Hokkien Prawn Mee Recipe @ The Tale of Two Mothers

Hokkien Mee / Prawn Mee / Har Mee / Xia Mian / Hae Mee

Yes being of so many names (due to dialects), and not to be confused with the black stir-fried Hokkien thick noodles, it is actually a prawn noodle soup. Up north in Malaysia, Taiping included, we normally called it Hokkien Mee, so imagine my confusion when I moved down south to KL initially. From then on I have started to identify it as Har Mee (in Cantonese dialect that is widely use in KL), and so will this post for consistency.

The soup is a broth made of prawn shells broth that is boiled with pork ribs. Later on prior to serving, the soup will be added with belachan chili paste, which is an important ingredient to make it truly Malaysian. Though this dish may have originated from the Fujian province in China, the Hokkiens in Malaysia must have tweaked it with our famous belachan to make it more complex and intense in flavour. It is normally served with yellow noodles and/or mee hoon / bee hoon (rice vermicelli), and served with various condiments like fried pork lard (a personal must even though there are various health concerns about it, validated or not), taugeh (bean sprouts), kangkung (spinach), sliced tauhu (tofu) and of course prawns.

Tale of two mothers
Due to my mother’s lack of culinary inclination, the kitchen in my Taiping house have not seen much fire activities except the occasional boiling of eggs or cooking rice or quite scarily cooking instant noodles. Thus since a kid, I have the luxury to go out often and explore the street food and hawker stalls of Taiping. In fact my mother is not one who is tham jiak (I wonder where I get mine from, must be the Hokkien blood in me, my mother is Hakka by the way) but one who prefers familiarity and comfort. Therefore she would always go back for familiar Malaysian food. One of the food that she kept revisiting on our Saturday lunch rituals (she goes to work on weekdays so Saturday lunch is quite a precious mother-daughter thing), was the Har Mee in Tai Chien, Taiping. Sadly though the stall is no longer there as the proprietor had retired and there was no one to take his place, which unfortunately have also been the fate of most of the good food in Taiping.

My other mother, which is my nanny who had taken care of me in the first five years of my life, was totally different. Not only does she have a flair in culinary, she was also as tham jiak as me. We can see the similarity between us where she would seek out to try various food popping up in Taiping while she also loves to cook and bake at home. Besides, she have this good quality, which sadly I do not possess, was the determination to keep making something until it is right, so most of her signature dishes are to die for. She has her family and friends vouching for her, but most importantly, her husband who sing praises of it.

“You should ask Lai Ma to make Har Mee for you, hers is the best! You should definitely learn from her before its lost”

“Lai Ma, let’s make Har Mee, I want to learn”, I chirped.

Lai Ma rolled her eyes “There’s no ingredients…it’s troublesome….” and she continues with whatever grumbles she can come up with, as she knows, as much as I know, as much as also my Lai Pa knows, is that my Lai Pa himself wants to eat it. Of course I am sure his intention of me learning the trades are definitely there, but being tham jiak himself, he is obviously hankering for it. Despite my Lai Ma’s various excuses, she would next day wake up early to go marketing and even prepare all the necessary ingredients before calling me up, “You come over now, we are going to make Har Mee”, which is of no surprise to me and also much to my delight to be able to learn and eat it of course.

Ah, this is the power of love, and one that has been around for a long time. One hints, one understands, one gives excuses, one pretends and in the end both happy. One happy for the labour of love from the wife, another because her husband appreciates her labour of love.

Har Mee from a Taiping stall:
Taiping Har Mee have the flavour that is very similar to the Penang hokkien prawn mee but minus the char siew slices. I must say the Har Mee that I had in KL had always paled in comparison, so do try out Har Mee if you are up north in Malaysia. Else you can try to make one as below!

Malaysia Hokkien Prawn Mee
Hokkien Prawn Mee

Har Mee from a Taiping kitchen:
The difference of the Har Mee coming out from your own kitchen is the quality of ingredients that went into it. Here you will see big prawns and big chunks of pork ribs. Besides you can choose to have which ingredient more (or less) according to your palate. Just try not to be as tham jiak as me where it was overflowing with ‘lius’ (ingredients) till even the noodles were hidden. Then again, forget what I just said and liberally pile on your favourite stuffs!

The soup
1 big pot of prawn shells
800g to 1kg pork ribs
rock sugar
salt

Dry fry the prawn shells till fragrant
Then boil them in water to extract the flavours
Strain the liquid and discard the shells
Add extra water and then put in the pork ribs
Boil for about 2 hours or till meat is soft
Add rock sugar and salt to taste

Crispy lard and fried onions
Roughly a bowl of pork lard, chopped to small even cubes and then marinate with some salt
Big handful of small onions, sliced thinly

Add about 1/2 cup oil (depending how much pork lard) to wok and heat up
Deep fry pork lard till brown, pork lard will yield more oil in the end
(Lai Ma’s tip: normal oil is mixed with the pork lard so that it would not congeal after cool)
Scoop out the fried pork lard to a bowl, leaving bout 1/2 cup fat in the wok
Then fry the sliced onions in the fat
When almost brown, lower the fire and add a tablespoon of sugar to mix
(Another Lai Ma’s tip: sugar is added for the secrecy to crispy fried onions)
Scoop out to drain and then cool. Once cool keep in a bottle to keep it crispy

Chili paste and prawns
Blend belachan, onion, dry chili and fry till dry
1/2 cup small prawns, shell removed
3tbsp oils

Heat oil and fry 3 tbsp of the blended paste
Scoop out the paste leaving bout 2tsp behind
Fry it with the prawns till cook
Set aside both paste and prawns

Noodles and other toppings
1 bunch of Kangkung
Yellow mee
Bee hoon, pre-soaked till soft
1/2 cup big prawns

Bring water to boil
Blanch the kangkung, then remove
Then blanch the yellow mee
Then blanch the bihun mee
Finally right before serving, blanch the big prawns

To serve
Pile the noodles into the bowl
Pour the soup over the noodles till just covered and then pour it back into the pot (this is the secret to most noodle soups for the flavour to first coat the noodles)
Pour in the soup again with some pork ribs if desire
Top with the chili paste and little prawns
Then pile on remaining toppings as per preference

****

I am sending this story and delicious Malaysian dish hailed from Taiping to Babe in City KL‘s Merdeka Open House 2011 – Makan Through Malaysia. The first time that I joined was her first open house 5 years ago (how time flies!) with my Chiffon Cake recipe and story. Thank you babe for choosing one of my ideas for the theme again and I can’t wait for the rest of the virtual roundup for delicious food from all over Malaysia!

Update: Get all the juicy roundup here.

Hainanese Pork Chop : Newember

N is for November. N is for new.

How apt. Cause November is when I need to start anew. A good friend hybrid this name for me when I wrote that November = new, and then told me I should so write a post on it, which I totally agree. This would be the month of renewal for me, the month where I put back the scattered train coaches back onto the tracks. The rail is still going, the journey have not ended. The destination is important but after all, it is the journey that counts.

New is a very positive word. New signifies birth, like a new born child crying when it got to this world in shock and then marvel at all the sights, sounds and smells around him. From then on a child will grow with curiosity where everything is like anew, everything is exciting, everything seem like a big opportunity for exploration. When was the last time you see things from the eyes of a child?

November – autumn, fall, rainy and cooling, depending on where you are in this world. The old would have to go before the new can come in. November had always been a quiet month for me, it is neither the end yet, no that’s for December, but yet it is definitely neither the beginning of the last quarter of the year. It is normally the month where people take the last opportunity to mellow a little, slack a little and wait for the holidays to come. It is just like how in autumn the trees shed the leaves; here human will shed their burdens. As for me, I am throwing in spring for this autumn. I would shed the leaves and grow new flowers. Flowers bring joy.

Life is a long road of journey, don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers.

****

There was a period of time when I had to take care of my dad after his heart operation and I must say cooking for him at that time is definitely mind-boggling. There are many food restrictions, some medically so and some motherly so. Yes my mother in all her Chinese ways manage to come up with lots of things that a person recovering from operation should not consume, never mind that I insist on a scientific explanation, her because-I-say-so shoots every logic into oblivion.

So armed with limited choices, and after rounds of cooking the usual home cooked Chinese food, I was thinking to cook something new, something that I totally pick out of the air for him. Yes new is the theme we are talking about here. Somehow, with whatever I can forage in my sister’s kitchen and what I had bought beforehand, I manage to whip up a Hainanese inspired pork chop.

I must say though this recipe is the typical example of Chinese cooking, it’s a little bit of this, a dash of that, a sprinkle of those and many, many finger dipping tasting into the hot sauce to come up with the right taste, so all the best if you are to attempt this and may you whip up a pork chop ala your own. So do read the following recipe as a gauge on how you may approach this and you go from there. Let your creative taste buds take charge!

Pork Chop ala Rokh

Ingredients
2-3 pork shoulder in slices
1 big onion
3-4 cloves of garlics

Sauce mix
Lots of splashes of soy sauce
Dash of sesame oil
Few dashes of rice wine
2-3 tbsps of tomato sauce
Mix water to taste

Punch the pork shoulder till soft and tender
Marinade with salt, pepper and mixed spice
Cut big yellow onion and few cloves of garlic into slices
Then mix for the sauce: Soy sauce and rice vinegar (few big splashes), sesame oil (few small splash) and tomato sauce (about 2 tbsps) and water add to taste
Pour in some olive oil and then pan fry the pork chop till no longer pink on both sides. Set aside
Using the same pan, throw in the sliced onions and cook till caramelize, add some olive oil if needed. (Do make sure it is nicely browned and caramelized as this would make or break the dish, google for some instructions if you’re unsure)
Next throw in the sliced garlic and stir fry some more till the aroma fills your nose
Then pour in the sauce mix and bring to boil, at same time start dipping, tasting and add on stuff if needed
Turn off the fire and pour the sauce over the cooked pork chop and voila!

****

Yes I know that newember have come and gone, but why is this post only up in January? Let’s just say in my time of recuperating and time of renewal, I kept this post aside as quite a sacred thought to myself. Now that I have been renewed, I find it liberating to post it up. Do not let my idea of renewal be constraint to November, as I believe many of us takes January for this wonderful ritual. We all need it once in a while, so what’s your renewal for 2011?

Chinese New Year: Green Pea Cookies Recipe : Bribing with Cookies

I cannot believe it! Tomorrow is the last day of the Chinese Lunar calendar! I am going to leave for my dearest hometown wee early tomorrow morning along with aunty and cousins, and I can’t wait. Though counting up to tomorrow have been anxious, then turn to stress, then turn to excitement and then now anticipation. I can’t wait to drink my Pho Pho’s heart-stopping duck soup and wrap pieces after pieces after pieces after pieces of lettuce around my all-time-favourite Pho Pho’s jiu hu char. I can’t wait to toss the Yee Sang with everyone up so high half of it end up on the table. I can’t wait to casually walk into my Lai Ma’s house again and mention casually that I haven’t had lunch, I hope the same trick works again, but then again, I don’t need a trick to have my Lai Ma pushing food to me. Moreover this year I am armed with New Year cookies for her as well! Hah! It does sound like I am bringing a container of cookies in exchange for a mouth-watering feast, I would say this is such a good deal, agree?

I have baked more goodies after my initial kick-off Chinese New Year baking and finally chosen to remake Green Pea cookies in batches for giveaways because it was oh-so-tasty and not too tedious to make. I mentioned that Peanut cookies seemed like a new cookie for Chinese New Year but oh boy was I wrong, Lily reminisced making these with her grandmother, only that the original called for lard! I stand corrected but I might try again to say these Green Pea cookies should be newer in generation, as I could not recall it before the appearance of Peanut cookies during Chinese New Year, and some even claimed that it was a variation of the traditional Peanut cookies. Correct me if I am wrong again! I do not know what the Green Pea cookies represent in Chinese in comparison to other more obvious cookies, if anyone does know, do let me know too!

As for now, pardon the short post, I need to get ready, pack my bag and head north to celebrate in gluttony. By the way, Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Green Pea Cookies Recipe @ Chinese New Year
Green Pea Cookies Recipe @ Chinese New Year

Green Pea Cookies

When I made my first batch, I found that it was too sweet, and so I went about researching on more recipes around the wonderful blogosphere and came about to my own measurement below. Also, on the first time I bought the green peas, it was the Jusco selection packet, that comes in 180g and it seem the green peas do look slightly smaller than the usual snack ones. The cookie came out so fragrant, I bought the same packets for my subsequent bakes! Note that these came salted so I omit the salt in the recipe. Also make sure you grind the green pea fine enough for the melt-in-mouth cookies. Similarly to the Peanut cookies, you should add the oil bit by bit until the dough comes together. This time I was a bit lazy and skipped the egg glazing steps, thus my cookies look pale but it still taste oh-so-good. This time I also learnt from the Peanut cookies bakes and used 1 teaspoon to shape my cookies and it came out just the right size to pop into the mouth.

180g ground green pea cookies
180g all-purpose flour (sifted)
80g icing sugar
80 – 100g oil
1/4 tsp salt (omit if green peas are salted)

1 egg lightly beaten for glaze (optional)

Mix the ground green peas, sifted flour, icing sugar and salt (if using) together till well combined
Slowly add in the oil and mix till a pliable dough is formed
Shape them into balls or use a 1 teaspoon to shape it, and then line it on a tray
Brush egg wash on top of each cookie (optional)
Bake at 180C for 15-20 minutes

Make approximately 84 cookies

Chinese New Year: Dragon Cookie and Peanut Cookie Recipe : Finally, Initially

Way long ago initially, I wanted to blog about my gastronomic adventure in Japan I haven’t. Then initially I wanted to do a roundup of the blog for 2008, and that did not happen either. Than it reminds me that initially I wanted to make many things for 1984 and friends’ Christmas Eve party but that did not happen either, though I did manage to make hummus and cupcakes, blog entry to follow, wish I hope would indeed happen on day. So all that initially aside, they have to wait, as I am going to make way for a more appropriate post at hand – Chinese New year bakes, which I had way way long ago initially, I’m talking about few years back here, wanted to bake which now I finally did!

To me the new year has yet to actually start, due to the impending Chinese New Year, it still feel like I am in the counting down mode to wrap up the year-has-been, please tell me I am not the only one, at least not the only Chinese. At first CNY still seemed pretty far away to me, but when I started to plan out some CNY bakes, it dawned onto me that it was only about 2 weeks away. Ah, so much to do, rather so much to bake yet so little time.

Anyway, what brought me into finally baking cookies for this important Chinese festival? That question brings to the story of a dear friend, M. She messaged me one day on a link to a detachable handheld mixer which she was contemplating to purchase in order to do some CNY baking; she chose to ask me because she knew I was a sort-of-baking-and-cooking aficionado, which then renewed the interest in me. I have always, wanted to bake for CNY but have not kick my lazy butt hard enough to really do it as because (insert overused excuses here) so this time thanks to M, I seized the opportunity and proposed to her to have a baking session together! Aha, that would bring this lazy tham jiak to really stick to the plan; she has a baking date to stick to!

So fast forward to the following weekend, I was lugging two big bags of ka-chang (Cantonese dialect’s multi-purpose word for kitchen tools/utensils/equipments/anything that you use to do something), to M’s home and then we got started on our project. There were two bakes that day as each of us chose one recipe to attempt.

M chose her many-attempts-since-last-year Dragon Cookies, which she had not yet manage to achieve her ultimate one, which were supposed to be creamy , slightly soft, melt in your mouth yet having a bit of a crunch on first bite kind, if I understood her correctly. I can’t help but to mention here that the batch she baked the day before which she added banana essence due to one recipe which called for it, and a word of advice from both of us here, do not attempt to put banana essence in your Dragon Cookies! It is not a banana cookie, end of explanation. I guess I was her lucky star as finally, that very day that I am there with her baking the cookies she finally achieved her ultimate Dragon Cookie!

Dragon Cookies Recipe @ Chinese New Year
Dragon Cookies @ Chinese New Year

M’s Ultimate Dragon Cookies

Note that for this recipe, you would need a cookie press to shape it. Also M had noted that she had tried before with plastic press which has less desirable results especially if the dough is not soft enough, therefore she prefer the metal one that she is using now.

One important thing to understand about making these cookies is the balance between the baking time and the oven temperature. Our first batch was slightly over-baked and really puffed up. After tasting we found that it had a texture of similarity to kuih bangkit, where we even joked we had made a fusion of them, but ah that is not what we want for the ultimate Dragon Cookies, do we? So for the next batch we decided to bake in shorter time, about 10 minutes, and it came out perfect! The next next batch was slightly under-baked though, where we need to put in for few minutes more. Take note that we had the oven on slightly higher temperature due to its nature. Therefore we can only conclude that, the secret here in making the ultimate dragon cookies is to find the balance of time and temperature, also good recipe is a must, we would not want another banana essence case do we? Just remember that the cookies are suppose to be pale white even after baked. Good luck in trying, M tried since last year, so be like her, don’t give up! Also, we are now giving you a tried and true recipe below, so I bet it would save you at least a year, no?

Dragon Cookies Recipe @ Chinese New Year
Dragon Cookies (the making)

150g butter (room temperature)
150g icing sugar
2 egg yolks
1 egg white
350g corn flour
30g milk powder
60g plain flour

Beat butter, icing sugar, egg yolks and egg white until creamy
Sift flour and milk powder together
Add flour mixture to the batter and mix till fully incorporated
Fill batter into cookie press and press out a line and then shape it (M shaped to S which to me is a sleeping Dragon, there are other who made a flying Dragon – curly long line)on a baking tray
Bake at 160-180C for 10-15 mins

Yields 120 cookies

As for me, I chose to make Peanut Cookies, which not too long ago, I would say about maybe 10 years back that in Malaysia here, it became a must-have for Chinese New Year. If anyone new since when these cookies got into the list please let me know. As a peanut fan myself, I just had to make it, even though I knew it is not going to be easy, as we would first need to dry fry the peanuts patiently and then remove the skins patiently. Preparation is bit tedious, some experience on how the dough should be like would be good, but other than that it is a fairly simple recipe, calling for minimal ingredients.

Peanut Cookies @ Chinese New Year
Peanut Cookies Recipe @ Chinese New Year

Peanut Cookies

Adapted from Do What I Like

First dry fry the peanuts over medium heat, remember to stir it religiously. Do not try to take shortcut by frying over high heat as it would result in the peanuts got burnt pretty quickly on the outside but has yet to fully cook on the inside. Then you have to take de-skin them, I do this by rubbing them against a basket, this would also need some work if you have not mastered the skill which enables you to do this in a jiffy. After that the peanuts is ready to be grind till fine.

Frying Peanut for Peanut Cookies
Frying Peanut for Peanut Cookies

But simple as the recipe may seem, it also requires some experience in understanding the dough. I added in all the oil and still found my mixture on the dry side but I tried by pressing them together and mould it into a 1/2 tablespoon for shape and it did work, but later noted to self that it seem a bit too big and might use a smaller one next round. But if you want an easier task where you can roll them into balls, you might need more oil to form the dough first. After researching and reading other’s experiences, it seemed that the quantity of oil needed depended also on how oily your peanuts were naturally. Therefore, slowly add in the oil until the dough is able to mould when pressed, or slightly more oil if you need to roll and shape them. These cookies came out with the melt-in-the-mouth texture, with some crunch due to the added chopped peanuts (I crushed them with a rolling pin; before that I tried to smash them against the counter which resulted in them flying everywhere, sorry M). I gave some to Q to try which she said that it tasted rich (even when I did not put enough oil) and she even asked if I have added peanut butter, ah, so it means I have achieved the creamy texture as well. Overall this is a good recipe, if you want full creamy kind then you might want to omit the chopped peanuts, and also remember to take note on the oil ratio.

200g ground peanut
200g flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
100g icing sugar
1/4 tsp salt
100g – 150g crushed peanuts
100g-150g peanut oil/corn oil

Egg wash:1 egg yolk lightly beaten with 1 tsp water

Put all the peanuts into a wok and dry fry over low heat till crunchy
Remove the skin then grind till fineSieve flour and baking powder together
Mix the flour mixture, ground peanut powder, icing sugar and salt together till well combined
Add in the crushed peanuts and mix well (if you are using)
Slowly add in the peanut oil and mix till a pliable dough is formed (see note above
Shape them into balls or like use a 1/2 tablespoon to shape it, and then line it on a tray
Brush egg wash on top of each cookie
Bake at 165C for 15-20 minutes or till golden brown

Yields 35 cookies (for the 1/2 tablespoon size)

I would say the project has been quite successful for Peanut Cookies first attempt and the achievement of the ultimate Dragon Cookies. I am even contemplating to do second round of Peanut Cookies with some tweaks that I have learnt, oh well, we shall see if this lazy tham jiak will get around to that (psst, which might be next CNY!). Still, I think I deserved a pat on the head for finally meeting one of my initially-s, that is baking for CNY! Not to forget one pat for M as well for her perseverance!