Chongqing Grilled Fish

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DC found out about Chongqing Grilled Fish on Facebook when he noticed that a friend was a fan. Intrigued, he looked it up and found that it had quite a following. So there we were on a Sunday night to try it out, this time with my parents. It’s a typically China-type place run by PRCs and the menu reminded me quite a bit of the casual little places that dot Shanghai. We started with the cold cucumber with garlic, which I thought was quite decent. Mum’s used to much finer stuff in China, so she wasn’t too impressed by this rendition. My standards are obviously lower, so I ate most of it.

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It was the kou shui ji (saliva chicken) that didn’t come up to my standards this time. I’d spent a little while in Chengdu and Chongqing, and had really good Sichuan cuisine in Shanghai, and this version is but a pale imitation. By Singapore standards, however, it’s passable. It’s got a fairly fiery sauce atop tender chicken. What was missing was the numbing sensation from Sichuan peppercorns. A pity as it could’ve been much nicer!

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I thought the dongpo rou (braised pork belly) was pretty good. Dad showed his concurrence by walloping so much of it that DC hardly had a chance. Yes, China makes better, but this comes close. They used leaner pork than the norm in China, which is always a good thing, and braised it nicely so the meat fell apart easily in the mouth. Yum.

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Next was the three-egg spinach, again quite decent but nothing particularly special. It’s not a hard dish to get right.

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And now the piece de resistance! The preceding dishes on their own wouldn’t quite have made it to this blog, but the fish just blew me out of the water. It came piping hot over a charcoal brazier, fish already grilled and cooked through. It was covered in the xiang la (fragrant and spicy) sauce and accompanied by beansprouts and celery. We ordered some extra vegetables to cook in the gravy and boy was it excellent. First, the fish somehow never got rough-textured from being overcooked. It was tender to the end. The sauce, true to its name, was spicy and fragrant and the teeniest bit numbing, which I miss a lot from that few days I spent in Sichuan. The charcoal kept the dish warm and cooked the extra vegetables gently so all the flavour from the sauce permeated through. I also liked how there was enough oil in the dish to give the classic Sichuanese slow burn of heat. At first I thought the dish wasn’t quite as spicy as I expected and I made a mental note to order one level up the next time (we ordered the least spicy version). But as I ate and ate (and ate) and slurped up the gravy, I found my mouth getting hotter and hotter, until at the end I was sniffing and almost gasping from the heat. This is a definite must-eat. I’m coming back again soon!

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Chongqing Grilled Fish
18 Mosque Street #01-01
Tel: 6225 0087

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Ramen Showdown: Nantsuttei

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It’s official. Nantsuttei is now top of my list of best ramen in Singapore. It’s also pretty reasonably priced as far as ramen in Singapore goes. The queue here isn’t as feral as the one at Ippudo. For lunch, as long as you avoid 12.30 to 1.30 you’re all good, and for weekday dinners after 8pm is normally OK too.

I first tried the comes-with-everything noodles plus an egg. It came with a huge sprinkling of spring onions that seemed to occlude the rest of the toppings of chashu, beansprouts and special garlic oil. The first thing I bit into was the egg and it was eggy goodness all the way as the white was lightly salty from the braising and the yolk just set so the very inside was still slightly runny. So far it’s the best egg of the major ramen shops. As far as the chashu was concerned, it was rather run of the mill. Nothing much to write home about on the taste and tenderness.

Next was the noodle. It was just the right firmness for me, with enough bite for interest and not so hard that I felt that it was undercooked. The wonderful thing about the doneness of the noodles was that the noodles still tasted good when I got to the bottom of the bowl.

Then the soup. I wasn’t sure about this because it was quite salty and not particularly rich as ramen broths go. It was pretty acceptable though. I also wasn’t too keen on the slightly burnt and carcinogenic taste of the black garlic oil that makes the place famous.

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On another visit, I tried the dragon ramen. It’s basically the same ramen minus the OTT spring onion topping and with spicy bean and minced meat paste. Now this may not be particularly traditional, but it made all the difference to the soup, making it my all-time favourite. I liked the flavour of the spicy paste because the taste of the fermented bean really came through. It also muted the burnt garlic taste, making it Very Yummy.

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Nantsuttei doesn’t have a great deal to offer in terms of sides, only chopped chashu rice and gyoza. The gyoza isn’t too bad, it’s nicely burnt in parts on the outside and meatily juicy on the inside. Decent enough when you’re hungry and want more than ramen to fill the belly.

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Nantsuttei
P3-06 #03-02
Millenia Walk 9 Raffles Boulevard
Tel: 6337 7166

Keisuke Ramen

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Level 3 of the newly opened Parco Marina Bay has half a floor of Japanese restaurants, with two ramen shops, a tonkatsu place, Japanese Western (that’s Ma Maison), a regular diner and a sushi deli. DC and I chose the ramen shop with no queue: Keisuke Ramen. It’s quite an interesting proposition, having prawn-based broth instead of regular tonkotsu (pork bone) stuff. Everything on the menu was prawn-something, even down to the salad. Go only if you like prawn.

The first thing DC noticed were the special chopsticks. Notice how they’re pentagonal, presumably to help hold on to the noodles better.

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On further inspection of the chopsticks, we noticed that there was a special rough finish to the bottom part, again helping to grip the noodles better. This place certainly is very serious about its noodles!

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Another special touch was the distinctive shape of the bowls. The opening is slanted, making for an oddly private viewing of the diner’s progress of the meal.

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Ordering any “special” ramen would involve the extra toppings coming on a side plate. There was pleasantly briny pickled lettuce, rather disappointingly hard-boiled egg and chilled boiled chicken. They all went decently with the ramen but did nothing to steal the show.

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Now the ramen itself is quite different. Check out the dramatic presentation, complete with pretty deep-fried chilli shreds. Aside from the regular toppings, there was also prawn wanton in the special ramen and yuzu bits. I quite liked this version, it was a vaguely Japanese yuzu-y twist on your typical hawker haemee broth. The noodles were very decent, not quite al dente but still chewy. I liked them.

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I felt that the miso prawn broth was something else altogether. The creaminess of the miso gave the broth quite a different dimension. That, added to the  special garlic oil, yuzu and earthy burdock bits, made it all quite complex and at times a bit confusing to the palate. On the other hand, it made for many changes in taste as I progressed to the bottom of the bowl.

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Keisuke Ramen
P3-02 Parco Marina Bay, Millenia Walk
Tel: 6337 7919

Another Variation on the Tune of Anchovy

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Inspired by the pasta I had at Big D’s and also by the past due can of anchovies Mum dug out from the cupboard, I had to have a crack of my own version of the salty fishy stuff. As always when it comes to these weekday dinners, I was famished and tired from yet another long day in the office. In less than 20 minutes, I threw this together using stuff in the house and a mixture of herbs including some sad bits of coriander and spring onion Mum left in the fridge and some freshly bought flat-leaf parsley from the supermarket. Use whatever herbs you fancy, or whatever’s left in the fridge.

Anchovies can of course be very salty, but this varies enormously from brand to brand. Just taste as you go along before adding too much. Also, not salting the pasta helps too. I also add some chilli to spice things up a little. Here, I used some aglio olio e peperoncino powder Mum got from Italy (it’s otherwise inedible just on its own with pasta), although simply because it was another past due item begging to be used up. I’d also use fresh chilli or my usual standby of chopped chilli padi.

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Ingredients:

2 tbsp olive oil, preferably from the canned anchovies
6 shallots, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
small sheath spaghetti (enough for one)
5 anchovies tinned in oil
chilli, to taste
good handful of chopped herbs

Method:

  1. Start by sweating the shallots and garlic gently in the oil from the anchovies till barely golden brown.
  2. While still watching the shallots and garlic, boil the pasta in plenty of water till just before al dente. Do not salt the water.
  3. Going back to the shallots and garlic, add in the chopped anchovies and stir to break up into a paste. Sprinkle in the chilli and continue to stir.
  4. Toss in the pasta into the anchovy mixture, adding in a few spoonfuls of pasta water. Turn up the heat and stir till the water is absorbed and the mixture coats the pasta well. Add a few more spoonfuls of water if the mixture still doesn’t stick to the noodles.
  5. Slip in the herbs and stir, stir, stir.
  6. Serve immediately and devour.

For 1.

An Almost Vegetarian Dinner

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It was time we started eating slightly less fattening food. I attempted to go vegetarian(ish) for a meal or two. A trip to the supermarket got me lovely large king mushrooms, a courgette, mesclun salad and some herbs. The mushrooms ended up under the grill together with a miso-garlic marinade. The courgettes were caramelised and tossed with anchovies and mustard. Substitute capers for the anchovies if you’re going fully vegetarian, I just didn’t have capers in the house. For the couscous, make up some instant stuff with vegetable stock and stir in some chopped herbs. Here I use curly parsley (far cheaper than the Italian flat leaf type and much stronger, go easy). For the salad, I bought some mesclun and mixed in some organic tang oh (chrysanthemum leaves), then cracked in some pistachio (DC’s idea) and tossed in truffled olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It all came together to form a satisfying almost vegetarian dinner.

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Garlic-Miso King Mushrooms

Ingredients:

2 king mushrooms
1 tbsp miso paste (I use red miso with konbu here)
1 tbsp dry vermouth (sherry or sake is good too)
2 cloves garlic, minced

Method:

  1. Slice the king mushrooms lengthwise.
  2. Blend the miso, vermouth and garlic till you get a spreadable paste, smear lovingly over the mushroom portions.
  3. Place under a hot grill for about 10 minutes on each side or until the miso paste just about chars. Serve.
  4. Just before eating, scrape off the excess miso because it gets quite salty.

Caramelised Courgette with Chilli

Ingredients:

2 tsp olive oil
1 courgette, chunked
3 shallots, minced
2 tsp brown sugar
chilli padi, minced
2 anchovies, mashed
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
3 sprigs basil, sliced fine

Method:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a pan and brown the courgette pieces on all sides.
  2. Stir in the shallots on low heat and cook till fragrant. Now stir in the sugar and allow to caramelise.
  3. Add in the chilli padi and anchovy, stirring till combined.
  4. Take the pan off the heat and mix in the mustard and basil. Serve.

Both recipes serve 2.

Au Petit Salut Birthday Dinner

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Chris and I celebrate our birthdays on consecutive days. We went to Au Petit Salut for a birthday blowout dinner in a dim romantic corner, making for rather grainy out of focus pictures.

We started with oysters in the half-shell, going easy with just two each. One was a “prota com” and the other a “white pearl.” The waitress said they were from France but couldn’t say much more beyond that. Couldn’t find any info on them on google, but both were excellent. The white pearl was milder and the prota com was earthy and minerally, tasting beautifully of the sea. It had a long finish with a flinty aftertaste. Gorgeous.

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Next, Chris had her favourite escargot, which she loved. I had to pass on the appetisers because of all the Christmas and birthday feasting, but the chef sent out a complimentary portion of duck rilletes. The rilletes was very good on bread and it’s one of my favourite potted meats.

For mains, I had the lamb shoulder with ratatouille, garlic confit and mashed potatoes. The lamb was very well done, though I like the ends to be a bit more rare. It had great flavour, very meaty without having too strong a “lamb” taste that many people don’t like. And that layer of fat? Crisp, salty outside yielding to soft unctuousness; in a word – heaven. I found the ratatouille a bit of a let down, especially since Chris ordered her own main of grilled fish just because it had ratatouille too. It was not much more than an overly salty vegetable mush. Pity because I loved the rest of the dish. I’m not a particularly garlicky person mainly because I get garlic (and onion) breath far too easily. Somehow these soft garlic cloves just didn’t let me go. They were addictive I tell you. And then there was the mash which was the typically lovely French style with beaucoup de beurre. It was rich and incredibly smooth, almost too rich but I still managed to finish it and it was all gone before I realised.

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By now we were stuffed, but still needed to round off the meal with some dessert. Having to wait 20 minutes for our souffle helped. Time passes quickly when you’re in good company. The grand marnier souffle was well executed and was redolent of oranges and liqueur. I liked the special touch of the tiny bit of dark chocolate that sank in the middle of the dessert. It was a good contrast to the sweet foam. I liked it, but my main grouse with souffle is that there never is enough of crunchy top and side and always too much foam inside.

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It was a lovely dinner. Great company, good food. What more can a girl ask for?

Au Petit Salut
40C Harding Road
Tel: 6475 1976

Fried Laksa

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One of Mum’s friends once made a dry version of laksa for a potluck. It made so much sense to do it without the liquid for easy luggability. It was really yummy, so I had to recreate a version so that DC could try it. It was incredibly easy, although it requires quite a bit of effort in chopping everything up. The picture didn’t come out so good partly because I was trying out a new camera and partly because I lost patience with the chopping. Get some help with the cutting if you can. If not, don’t worry, it tastes much better than it looks!

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Ingredients:

2 tbsp dried shrimp, soaked in water
1 piece belachan, about the size of two 50 cent coins, toasted
6 shallots
1 clove garlic
5 stalks laksa leaves
3 tbsp cooking oil
2 tbsp dried shrimp (keep dry, do not wash)
2 lemongrass stalks, sliced
2 thick slices galangal
1 packet laksa paste (I use Dancing Chef brand)
good squirt of coconut milk, approx 10 tbsp
6 taupok, cut into squares
400g beansprouts (40 cents from my market), picked over and washed
1 kg thick beehoon ($1 from my market)

Sides:
20 poached prawns, shelled
1 big fish cake, shredded
2 chicken breasts, poached and shredded
3 eggs, hard boiled and sliced

Garnish:
1 cucumber, peeled, cored and shredded
large handful laksa leaves, shredded

Method:

  1. Pound the soaked shrimp using a mortar and pestle together with the belachan, shallots, garlic and a handful of laksa leaves.
  2. Fry the dried shrimp in hot oil till crisp, taking care to put them all in at the same time. Remove promptly from the oil as the shrimp burn easily. Set aside on paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
  3. In the same oil, fry the pounded paste of shrimp, belachan, shallots and garlic with the lemongrass and galangal slices till fragrant, about 2 minutes on low. Pour in the laksa paste and fry till fragrant or till you start choking from the pungent chilli smell (whichever comes first). Remember to turn on the fan extractor if you have one. Still, it’s pretty much guaranteed that your whole house will reek of laksa for days.
  4. Remove the lemongrass and galangal, discard.
  5. Add the coconut milk and stir till you get a thick but fairly runny paste.
  6. Stir in the taupok and beansprouts, making sure to incorporate fully before adding in the next ingredient, then finally the noodles.
  7. Check the seasoning, adding fish sauce to taste. Garnish with cucumber shreds, chopped laksa leaves and crispy dried shrimp.
  8. Serve with fish cake, prawns, chicken and boiled egg slices on the side for everyone to help themselves.

Enough for 6.