Viet-inspired Chicken Rice

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

I was so inspired by the Viet chicken rice in Hoi An that I absolutely had to make my own. I started off on a typical Hainanese chicken rice base. Not having access to the type of chicken (most likely cornfed) that coloured the rice yellow, I improvised by adding turmeric to the rice base. For the chicken, I poached it the Hainanese way. However, the toppings were very much improved with plenty of typically Vietnamese herbage. Even in the absence of Hainanese chilli sauce, I thought this was a winner. It also passed the family test: every grain of rice was gobbled up even though I deliberately cooked more in the hope of leftovers. I can imagine it being even more magical with Hainanese chilli sauce.

IMG_2119

Ingredients:

2 cups rice

1 chicken
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sesame oil

2 tbsp oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
1 thumb-length ginger, chopped
4 cloves, optional
1 star anise, optional
1 thumb-length turmeric, pounded

½ carrot, shredded
Thai basil
mint
daun kesom (laksa) leaves
kaffir lime leaves, very finely sliced
big limes, cut into wedges

Method:

  1. Wash rice and put in rice cooker pot. Measure out how much water you’d put in and keep that amount in mind for the stock to use, about 450ml. (I use the “equal finger” method: stick your finger in the rice, and add water to the same level above the rice.) Now drain the rice and set aside.
  2. Put chicken in pot and cover with water. Heat gently till just boiling and simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off fire and leave for 30 minutes.
  3. Remove chicken and set aside. Keep all stock and juices from chicken. When cool, rub with salt and sesame oil.
  4. Fry garlic, shallot and ginger in oil till fragrant, then add cloves, star anise, cinnamon and fry for a few seconds more. Add rice and fry till it’s dry and glistening.
  5. Transfer to rice cooker and and chicken stock. Squeeze the pounded turmeric over, discarding the dry turmeric pulp. Season with a pinch or so of salt. Cook as normal.
  6. Chop chicken and prepare herbage for serving.
  7. Before eating, arrange chicken on top of rice and top with carrot shreds and herbs. Squeeze the lime over and tuck in.

Serves 4.

Advertisements

A Healthy Picnic Lunch

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

DC and I went to check out St John’s Island over the weekend. We hopped over from Marina South Pier by ferry. The 45 minutes ferry ride was comfortable and painless compared to the earlier hassle of finding parking at the ferry terminal. It was one of those incredibly hot yet lovely days and it showed off the island beautifully.

IMG_0800

The sky was blue, the clouds fluffy white and the thick growth of trees a deep lively green.

IMG_0802

There wasn’t a great deal to the island, only a research centre for marine studies and a holiday camp. The rest of the island that was accessible to visitors was pretty much a little park, probably equivalent to a zone or two of East Coast beach.

IMG_0803

Still, it was a lovely walk and surprisingly not quite as hot as we expected as most of the way was pretty shady especially a bit further from the beach. It was a lovely little bit of Singapore that was a nicely contradictory combination of well-kept park and forgotten bucolism.

IMG_0809

There were some mangroves along the coast standing upright in the water that was so clean it was almost clear. Only the sand clouded it up slightly.

IMG_0795

We spent a while peering at the little fish darting amongst the stilt roots of the mangroves.

IMG_0796

While there obviously weren’t any roses here, coming here was a good opportunity to stop and smell and observe. And of course test out the macro feature of my new camera!

IMG_0794

There were also cats on the island. Here’s a pretty one watching out warily both for us…

IMG_0826

… and the spooky black cat with scary eyes.

IMG_0824

Then we adjourned to a shady park bench for a very refreshing Thai-inspired salad redolent of mint and lemongrass. The ever-enterprising DC whipped out cold drinks from a little styrofoam box and it completed our meal very nicely. All we needed to do next was head back to the ferry and home, wash up and have an afternoon nap. Bliss.

IMG_0835

Thai-inspired chicken pasta salad

Ingredients:
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp palm sugar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive or peanut oil (optional)
2 cooked chicken breasts, shredded
1 cup pasta, cooked
2 stalks lemongrass, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped (optional)
2 large handfuls mint leaves
2 heads baby butterhead lettuce
10 cherry tomatoes, halved

Method:

  1. Combine the fish sauce, soy sauce, lime juice and palm sugar, stirring to dissolve. I use pellets of palm sugar bought from Myanmar and leave it overnight in the fridge to give the sugar time to dissolve. Taste if you dare at this point to test for balance. It should be incredibly salty, fishy and sour all at the same time. Add more sugar to temper the sourness slightly and more fish sauce or soy sauce if it’s not fishy-salty enough. Don’t worry too much at this stage, you can tweak later too.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the oil, shredded chicken and pasta, then stir in a few spoonfuls of the dressing. Now toss in the lemongrass, chilli and shallot and keep stirring till well combined.
  3. Tear the mint and lettuce leaves into the salad and keep tossing. Taste and add more dressing if necessary. Spoon into a plastic box for storage and keep as cool as possible for your picnic.

Serves 2.

Indian at the Esplanade

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

DC and I needed some dinner before seeing the opera (how chi-chi!) at the Esplanade. We didn’t have particularly high expectations of the selection at the Esplanade. The Kebab Factory seemed interesting, so it was a whole load of carbs and curry before sitting through La Boheme. Definitely not a very wise choice, but we’re led by the tummy not really the brain. It was surprisingly good!

We started off with an interesting drink of lime, mint and cumin seed called jaljeera. It was a refreshing aperitif to prepare us for a good meal ahead. Our first dish was a palak dish that tasted a whole load better than it looked! Pushing aside the thought that it looks like gloopy baby food, the pureed spinach was smooth, creamy and quite rich. For a vegetable dish, it sure wasn’t a healthy option but at least we were eating our greens!

IMG_0152

The tandoori salmon I felt was a bit of a weak link. It was competently executed and the spices were fine. Too bad it was overcooked as is quite typical for Indian cooking. It resulted in a rough and not particularly pleasant texture. I liked the side salad of shredded daikon and beetroot much better.

IMG_0155

My favourite dish of the evening was the one with chicken balls stuffed with lamb mince. It’s not often to have something that incorporates two different types of meat. The chicken breast on the outside, quite surprisingly, wasn’t overcooked. The lamb stuffing was flavoured with tomato and it was a bit like bolognaise sauce, a very nice twist – very Indian and very Italian at the same time.

IMG_0158

We tried one of the wholemeal breads but that didn’t turn out too good. It was too tough and didn’t taste that great. The plain naan, on the other hand, was flavourful and fragrant. We’ll go for just the naan next time.

IMG_0159

Mirchi’s Kebab Factory
#02-23 Esplanade Mall
Tel: 6334 5590

March in Laos: Eating in Luang Prabang

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Laos in general and Luang Prabang in particular had lots of great food. Siamesecat and I started off one misty morning with a glass of thick, sweet and strong coffee chased down with a glass of steaming hot tea. Sitting on a wooden bench watching the morning bustle while sipping hot robust coffee was one of those subliminal moments of the trip.

00122

After having our caffeine and sugar fix, we table hopped to the next stall and tucked into the typical breakfast of foe (yup, almost exactly like Vietnamese pho). I don’t know how they make it so tasty, but thin flat rice noodles with hot broth, topped with herbs and raw vegetables to your preference hit the spot for me every day.   This morning the noodles came with pork strips and tomato. I could have noodles three times a day and not get sick of it. The trick was to experiment with the toppings provided at the table. They typically have salt, sugar, msg and chilli powder but there’s normally lime, basil, coriander, mint, sweet chilli sauce, various types of belachan (fermented shrimp paste) and fish sauce. I especially liked trying out the pongy variations of belachan at the different places.

00120

Foe is normally served in really small portions, which was fine with us because it gave us all the more reason to snack along the street. Here I’m stuffing my face yet again at a barbecue stand selling grilled animal parts like spicy minced pork patties, water buffalo jerky and belly pork. It was all mmm good.

00127

For lunch, we again had noodles, the one here a beef version with popped rice cracker-cakes on the side. If you look carefully you’ll spot the two small tubs of belachan on the table. One was the typical shrimp one and the other made of tiny river crabs. We noticed a lot of Lao people take a chilli padi, dip it in belachan, take a chomp and double dip it while waiting for their noodles. I guess the heat from the chilli kills the germs.

00140

Heavily fortified by all this food, Siamesecat and I proceeded to wander the streets. It was evening when we came across this vampire-phobic cat lying on a bed of garlic. It was obviously bed time.

00114

It looked incredibly satisfied at the end of that yawn!

00113

As the sun began to set, Siamesecat and I decided that we really should have something quite special. While we both loved noodles and never got tired of them, we had to try the slightly fancier food too.

00115

We found a restaurant along the Mekong and enjoyed the view while waiting for our food.

00118

This place served mainly set menus catering to tourists. We figured that it was as good as any other. Not having any locals to take us to truly authentic places, at least this would allow us to try a bit of everything.

00116

The set dinner started with watercress salad, a fresh minty salad with sharp watercress and other herbs dressed in a type of mayonnaise. Then it progressed to dried pork sausage with very spicy buffalo skin dip. The pork sausage was like a slightly less fatty salami with lovely smoked overtones while the dip had strips of rather tough buffalo hide bound by a fiery chilli paste. Crispy sheets of dried riverweed with sesame seeds helped to balance out the fire but the extremely spicy beef stew didn’t help things out.

00117

Siamesecat and I then hit the night market for incredibly cheap buys like a beautiful silk and cotton mix pair of fisherman pants for about USD2.50. There were pretty handicrafts and all sorts of ethnic and hill tribe knick knacks on sale. Apparently a lot of these items were brought over the border to Thailand for sale in their own tourist markets.

I stopped to buy something that couldn’t be exported easily to Thai tourist markets: more food. Supper that night was baguette filled with ping kai (barbecued chicken) and lettuce. It was up to me to choose my sauces again. This time it was at least three kinds of chilli sauce, two of which had some kind of fermented seafood incorporated within, and two types of soya sauce. Amazing.

00053

Oomphatico’s

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

I was at the Tanglin area and thought I’d have some long sought-after time with myself. It’s not often that I get time alone so I treated myself to a good lunch at Oomphatico’s.

The decor is whimsical pink and gold with soft-cushioned, slightly fussy Victorian style chairs. It’s obviously geared towards trendy young mummies with designer prams: family friendly yet not overtly so.

I started with the watermelon, pomegranate and mint juice. It was a refreshing and imaginative blend that came in a fairly generous portion. It was a bit more smoothie than juice because of the watermelon pulp, sometimes I had to chew a bit. Not bad nonetheless.

DSCF5322

My side salad came next and I was surprised by how generous the portion was. It wasn’t your typical run-of-the-mill mesclun. Rather than just limp lettuce, it also had various yummies like ripe avocado, sweet cherry toms and crunchy cucumber. The service was pretty attentive too because they asked if I wanted my main served immediately. Most places just plonk the main down whether you’re ready or not.

DSCF5320

I asked for my linguine vongole with mussels and anchovy to come when I was done with the salad. It still came piping hot yet not overcooked, very well done on the service. At first I found it slightly tasteless but soon realised that the anchovies weren’t mixed in properly.  It was a very pleasing combination of fresh clams and fresh mussels too, not the usual tough frozen New Zealand greenlip stuff. I liked how they were generous with the flat leaf parsley too. A winner.

DSCF5323

I ended off the meal with a latte. Too bad it was tiny, watered down and the only overpriced thing I had here. A let down to an otherwise excellent meal.

Southeast Asian-Style Coca Cola Chicken Noodle Soup

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

This is a rather odd-sounding recipe. It’s inspired to some point by the famous Kai Tun Coke in Chiang Mai (even though I haven’t tried the McCoy yet) and from eating my way around Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. I know that most people don’t have a leftover Coke problem when they have guests over, but I do. This recipe used up my leftovers beautifully.

First, simmer the chicken in an infusion of coke, fish sauce and whatever herbs and spices you like. My recipe is a broad indication, use as many or as few of them as you like. Similarly for my soup toppings: I adore the Viet idea of having a whole herb garden to accompany each meal. Diners would then pick and choose from the basket whatever they liked and added the herbs and vegetables according to preference. I tried to replicate some of it here, so please don’t feel like you have to run out to buy every single topping/garnish. If you just want it in its most bare bones form,  try it with just mint, onion and lime.

dscf4187

Ingredients:
500 ml coke
4 tbsp fish sauce
1 stalk lemongrass, sliced
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 star anise
4 cloves
2 cardamom pods
1 chicken

kway teow noodles
romaine lettuce
onion, sliced thinly
mint leaves
lime wedges

Optional:

cucumber, cored and cut into matchsticks
long bean, cut into short lengths
beansprouts
red chilli, sliced

coriander leaves
thai holy basil
spring onion

Method:

  1. Combine the coke, fish sauce and herbs in a pot and lower in the chicken, breast-side up. The breast should just about be covered by the liquid.
  2. On low heat, bring to a gentle simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes.
  3. Allow to cool in its own liquid.
  4. Lift out the chicken carefully and divide into portions ready for serving. Reserve the cooking liquid.

To serve:

  1. Dilute the cooking liquid in an equal amount of water. Bring to a boil and season with fish sauce to taste.
  2. Add the noodles and lettuce. Bring back to the boil.
  3. Divide into bowls, top with the chicken and serve. Diners will add their own garnish according to taste.

A Rather Healthy and Slightly Sinful Lunch

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

I ran out of gas yesterday. Even though the new cylinder came very promptly, I challenged myself to make lunch without using the gas stove. I had a rather odd bunch of stuff in the house. First, there was some potato to finish before they started sprouting. There was some defrosted chicken thigh, skin on. In the veg department, there was some curly red lettuce crying out to be used, mint leaves, laksa leaves and some leftover celery. I also had some pear and leftover lemon wedges in the fridge.

It all came together in the form of roast potato in laksa and mint salsa verde, baked chicken and a green salad with celeary and pear. It was light yet satisfying and great for fine sunny weather that threatened to turn cloudy. Try this all together or take it apart to assemble your own version.

dscf4122

Roast Potato in Laksa and Mint Salsa Verde and Baked Chicken with Skin

Ingredients:
1 russet potato
1 handful laksa leaves
1 handful mint leaves
1 tbsp oil
sea salt

1 chicken thigh with skin

Method:

  1. Scrub the potato thoroughly and slice thickly. Peel the potato if you like but I never bother. Grill the slices on both sides till slightly browned. Remove and then preheat oven to 150ºC.
  2. Chop the mint and laksa leaves finely, add a good pinch of sea salt and then mix with the oil. Smear generously onto potato slices. Put into the oven together with the chicken (and skin) and bake for 15 minutes till the chicken is cooked and the skin crispy.
  3. Serve with the salad.

For one person. Easily scaled up.

Celery, Pear and Mint Salad

Ingredients:
1 stick celery
½ pear
3 small bunches red curly lettuce or other lettuce
1 handful mint
¼ lemon
1 tbsp oil
salt and pepper

Method:

  1. Cut the celery into long, fine diagonals and the pear into fine matchsticks. Tear the lettuce into small pieces.
  2. Put celery, pear, lettuce and mint into a large bowl. Squeeze over half of the lemon, then pour over the oil and add a good pinch of salt and a generous grinding of pepper.
  3. Using clean hands (use spoons if you’re squeamish), toss the salad until mixed well. Taste and add a bit more lemon juice or salt and pepper if necessary.
  4. Serve.

For one greedy person or 2-3 non-salady people.