SingTel recently brought into town Chef Gordon Ramsay to pit his culinary skill against three of our local hawkers. The SingTel Hawker Challenge, as it was named, was clearly a publicity exercise to boost the image of local hawkers and our street food in general. Three hawker dishes and the “hawker heroes” behind them were selected through a public vote. They included Chicken Rice, Laksa and Chilli Crab.
I was surprised that Char Kway Teow did not make it to the list. Char Kway Teow is a dish of flat rice noodle wok-fried over high heat in sweet dark sauce, with other ingredients including beansprouts, eggs, prawn, Chinese sausage, fish cake and cockles. I realise that various versions of fried rice noodle are available in other parts of Asia (such as paad thai from Thailand or the Malaysian version of fried kway teow), but the Singapore version is different because it includes some yellow noodle, which gives it a little more bite. This dish, like Fried Hokkien Prawn Noodle, is unique to Singapore and very popular among Singaporeans. Either this or Hokkien Prawn Noodle ought to have been included in the list. They are among the dishes which Singaporeans overseas dream of while away, and feel the need to get their fix of, when they come home.
So anyway, after each Hawker Hero had given Chef Ramsay a tutorial on how they prepared their dish, he was required to come up with his own version for the final challenge. Not surprisingly, our hawker heroes won the challenge 2-1, with Chef Ramsay winning the Chilli Crab round. Well, I don’t even consider Chilli Crab to be one of our street-foods. To begin with, crabs cost way too much to qualify as main-stream hawker fare, and it’s not even something commonly available at hawker centres. But that is hardly the point, I guess. The whole event was set up for the sake of publicity and I believe it was a success in that respect.
Since I’m in the mood to ramble this lazy overcast Sunday afternoon, do bear with me as I go off on a tangent (or two, or three). I haven’t blogged in such a long time anyway, which I attribute to the new(ish) job. Since returning to the private sector and a faster-paced work environment, I’ve just not been as zen as I’d been during the 3 years before, and hence I haven’t had the inclination to measure quantities for my recipes and then sit down and write about them. I just go into the kitchen, peel, chop, slice, fry, stir, toss, taste, clang about and what-not, then enjoy the meal and crash. I’ve done a bit of baking from time to time, but entertaining on weekends or holidays have tended to be simpler affairs.
What I was going to say (and this is completely irrelevant to Char Kway Teow) was that the H and I had the privilege of dining at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay earlier this year. We were in London for the London Marathon. He was running it. I was there as one-woman cheer-leading squad and crew (having been enticed by the promise that my efforts would be rewarded with a trip to Tuscany the following week). The Marathon was an experience in itself – I was awed by the organisation and the atmosphere. The races I run in our little sunny island are nothing like that, and to say it was all very inspiring would be an understatement. Now, back to Restaurant Gordon Ramsay (I did warn you there’d be many digressions), aside from the food, what really impressed me about it was the precision with which the restaurant floor was run. Really something for all restaurants to aspire to. And we even got to visit the kitchen after our meal, and received a nod and smile from Chef Clare Smyth!
One day in June this year, I needed to clear out of my fridge some unused ingredients which had been originally prepared for the Fried Hokkien Prawn Noodles I’d cooked for a lunch with friends over the weekend. I started with some cooking oil and chopped garlic in the wok on high heat, then threw in yellow noodles, bean sprouts, eggs, Chinese sausage and squid, tossed it all about, followed by drizzling in from the sides of the wok dark soya sauce and sweet dark sauce, and some prawn stock. Thus was born in my kitchen, fried noodles done Char Kway Teow-style. It turned out pretty good. An old classmate CL, who now lives in Germany with her family, asked me for the recipe when she saw a picture of the dish which I’d posted.
I decided I’d make a proper Char Kway Teow, actually using kway teow and some yellow noodle, before posting a recipe. So finally I got down to doing that a couple of weeks ago. I really enjoy frying up these hawker dishes in a wok at high heat (cze char style). Usually the stove-top looks like it’s been through a tornado after I’m done cooking because the whole exercise involves a lot of vigorous tossing and all which results in much spillage. Yes, it does make a bit of a mess. But it’s such fun to do!
I’m sharing the recipe here, for those who are interested, and especially for CL. The quantities are estimates and based on taste, so do experiment, do some taste-testing and make adjustments as you go along. I didn’t have any cockles, which was a real pity, but if you do have some cockles (which you would’ve no doubt had to rinse like 100 times in order to get them clean), just put put them into the wok after everything is cooked and cover momentarily with the piping-hot noodles right before serving.
500g kway teow
200g yellow noodles
500g bean sprouts
A bunch of Chye Sim, cut to 2 inch lengths
3 whole garlics, chopped
12 large prawns, poached and shelled (shells used to make stock)
1 bowl prawn stock
1-2 Chinese sausages, skinned and sliced
2 pieces fish cake, sliced
Top quality dark soya sauce
Sweet Sauce (this is available at supermarkets. Ingredients are molasses, sugar, caramel and water)
Heat a few tbs cooking oil in a wok over medium-high heat. Add chopped garlic and stir-fry for a minute or so, then add yellow noodle, turn up heat to high and toss until coated evenly in oil. Add kway teow, and toss, mixing with yellow noodle. Add a little prawn stock.
Add beansprouts, chye sim, Chinese sausage, and fish cake, then toss together with noodle to cook, and push all contents of wok to a side.
Add a little oil onto the space created, allow to heat for a while, and add eggs and stir them as you would when making scrambled eggs. When eggs are half-cooked, toss the other ingredients over them so the eggs are buried. Leave for about half a minute or less, then start to stir and mix everything together. Eggs should resemble scrambled eggs, bits of which should adhere to the noodles and other ingredients somewhat.
Add about 2-3 tbs dark soya to the wok by drizzling it down the sides of the wok, followed by a few tbs of sweet sauce and more prawn stock. Mix well with noodles and other ingredients. Add the cooked prawns and toss. Then serve hot.
(The amount of the sauces and stock to add depends on your personal preference – how sweet or salty you like it. The dish should taste sweet and salty, with a seafood-based flavour. This dish should be served immediately after cooking.)
We just celebrated our 12th Wedding Anniversary last weekend. It amazes many people, but the H and I have actually been together for 22 years. Definitely something to give thanks for. But of course I was practically a child bride.
We were having a quiet dinner out without the kids. I had just popped a most luscious piece of otoro sushi into my mouth when the kids called in a panic to say the neighbour’s house was on fire. So while they were being evacuated by firemen, we thanked our sushi chef and explained that we had to go. Thank God everyone was safe and the fire was contained. I didn’t get to taste much of that otoro, but a most memorable dinner date it turned out to be.
Anyway, the H loves paella, so yesterday I decided to give it a go. Call me old fashioned, but I like the idea of cooking for my man. Actually, that’s what started me cooking in the first place. But that’s another story for another time.
Now, I decided on Seafood Paella, so off I went in the afternoon to pick up some mussels, squid and tiger prawns. And while I was at the supermarket, I decided to throw in some chorizo as well. I couldn’t find any paella rice, so I just got some medium-grain rice.
The rice took a lot longer to cook than I’d expected. In fact, halfway through, I actually wondered if it would ever get cooked. But the family survived the wait, it turned out pretty good and people were happy. Kind of scraping the bottom of the pan at the end of it. Not bad for a first try at all. So although I’d been a little moody all day because I missed my Saturday morning run, it made me feel a little better.
Here’s my recipe, which I hope you’ll like. I didn’t use any chilli or anything spicy (other than the chorizo).
2 cups paella rice or medium-grain rice
6 tbs Olive Oil
2 whole garlic, chopped
1 brown onion, chopped
2 red bell peppers, sliced
1 or 2 tomatoes, diced
2 cups prawn stock
2 cups chicken stock plus more to add as necessary
1 or 2 spicy chorizo
A dozen mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
8-10 tiger prawns, shells on
2 large squid, sliced into rings
1 tsp saffron threads, soaked in a little water
Heat olive oil in pan. Remove skins from chorizo, and break up into balls then cook over medium-high heat. (Alternatively, you could just saute them till half-cooked, slice them with skin on, then return to pan to cook till nicely browned). Remove from pan.
Saute squid till just cooked and remove from pan.
Saute garlic, onion and tomatoes until softened and add the saffron with the soaking water. Continue to cook until all the veggies are mushy.
Add 2 cups prawn stock and 2 cups chicken stock, bring to boil, season with salt and pepper, then add the rice and simmer till cooked. Add stock if it turns dry before the rice is cooked. (I covered the pan only after half an hour, so it took more than an hour for the rice to cook).
When rice is almost cooked, arrange the squid, prawns and bell peppers on top of the rice, and cover. (I actually roasted the bell peppers beforehand, and tossed it in after the rice was cooked – you could do this if you don’t mind having to roast them).
In a separate pot, steam the mussels till they open (discard those which don’t).
Once everything in the pan is cooked (I had to turn the prawns over once), place the mussels on top of it, and serve.