Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Duck Wing & Chicken Feet Stew – Going to Extremes

It’s strange but when life is tough and spending power low, people get more creative in amortizing their money. When I was young, nothing in my household went to waste. Books were passed on to younger siblings, or, in my case, as I was an only kid, given to relatives and friends. I would think twice about indulging in a 2nd pair of jeans, and especially, about throwing away perfectly edible food.

I remember vividly how my family would slaughter and apportion a chicken. The best parts of the torso would be used for the main dish, while sub-grade pieces and offal would be set aside to become ingredients for another dish. The bones and feet would be tossed into the stockpot, or, as in this instance, made into a tasty and wonderful dish for nibbling.

Duck wings and duck webs were often deemed suitable only for making stock, yet when stewed, their taste was sublime. I would often cook these underrated pieces with chicken feet or pig belly, and when the dish was kept overnight, it tasted even better. Here’s the recipe I used.

Duck Wing & Chicken Feet Stew

Duck wing                                10, cut into 2
Chicken feet                             10, whole
Dried shitake                           10, soak in water for 20 mins. Drain and keep the water
Oil                                              2 tbsp. preferably lard
Garlic                                        12, whole
Sugar                                        ½ tbsp
Oyster sauce                            2 tbsp
White pepper                           a dash
Japanese cooking wine          ½ cup
Chicken stock                           1 cup
Salt                                              ½ tsp
Dark soy sauce                         1 tbsp

Oyster sauce                            ½ tbsp
Ginger juice                              ½ tsp
Japanese cooking wine           ½ tsp
Light soy sauce                         ¼ tsp

  1. Marinade duck wing and chicken feet for 1 hour. Drain.
  2. Heat oil. Gently fry garlic until golden brown. Remove and drain. Set aside.
  3. Saute mushroom for 5 minutes in low heat. Add sugar at mid-point.
  4. Increase heat to maximum, sauté meat until it is golden brown.
  5. Add oyster sauce and white pepper, and continue to fry for one minute at high heat.
  6. Pour Japanese cooking wine and let the spirit evaporate.
  7. Add chicken stock and cover the pot.  Simmer for 45 minutes or until the meat is tender. Don’t overcook the meat.
  8. Add garlic and simmer for another 10 minutes with the lid removed.
  9. Reduce stock until it thickens.
  10. Season with salt and dark soy sauce.
  11. Serve hot.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Baked Ice-Cream Cake - A Different Approach

Someone gave me a tub of ice-cream that I didn’t quite like. As I was taught as a kid not to waste food, I ran through my cookbooks and googled for recipes trying to find some use for the ice-cream. My eye caught on some key words and the idea of baking flashed through my mind.

I began to piece together a recipe which I thought doable; and so, here is an idiot-proof recipe to bake ice-cream into a lighter version of a pound cake. I loved the result, especially the fragrance that came from the red-bean ice-cream. If you have a sweet tooth, add another 20 g of sugar to the recipe below.

Baked Red Bean “Ice-Cream”

Ice-cream                    230 g, any flavours and liquefied
Self-raising flour          190 g

1.     Set oven to 180 degree C
2.     Sift flour.
3.     Stir ice-cream until completely melted.
4.     Add self-raising flour and mix well.
5.     Pour mixture into a cake mould and bake for 35 to 45 minutes.
6.     Test cake with a toothpick. If it comes out clean from the batter, remove the cake from the oven.
7.     Let the cake rest on a rack.
8.     Serve cake plain, or with a dollop of ice-cream.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Keng Eng Kee Seafood – A Promising Start

Walked past Keng Eng Kee Restaurant for years and never once had the urge to dine there. Perhaps I was confused by what I saw: an air-con room without an attached kitchen and a cze char stall a few meters away that I much later learned were, in fact, two parts of a single restaurant.

Having said that, my foodie friends were talking about this restaurant of late, and I had read some favorable reviews of it on the Net; so I decided to give it a go. The prices on the menu shocked me in a very pleasant way. They were cheap, and cost the same if you had dined in the air-con room (so I was told) -- if you could get a table there.

The first dish that arrived at our table was, in fact, the first photo to catch my eye on the menu. Pearl Roll or明珠卷 in Chinese, looked good and sounded poetic. Deep-fried bean curd skin with salted egg yolk, ham and mushroom, the dish was visually attractive and I liked the crispy skin. The inclusion of ham was odd though, and didn't help the taste much, but it made a nice starter, and, at least, was eye candy.

For those who long for the taste of home cooking, the second dish was it -- a very straightforward version of sweet & sour pork! Unfussy, uncomplicated, and easy to replicate, just like mum’s cooking. The only nitpick I had with the dish was that its batter was a bit too soggy for my taste, but hey, not all mothers cook like a chef.

The next dish was by far the one I enjoyed most. Cuttlefish Kang Kong doesn't require much cooking, but the sweet sauce is key. The sauce served here was delicious but it tasted familiar. A final drop of white wine before leaving the kitchen would have made it perfect. However, I noticed another version of this dish featured in the post of one of our leading food bloggers, but his raving review of the dish obviously differs from mine. Do I detect a double standard here? Hmmmmm…..

The next dish got me thinking: Maybe it's the quality of pork available, but is getting a good Claypot Liver in Sg as difficult as looking for an attractive guy who isn't gay? One of the best efforts I’ve tasted thus far belonged to Manhill Restaurant. I was told the chef at Keng Eng Kee was a lad of 30 or so, and that he took pains to work at his wok technique. His mastery of heat control showed in the perfect ‘doneness’ of the liver. However, the liver slices were insufficiently uniform and were definitely too thin such that they lacked bite. I only wished the chef could have lavished as much time and effort on the knife as he did on the wok. It would have made him more rounded as a traditional Chinese kitchen master. He should have been more generous with the ginger and Chinese wine too.

The finale was a dish I was so looking forward to – Moonlight Hor Fun or 月光河粉. To begin with it was a dish that never fails to receive raves on the Net, and deservedly so. Secondly I had been on the hunt for a truly good specimen of it ever since the famous stall at Zion Food Center closed. Maybe I had set my hopes too high, but what I was served was utterly disappointing. The dish was lukewarm, with a raw egg nestled in the middle of hor fun that lacked any wok hei – and this from a chef who was known to be good at ‘throwing smoke’. The lack of heat in the dish actually raised the specter of Salmonella in my mind as I tossed the noodles.

Keng Eng Kee is a restaurant I would gladly return to, but it has its its rough edges, some glaringly so. The chef has much of his career ahead of him, and would do well to take all the accolades hurled his way, in stride. He obviously has a lot to learn, but his heart, as far as cooking is concerned, is in the right place.  

Keng Eng Kee Seafood
Blk 124 Bukit Merah Lane 1
Telephone: 6272 1038

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Reputation – Bane or Blessing? A Visit to Desmond’s Creation

Chef Desmond Chia needs no introduction. He was one of two sons of the founder of Sik Wai Sin, one of the most reputable zi char restaurants in Singapore, famous for its limited but well-executed Cantonese menu. Diners were known to brave the heat at the non-air-conditioned Sik Wai Sin, waiting hours for a superb “home-cooked” meal. And while his brother presided over the steamed dishes at the restaurant, Desmond was the “man behind the fiery wok”, honing his skills with fried dishes for 13 years.

So when Chef Desmond decided to open his own restaurant, Desmond’s Creation, I had high expectations of it. I arrived at 11.45 am sharp – the opening time shown on their official operating hours; the shutter was down, finally opening at 11.55 am.

It soon became obvious that Desmond ran a tight three-person operation -- two men including himself in the kitchen and a woman manning the dining room. To their credit, and my amazement, things proceeded smoothly throughout the busy lunch hour and food was served without hiccups.

It was also instantly obvious that Desmond was not a risk-taking chef. The menu remained small and 99% of the dishes were “imported” from Sik Wai Sin. My hopes rose even higher upon seeing this, as I reckoned that nothing could possibly go wrong with such a small number of dishes – dishes that the chef had cooked for umpteen years.

The first dish to arrive was Braised Black Bean Pork Rib with Bitter Gourd. Usually, the black bean paste would be well sauted with the meat, and then with the vegetable. Here, I tasted nothing of the “fragrance” of a well-fried dish; it felt like the whole dish had been braised without undergoing fire.

Fried Beef Kailan, which came next, was decent. The vegetable was well fried and perfumed with “wok hei”. The downside was that some beef was cut not across the grain, leaving it a little on the tough side. Also, it would have been perfect had the chef sprinkled on a dash of Chinese wine before serving.

When we were ordering and had asked for tofu, the woman told us bluntly that this dish would come with “big” prawns. I suppose that was how restaurants maneuvered to increase revenue; I also got the impression that those who ate at Desmond’s Creation didn’t mind paying for slightly more “premium” food. Either way, the prawns proved over-cooked and hard. To make the matters worse the tofu was over-fried too. What we ended up with was a plate of hard prawns, dry tofu and diluted gravy.

Steamed Minced Pork with Salted Fish was a personal favourite of mine since I was a kid. In Chef Desmond’s version, he hand-chopped the pork, and this alone earned him loads of brownie points in my book. The glitch in the dish, however, was that he over-mixed the meat, causing the protein to over-bind and making the meat hard rather than crunchy.

But my biggest problem with this dish was the salted fish used. As noted earlier, since the customers were prepared to pay slighter more for their food, Chef Desmond should have opted for better-quality salted fish. The best salted fish (梅香马鲛鱼) for this dish would have been Spanish mackerel aged between 10 months and 3 years. The fish would be prepared by salting and sun-drying it for another 2 years minimum, which would leave the flesh slightly pink near the bones and with a pungent and ‘fleshy’ scent.

Even the portion of the salted fish that Chef Desmond used was too small for the amount of pork in the dish. The salted fish should have been of an amount sufficient to pervade thoroughly the meat and gravy during steaming. In the end, I could only detect a whiff of fish when the plate first landed on the table, and when I actually ate the salted fish itself.

Another downer was the Sweet & Sour Pork. The meat morsels were too small, slightly burnt, and too thickly coated with batter.  The sensation was of eating sweet & sour pork -- in its vegetarian version.

Steamed Fresh Carp with Bean Paste was the best dish of the meal. It was brilliantly executed -- Chef Desmond timed to perfection the cooking of the fish, and the bean paste was well balanced with a cocktail of sourness, sweetness, and savouriness.

These were dishes I had grown up eating from zi char stalls all across Singapore; so, like I said, I had high expectations. Perhaps too high. Perhaps by going it alone when he did, the chef bit off more than he could chew; perhaps his skills and experience fell a little short of his dreams. Perhaps.

Desmond’s Creation or Sik Bao Sin
592 Geylang Road
Telephone: 6744 3757