bak kwa‘s enduring popularity as a Chinese New Year staple.

Now I’m not going to lie to you, making your own bak kwa isn’t something you’d do if you didn’t have to – it would be much easier to just join the long queues and buy yourself some. However, for those of us who find themselves far from home on Chinese New Year, we have little choice but to roll up our sleeves and make our own. After all, those bak kwa cravings are not going to quell themselves! Thankfully the recipe for making bak kwa isn’t actually that difficult, but it is quite involved; wire racks, rolling pins, wax paper and a blowtorch – I like to think of this as real Blue Peter-style cooking!

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Mapo Tofu 麻婆豆腐

With the exception of the most amazing Peking Duck I’ve ever eaten, I was disappointed to discover that Chinese food in China is a rather dull affair. Roasted locust and the occasional snake-on-a-stick not withstanding, bland soups and mediocore dumplings seem to be the order of the day on the streets of Beijing.

After spending the best part of a week eating possibly the dullest Asian food on earth, we chanced upon a massive subterranean food-court that specialized in regional food from all over China. It was here, in this overcrowded and windowless basement, that we finally discovered some of that allusive “Chinese flavour” in China – we had found Sichuanese food or more specifically, mapo tofu! Little did I know that I stumbled upon what would possible become one of my favourite Chinese dishes of all time.

Mapo Tofu 麻婆豆腐

Loosely translating to “grandmother’s pockmarked tofu”, this colorfully named dish has all the hallmarks of a true Sichuanese classic. Spicy, stastifiying and, above all, “numbing”, mapo tofu has got it all! Packed full of flavour, it is a great dish to introduce the uninitiated to the unsung delights of tofu. The soft, silky texture of the tofu plays beautifully against the fiery sauce, resulting in a “cooling” contrast to the intensity of the dish.

Easy to make and always tasty, mapo tofu is the epitome of Chinese home-style cooking and makes for fantastic meal on its own with just some rice. Equally, though, mapo tofu makes a great addition to a larger Chinese banquet as it can be made ahead of time and then gently reheated before serving (something of a rarity in Chinese cooking).

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Hainanese Chicken Rice 海南雞飯

As macabre as it may sound, the sight of cooked chickens and ducks dangling from gruesome hooks typifies the South East Asian food experience for many of us; often eliciting sympathy and hunger in equal measure. For me though, it gives me pangs of nostalgia for what is, perhaps, one of my favourite Malaysian dishes – Hainanese Chicken Rice. Unsurprisingly, I’m not alone in my love for this dish either, as it appeared at number 45 on CNN’s World’s 50 Most Delicious Foods. Hainanese Chicken Rice’s enduring popularity is testament to the appeal of its uncomplicated nuances and its surprising depth of flavour.

IMG_6853 (600x800)Typically there are two types of chicken on offer at any given Chicken Rice stall in South East Asia; poached (white) or roasted (brown). Growing up, I always preferred the latter, as I was a bit put off by the opaque appearance of the poached variety – if only I’d been a more adventurous child! Whilst the roasted version is undoubtedly very tasty, the poached version is in fact superior in both flavour and texture. Not only does the poaching process have a transformative effect on the meat and skin of the chicken (making it impossibly silky), it also imparts a subtle depth of flavour that enhances the chicken, rather than overpowering it. In addition to being tastier than its roasted counterpart, the white version is also much easier to make!

With a name like Chicken Rice, it should come as no surprise that the rice plays an equally important role in the dish! The good news is that the chicken’s poaching broth doubles-up as the stock used in making the rice. So getting the rice just right isn’t much of a chore – simply use the stock instead of water when making your rice. The stock can also be frozen and reused indefinitely, creating a depth of flavour that only gets better with each chicken poached.

A third, and equally important, element to Chicken Rice is its unique chilli sauce. This light, zesty sauce is both fragrant and hot – the prefect accompaniment to the “clean-tasting” chicken; it is an absolute must!

For more delicious Malaysian recipes, please click here

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