Malaysian

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

Click here for the recipe

Advertisements

Rendang Daging (Beef Rendang)

Beef RendangSome mornings I wake up with one word in mind: “rendang!”. I think it’s probably just a Malaysian thing, but this is a dish I literally dream about.

Beef Rendang is perhaps the most beloved Malay meal and is often the go-to main dish for many a family feast or special occasion. With its origins rooted in Indonesia, rendang is popluar throughout South East Asia, especially amongst the Malays in Malaysia and Singapore. Although not widely known outside the region, a 2011 online poll by CNN International chose rendang as the number one dish of their ‘World’s 50 Most Delicious Foods’. Yes, rendang really is that good!

Rendang, however, seems to appeal the most to expat Malaysians. In spite of its long cooking time, rendang is relatively easy to make and can withstand a certain degree of adaptation – something that is vital given the inherent difficulties in stocking a Malay pantry abroad. On a deeper level, though, cooking up a batch of rendang can sometimes feel like an affirmation of our shared cultural identity; a reconnection to our collective culinary memories, through taste. This is the real reason for rendang’s enduring popularity; for many of us it, quite simply, tastes of home.

Ostensibly a curry, rendang is in fact what is known as a dry-curry. Cooked over an extended period, the aromatic coconut sauce is reduced to the point until it clings to the tender beef. This prolonged reduction creates an intensity of flavour that can only be described as explosive. As with all curries, a rendang benefits immensely from being made the day before serving; a night in the fridge gives the flavours time to develop and mellow. Your rendang will be all the better for your patience.

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

Click here for the recipe

Kari Kapitan (Nyonya Chicken Curry Kapitan)

Kari Kapitan (Nyonya Chicken Curry)This Malaysian Classic was my late father’s favourite curry and with good reason, it is simply delectable!

The überkind of Nyonya cuisine, Kari Kapitan is the prefect confluence of traditional Malay and Chinese flavours. My version of this curry is a loose adaptation of that of the reigning queen of Nyonya food, Pearly Kee. Nyonya cuisine is the epitome of what makes Malaysian food great; inclusivity, and Pearly is a true vanguard of this culinary heritage. The result of a marriage of Malay and Chinese ingredients and flavours, Nyonya style cooking is unique to Malaysia and is, perhaps, one of the most underrated cuisines in the World.

A Malaysian take on a traditional Indian Chicken Curry, Kari Kapitan is the result of a thorough Nyonya makeover. Along with the classic additions of lemongrass, lime and galangal, the chief Nyonya element is belachan. Ubiquitous to Malaysian cuisine, belachan is a fermented shrimp paste and is one of the hallmarks of Nyonya cooking. Whilst best described as ‘pungent’, belachan mellows when added to a curry, imparting a depth of flavour to the finished dish like no other.

One of my happiest childhood memories is going on a family outing to the local waterfalls; virtually the entire Clan was there – grandparents, aunts, uncles and a full gaggle of cousins. After hours of slip-sliding through the falls, it was finally lunchtime! As we gathered for our picnic, my grandmother presented us with a massive white Tupperware, filled to the brim with leftover Kari Kapitan. Armed with anticipation and slices of fresh white bread, we all tucked in; what bliss! Perched on those boulders, surrounded by my army of screaming cousins, with the cool waters rushing between my toes and my fingers stained yellow from the Kari Kapitan; it was the perfect childhood memory, matched with the perfect meal.

Universally, all curries benefit from a day of rest before being served, but this is especially true of Kari Kapitan. Whilst still delicious when eaten on the day of cooking, a bit of patience reaps its own reward. Such is its plethora of flavours, Kari Kapitan needs time to find its balance, to develop and mature. As a result, Kari Kapitan makes for amazing leftovers…and memories.

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

Click here for the recipe

Malaysia: Curry Paste Confidential

I’m going to tell you a secret no Western chef wants you to hear; Asians don’t make their own curry pastes. There, I’ve said it and I’m not going to take it back. It’s my blog and I’ll tell the truth if I want to. The notion that we Asians spend our time making wonderfully fragrant curry pastes from scratch is perhaps one of the most enduring culinary fallacies about The Far East, but the simple truth is we don’t. We, like rest of humanity, have busy lives and they are too short to be spent forever grinding away with a pestle and mortar, just to make a paste we can just as well buy ready-made from the local food market…or Tesco, yes you heard me right, Tesco.

Television chefs, in particular, seem to exalt the necessity of making your own curry paste and heaven forbid you suggest otherwise. I recall one famous British chef’s utter distain for such culinary shortcuts whilst filming a segment on Penang Fish Head Curry in Malaysia. The feisty young lady, who was demonstrating how to make this classic dish, unashamedly whipped out a pack of store-bought curry paste and duly added it to the curry. Mortified he asked her why she didn’t make her own, but I think her answer confounded him even further, “Heh? Who makes their own paste? Too busy. Everybody buys from the shop”. Undeterred, he pressed her further, “But wouldn’t it taste better if you made your own?”. Oblivious to his patronising tone, she replied, “No’lah, of course I’m using the best brand for you!”. He did not seem comforted by this; after all, this cavalier attitude towards authenticism just wouldn’t fly back in Cornwall! And anyhow, what did she really know about how Asian food should be prepared, in Asia…by actual Asians.

Now I’m not dissing freshly made curry pastes, far from it. They are utterly amazing and if you have the time (and the required ingredients) to make one then great, jolly good for you, but for the rest of us they are just not really practical or necessary. There are, of course, times you have to make your own, simply because there may not be a ready-made paste available, but this is out of necessity, not choice. Outside of Asia it is easy enough to find Thai or Indian pastes at your local supermarket, but looking to make a nice Sri Lankan curry? Best you get grinding…

Growing up in Malaysia, there was always a myriad of brands to choose from, but without doubt the best ready-made curry pastes were from the local produce market. As a child I would love going with my grandmother, Amah, to the market to get the ingredients for the night’s meal, and if curry was on the menu then we would always make a stop at her preferred curry paste vendor. We would pick our way through the market’s wet concrete aisles; pass the doomed squawking chickens, bypassing the acrid meat section, lingering by the perfumed blooms of the flower stalls; all the while bargaining and buying as we went. When we would eventually make it to the curry paste vendor he would ask us what type of curry we wanted to make, for how many people, hot or not? Our dining plans duly divulged and assessed, the vendor would set about his alchemy, combining various glistening pastes to produce the required finished article. It would be paste-perfection, but this was never in doubt – making curry paste was his life’s work and he did it well.

The curry Amah would dish up that night would, of course, be delicious but nobody ever attributed its success to the quality of the curry paste; great cooking isn’t always about your ingredients but rather what you do with them. I believe that it is far more important that you learn to make a curry well, rather than worry about the provenance of your curry’s paste. Amah was an incredible cook but she, like most good Asian home cooks, would never bother themselves with something as labourious as making their own curry pastes. Such things should rather be left to the professionals…and television chefs.

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

Chicken Congee (Moi) 滑雞粥

Chicken MoiLet me be clear from the start; growing up I simply loathed moi.

Much like chicken noodle soup is the ultimate convalescence food for Americans, throughout Asia moi/jook/congee/budur is a dish that is inextricably associated with being sick. As a child, its characteristic blandness always seemed like an additional punishment to the misery of feeling unwell – especially when it was being forced upon you by an otherwise well-meaning grandmother. The moment you announced you were feeling under the weather, my grandmother (Amah) would invariably say, “You sick, ah? OK so you must eat moi ‘eh. Good for your throat one. Make you better, fast”. There was simply no arguing with Amah on this, you were on the moi diet until you were deemed healthy enough to eat something else. Admittedly, I was an overly dramatic child, but it felt like flavour purgatory!

Now, many years on and much to my surprise, in my most fevered moments I find myself craving a wholesome bowl of chicken moi. It is an irony of a maturing palette, and the fondness of memories, that gives you a renewed appreciation for some unpalatable dishes from the our past.

I’ve always thought the force-feeding of moi was a genius Asian parenting ploy to discourage kids from dragging out their convalescence. The moment I felt better I would immediately pronounce that I was cured and that it was safe for me to once again scoff down some deliciously oily char kway teow! The Moi Diet: Machiavellian parenting at its best or a grandmother’s love? Either way, Amah was right – it DID make me better, faster.

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

For more Chinese recipes, please click HERE or to find out more about how to stock a Chinese Pantry, please click HERE

Click here for the recipe

Beef Hor Fun Noodles

Beef Hor FunSome times in life you’re just haunted by glorious ghosts of noodles-past and beef hor fun has haunted me more than most. These luscious noodles truly rate as one of my all time childhood favourites. That said, even in Noodle Nirvana of Penang a good beef hor fun is hard to come by, but when you do find a place that does it right you’ll be hooked!

There are two vital components to the success of this dish: super tender beef and silky soft noodles. After trawling the internet I discovered the secret to the tender beef, but I just couldn’t source fresh noodles in Cape Town. Undeterred and determined to feed my hor fun cravings, I tried for many years to replicate this dish with dried flat rice noodles but it was always well short of the mark. That’s until I chanced upon this particular brand of dried noodles at the Mun Fong Chinese Supermarket in Goodwood. Don’t ask me what they are called, my Mandarin is non-existent – all I know is that they’re the closet I’ve come to finding the texture of fresh rice noodles in their dried form. Buy them, buy a lot of them.

Anyway, armed with my eureka-noodles I once again attempted to make my version of Beef Hor Fun and I can safely say that I can put this particular ghost of noodles past to rest. Enjoy.

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

Click here for the recipe