A Malaysian Chinese New Year Feast

I don’t know about you, but when I was little I wanted to be less like me and more like everyone else. More like my friends with their pale skin and mums who wore high-heeled shoes. Less like me with my Chinese eyes and mum who wore hand-painted baseball boots.

Growing up in Newcastle in the 1980s, I found myself being teased quite a bit, sometimes even bullied, for being part Chinese and being the daughter of artists. Both of which I’m fiercely proud of now, but back then I’d have given anything just to be normal.

Thankfully my daughters seem proud of their Chinese heritage, although the world does feel quite a different place now. In recent years we’ve started celebrating Chinese New Year and it’s becoming one of our family traditions, a chance to bring a taste of Chinese Malaysian cuisine to our little corner of rural Somerset.

Last year I cooked up quite an ambitious Chinese banquet for our New Year celebrations. It was delicious but a little stressful preparing so many dishes for one meal, so I decided to make things easier this year. So last weekend, I chose just a few recipes from a wonderful cookbook called Nonya Flavours, an excellent guide to the cuisine of the Straits Chinese community of Penang, the Malaysian island where my mother grew up.

We had a couple of chicken dishes – a sweet soy sauce chicken and a traditional chicken curry, served very simply with boiled rice and a nourishing vegetable soup. And it was perfect, proving that a fabulous feast doesn’t need to be complicated. The curry was fairly spicy and I was rather surprised that both my daughters could handle it. Must be their Chinese blood I suppose…

Vegetable soup

2 litres water
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp Shaoxing (Chinese rice wine)
3 slices ginger
1 tsp white peppercorns
2 carrots, peeled and cut into decorative shapes
2 cloves garlic, crushed
10 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water and halved
300g pak choi, shredded
salt and sugar

In a large pan, bring the water to a boil and add the soy sauce, Shaoxing, ginger, peppercorns, carrot, garlic and mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes before adding the pak choi. Cook for another 10 minutes and season to taste with a little salt and sugar. Serve hot. We like to pour the soup over our boiled rice.

Sweet soy sauce chicken

2 chicken breasts, cut into bitesize pieces
20g sugar
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
salt and pepper
4 slices ginger
125ml water

Mix together the sugar, soy sauce and a little salt and pepper and pour over the chicken pieces. Make sure the chicken is well covered and leave to marinade for at least half an hour.

Pour the water into a wok over a medium heat and add ginger slices and the marinated chicken. Bring to a boil and simmer until the chicken is tender and cooked through – around 20 minutes. Add more water if the liquid dries up before the chicken is cooked.

Serve immediately with rice.

Nonya chicken curry

For the spice paste

1 green chilli
100g shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tsp dried turmeric
1½ tbsp coriander seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp fennel seeds

3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 star anise
2 cloves
½ cinnamon stick
8 skinless chicken thighs
250g potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
400ml coconut milk
100ml coconut cream
salt

First of all make the spice paste. Put all the ingredients in a food processor and mince well. Then grind using a pestle and mortar – you’ll probably need to do this in several batches – until you have a fairly smooth paste.

Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the star anise, cloves and cinnamon stick for a minute. Add the spice paste and stir fry well. Add a couple of tablespoons of the coconut milk and fry over a low heat until fragrant.

Throw in the chicken thighs and fry for a couple of minutes. Add the potatoes and pour in the rest of the coconut milk. Simmer gently until the chicken is tender and the potatoes are cooked through.

Pour in the coconut cream and stir well. Season with salt to taste. Continue to cook until the gravy is slightly thick.

Serve with boiled rice. This served two adults and two children, and there were plenty of leftovers for the freezer to provide us with an easy mid-week supper.

Kung Hei Fat Choi!

Destination Penang for Hainanese Chicken Rice

We’re at the end of the third week of the school summer holidays. Can you believe we’re already halfway through? And this week we have travelled, by virtue of our imaginations, to the idyllic island of Penang in Malaysia for the next of our Around the World in Six Suppers.

Hainanese Chicken Rice is a dish I’ve been meaning to make for years. It’s a very simple poached chicken served with rice and chicken broth, which I remember devouring as a child during our holidays in Penang.  Mum would take us down to the hawker stalls, away from the more touristy restaurants, and we would eat proper Chinese-Malaysian food with the locals. My Mum was born and grew up in Penang and would always refer to it as ‘home’. Whenever she talked about Penang, the stories would invariably touch on the food at some point!

I haven’t been back to Penang since my early twenties, and hopefully I’ll be taking my own family back there next year. But in the meantime, we’ll have to make do with my favourite Penang meal.

To make sure I got an authentic recipe, I turned to members of my Chinese-Malaysian family and my Auntie Lorene and Cousin Sisi came up trumps. Lorene now lives in America, while Sisi is in Australia – so you can see, we are a truly global family! So a big thank you to them for their help with the recipe and all the tips and advice.

It’s a wonderful dish and it transported me straight back to the days of eating it as young girl in Penang, along with the smell of frangipani flowers and calomine lotion, being taught to use chopsticks, picking fresh rambutans and mangoes from the tree, being morbidly fascinated by dead snakes in jam jars, falling off to sleep at night to the comforting whirring of the ceiling fan, and running away from my Mum, her sisters and cousins as they gourged themselves silly on stinky durian fruit sold by the hot, sticky roadside.

Hainanese Chicken Rice

A whole chicken, around 1.5kg
Kosher or sea salt
2 pieces ginger, around 3cm each
2 spring onions
3 cloves garlic, peeled and bashed
3 tbsp sesame oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 piece ginger, around 3cm, peeled and chopped
1 litre chicken stock (from poaching the chicken)
600g rice
salt and pepper

To serve:

bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
two or three spring onions, chopped
cucumber slices
tomato slices
soy sauce
chilli sauce or oil

Start by giving your chicken a really thorough scrub with coarse sea salt or kosher salt. Rub hard to get rid of all the yucky stuff on the skin of the chicken to give you a good clear broth later on. Don’t rush this job. A little effort now makes all the difference later on. Once you’ve finished scrubbing, give the chicken a good rinse with cold water.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Rub the chicken inside and out with salt. Insert into the cavity the spring onions, bashed garlic and ginger, and carefully place the chicken breast-side down into the water. Bring the water back to the boil, skim off any foam while cooking, and turn off the heat.

Let the chicken sit in the pot, covered, for around 40 minutes. To check if it’s cooked, poke the thigh with a skewer or fork. If the juices run clear, it is done. If not, leave for another five to ten minutes.

When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pan and place in iced water to tighten the skin. Reserve the stock for cooking the rice and for the soup to accompany the meal. Rub a couple of tablespoons of sesame oil into the skin, before chopping through the bone into serving pieces.

In a large pan, heat the vegetable oil and a tablespoon of sesame oil over a medium heat. Fry the shallots, garlic and ginger until fragrant. Add the rice and stir until lightly toasted and the oil has been absorbed. Pour in a litre of chicken stock and season with salt to taste. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer until the rice is tender – about 20 minutes.

Heat the remainder of the stock for your soup, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste and sprinkling with chopped spring onions.

To serve, arrange the chicken on a serving platter, and garnish with fresh coriander, spring onions, cucumber and tomato – although Sisi says her son and husband hate coriander, so she leaves it out! Serve with the rice and soup, and small bowls of soy and chilli sauce.

So simple and so delicious.

As this is another wonderful family recipe, I’m entering it into TACT’s Care to Cook family recipe challenge – which aims to raise awareness of this amazing fostering and adoption charity working with some of the UK’s most vulnerable children and young people.

Elly’s Nonya Chicken Curry for the Care to Cook Challenge

My little sis Elly with our Mum Cheryl (left) in Penang in the early 80s, and again with me (in the days when I was still bigger)

Our next entry for the Care to Cook Challenge comes from my little sister Elly. I say ‘little’ but must admit that Elly has towered over me for many years now, despite being five years my junior.

Elly has a very sweet tooth and I assumed when I asked if she’d submit a favourite recipe for this challenge, her contribution would certainly be a cake or pudding. But no, she’s gone and surprised me with this amazing looking Nonya Chicken Curry. My little sis is all grown up and is cooking very grown up food!

Nonya cuisine comes from the Malaysian island of Penang, where our Mum was born, and is now seen as one of the earliest examples of fusion food. Penang is a melting pot for different cultures and food from the Nonya kitchen is influenced by Chinese, Malay and Thai cooking. My sister Elly will tell you more…

I make this for my partner Kelvin and to this day he still says it’s the best chicken curry he’s ever had, which from a Malaysian is pretty high praise. And if we think perhaps he is a little biased, I also made it for his father (a lovely man but one of very few words) who told me, “It’s good.” I almost fell over – hehehe!

The method is pretty short so makes it look likes it’s going to be quick but if you really make it from scratch (ie grind and pound all the spices with a mortar and pestle), it’s quite a lot of work and you’ll end up with muscles. However, it is worth it and even just thinking of it is making my mouth water!

Here we go:

Nonya Chicken Curry

4-5 tbsp oil
1 star anise
2 cloves
1 cinnamon stick

Spice paste (ground)

7 dried chillies, soaked
200g (20) shallots
3 cloves garlic
20g belachan (shrimp paste), toasted
20g (2cm) turmeric
3 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp fennel

1.5 kg meaty chicken pieces
300g potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
400ml thin coconut milk
100ml thick coconut milk
salt and sugar

Heat oil over a medium low flame and saute star anise, cloves and cinnamon stick. Add in spice paste and stir-fry well. Add 2 to 3 tbsp thin coconut milk (if it is too dry) and fry over low heat until fragrant and oil separates.

Add chicken and fry for a minute. Add potatoes and pour in thin coconut milk. Simmer until chicken is tender and potatoes are cooked.

Lastly, add the thick coconut milk and season to taste. Continue to cook until gravy is slightly thick. Serve with boiled white rice or roti.

Elly with her gorgeous daughter Loella

Do you have a favourite family recipe you’d like to contribute to TACT’s Care to Cook Recipe Challenge? Share a link to a post on your own blog or email me your recipe to be featured here on Bangers & Mash. The winning recipe will receive a copy of TACT’s cookbook signed by the charity’s patron and celebrity cook Lorraine Pascale. The closing date is 12 August – more details are here.

Cheryl’s Hokkien Mee for the Care to Cook Challenge

My mum with her siblings and cousins in Penang in the fifties

I love the way a certain food or meal can instantly transport you back to your childhood. Food is so evocative and nostalgic. When I was growing up, I had such a strong impression of Penang from the tales my mum would tell me about the different foods she ate there as a child, and from the yearning in her voice I almost felt like I missed them as much as she did.

One of the foods that takes her back to being a teenager in Penang is Hokkien Mee. My mum has sent me her recipe for this dish as her entry into the Care to Cook challenge, which is a celebration of good family food. If you’d like to enter a dish, you still have time – the closing date is 12 August. And there’s a copy of the Care to Cook recipe book signed by Lorriane Pascale for the winner.

So, I hand you over to my mum, Cheryl…

This is my recipe for Penang’s Hokkien Mee. It’s different from how they do it in Singapore or anywhere else in Malaysia,  and it’s so delicious!

We used to eat it at our favourite haunt, a coffee shop with a juke box near Cantonment Road where we lived. The Kopi Tiam or coffee shop had lots of different food stalls around it where you could order food. We would eat the noodles with our ice coffee or kopi-o-peng and meet the Thai boys (who came to study in Penang) and listen to music.

Photo: VKEONG.COM

Penang Hokkien Mee

Serves 10

Chilli paste:

10 tbsp chilli boh (about 35 deseeded, soaked dried chilies – blended in 3-4 tbsp water)
15 shallots (minced)
6 cloves garlic (minced)

Stock:

2kg pork bones
2-3kg prawn shells (chopped)
2 pieces rock sugar (golf ball size)

500g pork
1kg prawns
6 eggs (hard boiled)
300g bean sprouts
Fried shallots
5-6 stalks of morning glory (kangkung or green veg from Chinese supermarket)
300g pork ribs
1kg yellow noodles (chow mein)
1 packet rice vermicelli (bee hoon)

water
salt
pepper
rock sugar
soy sauce
vegetable oil

Wash all the bones clean with salt and put them in a big pot of boiling water. Lower the heat, close the pot with a lid and simmer for about two hours. Remove all the bones and you should get about 15 cups of stock.

Heat about 7-8 tablespoons of oil in a wok and fry the garlic and shallots (leave 1 tbsp of shallots for the cooking of stock) for about five minutes on a low heat. Add in the chilli boh and fry until fragrant. Add a pinch of salt. Scoop out and put to one side the chilli paste, leaving about half a tablespoon in the wok.

Heat up the wok again with another tablespoon of oil and throw in all the prawns. Stir fry until all the prawns curl up. Scoop out the prawns and leave to one side.

Add some more oil to the wok. Put in the chopped prawn shells – drain the shells as much as possible and keep the remaining juice for the stock. Fry the shells until you get that thick aromatic prawn smell. By then, the shells will be a bright orange colour. Pour in the remaining juice from earlier plus another 3-4 cups of water. Let it simmer on a low heat for about two hours.

While waiting for the prawn stock to cook, heat up 2 tablespoons of oil in a soup pot and fry the reserved tablespoon of shallots for about a minute. Add half to one tablespoon of the cooked chilli paste. Mix well and add in the bone stock. Bring to a boil and add in the pork pieces and ribs. Lower heat to a simmer further.

When the prawn stock is ready, slowly and carefully sieve (leaving out all the shells) into the pork stock pot. Bring to boil while adding in 2-3 tablespoons of soy sauce, rock sugar, and pepper and salt to taste. Remove the foam on the surface while retaining some of the floating oil.

Lower the heat and check if the pork is tender. Scoop up in separate bowls. Sliced the meat thinly. Leave all aside for garnishing later.

Cut the hard boiled eggs into halves, quarters or rings to your liking.

Heat up a wok of water and blanch the bean sprouts and morning glory. Make sure you drain the excess water well. Set both aside.

Soak the rice vermicelli (bee hoon) for about half an hour (or according to the directions on the pack). Drain well. Do the same for the yellow noodles.

To serve, place some bean sprouts and morning glory at the base of a deep bowl. Add your noodles then top with some prawns, sliced meat, pork ribs and egg. Pour some boiling soup over the noodles and garnish with some fried shallots and chilli paste.

Around the world in six suppers

… my big plan is to cook six meals inspired by some of my favourite holiday destinations from years gone by, and share those recipes with you here on the blog. I have some ideas already for dishes I’d like to cook, but if  you have any suggestions for recipes I should try I would love to hear them…

If I’m honest, the idea of a ‘staycation’ has never appealed much to me. For a holiday to be a proper holiday you really need to get away from it all, don’t you?

I adore exploring new destinations as well as returning to much loved haunts; sampling the local cuisine, relaxing by a pool with a good book or acting like a Japanese tourist and fitting in as many sights as I can in a single day.

On holiday in France with Jess and Mia

Admittedly, holidays have changed quite a bit since having children. We’ve been forced to slow down and plan ahead much more carefully.

I remember our first holiday abroad with Jessie when she was just learning to walk. With another couple and their young daughter we rented a beautiful villa in Tuscany. It would have been amazing, if it hadn’t been for the unfenced pool and marble staircases and sheer drop down what seemed like a mini cliff face at the bottom of the garden, oh and all the prickly rose bushes scattered around the stunning garden. Nansi and I were having near heart attacks every five minutes as our plucky girls explored and stumbled their way around the place. Not a relaxing holiday. But a massive lesson learned on the need to check out how family-friendly your holiday accommodation will be.

Sadly it looks increasingly likely we won’t be having a family holiday this year. My husband has quit his job and is retraining in IT, and I’m freelancing part-time on a couple of projects but the income is very up-and-down. And we’ve just been stung by some rather steep vets’ bills. So a staycation it might just have to be.

But I’m not going to let that get me down. Oh no, not me. So while I might read about other’s plans to fly off to far-flung foreign destinations, I won’t get jealous. We live in lovely Somerset after all. There’s so much to do right here on our doorstep, isn’t there? How many tourists flock to this part of the world every year to get away from it all, and here we are already!

And if I can’t go off to see the world this year, well I’ll just have to bring the world to our corner of Somerset.

Over the six weeks of the school holidays, my big plan is to cook six meals inspired by some of my favourite holiday destinations from years gone by, and share those recipes with you here on the blog. I have some ideas already for dishes I’d like to cook, but if  you have any suggestions for recipes I should try I would love to hear them. Even better if they appear on your blog as then I can easily link up with them too.

In no particular order, the places I’ll be visiting on my culinary world tour are:

Barcelona: when I went inter-railing with my best friend Ruth after our A-levels, this had to be my favourite city. The food, the beer, the Gaudi, the boys…

New York: I have very fond memories of visiting New York with my Mum and sister Elly when I was about 12 years old. I remember Mum bartering with a bloke on a street corner selling bangles and an Italian waiter chasing us down the street as we hadn’t left a tip!

Northumberland: I spent some of my childhood just outside Newcastle and enjoyed many an idyllic day out playing on the beautiful beaches, visiting the spooky castles and wandering along Hadrian’s Wall. I can’t wait to take my husband and children there sometime soon.

Penang: My Mum was born on the Malaysian island of Penang and I think it is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. And the food isn’t bad either!

Rio de Janeiro: one of my jammiest PR jollies ever was to take a group of journalists to Brazil for a tour of an aircraft factory. The tour lasted half a day but we had to stay a week because of flight availability. What a shame! We had a fantastic time in Rio and Sao Paulo and I’m desperate to get back there again one day.

Mystery destination: I haven’t quite decided on my final destination. I’ve been considering Turkey and Italy, or perhaps Bordeaux or Greece. Or how about Norway or Sweden? I’ve had wonderful times in each of these countries but whose food should I try to recreate in the final week of my staycation? Please let me know where you think I should head to!

A feast fit for a dragon

Photograph of embroidered Chinese dragon by Erin Calaway

This year I got it into my head that I was going to cook my family a proper feast to celebrate Chinese New Year and welcome in the year of the dragon.

I don’t normally celebrate Chinese New Year, despite being part Chinese. My mother grew up on the Malaysian island of Penang and is half Chinese and half Dutch. So you see I’m only a little bit Chinese. But mum has always talked about Penang as home, so I do feel a strong connection and I adore the food.

There’s been lots of talk about Chinese New Year amongst the foodie Twitter and blogging community, which really spurred me on. Trouble is I don’t have the first clue how to cook Chinese food.

And so I called in help from the Chinese members of my family who happen to be scattered around the world. Facebook is a fantastic tool for this kind of thing. I asked them what should I cook for a Malaysian Chinese feast and, more importantly, how do I do it?

Kian chai – I think!

The menu and recipes below come from my Aunty Lorene in the US, Aunty Kim in Canada, cousin Edhish in Sweden, cousin Jezalina in Australia and mother Cheryl in Spain.

All agreed I had to cook Kian Chai Teng, a soup made from Chinese salted vegetables, pork ribs and sour plums, served with chopped chilli and steamed white rice. I’m not 100% sure I got the right vegetables in the Chinese supermarket, although the lady who worked there insisted they were the thing to use.So I’m not sure if I made an authentic Kian Chai Teng, but it sure tasted good. The children gobbled it down enthusiastically and enjoyed picking the beautifully tender meat from the bones.

Penang Char Kway Teow

Next was Char Kway Teow, a Penang fried noodle dish. You should use shrimps and squid but as my husband can’t eat seafood I swapped these for chicken and Chinese sausage. Again not totally authentic but absolutely gorgeous nonetheless.

My mum suggested Chinese spare ribs and gave me her Aunty Seck’s recipe and I also came up with my own recipe for Chinese roast chicken drumsticks. Plus a big bowl of  pak choi steamed with ginger.

It was a fine, fine feast. As is my tendency, I cooked way too much food, so we ate the leftovers for Sunday lunch. The spare ribs in particular tasted even better second time around.

I have to say a heartfelt thank you to my relatives for their advice and supportive words. One day it would be wonderful if we could all get together to celebrate new year somehow. Oh, and of course, gung hay fat choy everyone!

Kian Chai Teng – soup with pork ribs and salted vegetables

Serves 6-8

Salted plums

1 onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp vegetable oil
500g pork spare ribs
4 cloves of garlic, crushed 3 slices of ginger, finely chopped
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp Shaoxing (Chinese rice wine)
2 potatoes
1 packet kian chai (Chinese salted vegetables)
3 salted plums

In a large pan, gently fry the onion in the oil until golden.

Place the pork ribs, garlic and ginger into the pan and enough water to cover. Bring to the boil, then add the soy sauce and rice wine. Turn down the heat so that the soup is on a very low simmer and cook for at least an hour, until the meat is starting to fall off the bone.

Taste your salted vegetables. If they are very salty, you may need to give them a thorough rinse so they don’t make your soup too salty.

Add the potatoes and salted vegetables. Put the lid back on and simmer for another 30-40 minutes.

Serve the soup with a saucer of soy sauce and cut chilli and a plate of steamed white rice.

My Char Kway Teow

Serves 6-8

2 tbsp dark soy sauce
3 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp water
4 tbsp peanut or vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 chicken breasts, chopped into small pieces
1 lap cheong (Chinese pork sausage), cut diagonally into thin slices
500g flat rice noodles
2 eggs (duck eggs if you can get them – I used hen eggs)
4 large handfuls bean sprouts
salt and white pepper

In a small bowl, mix the dark and light soy sauces with the water, and put to one side.

Heat the oil in a wok on a high heat and stir fry the garlic for a few seconds before adding the chicken. Cook until the chicken turns white, then add the sausage and stir fry for another minute.

Add the noodles and sprinkle with the soy sauce mixture, and add salt and pepper to taste. Gently stir fry for three to four minutes.

Make a space in the middle of the work and break the eggs into the hole with a little pinch of salt. Roughly scramble the eggs and then combine with the noodles. Stir fry for another five minutes.

Finally add the bean sprouts, fry for another minute and then serve.

Spare ribs

Chinese spare ribs

Serves 4

550g pork spare ribs
4 cloves garlic, crushed
½ tsp light soy sauce
½ tsp dark soy sauce
½ tsp Shaoxing (Chinese rice wine)
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp tomato sauce
1 tbsp Worcester sauce
½ tbsp sesame oil
½ tbsp sugar
3 tbsp tapioca flour
3 tbsp vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

In a small bowl mix together the garlic, soy sauces, rice wine, salt and pepper. Pour over the spare ribs, make sure thorougly coated and leave to marinade for at least an hour.

Prepare the sauce. In another bowl, combine the tomato sauce, Worcester sauce, sesame oil, sugar and 3 tbsp water.

Coat the spare ribs in tapioca flour and fry in hot oil over a medium heat for around five minutes. You may need to do this in batches. Remove, drain on absorbent paper and place on a baking tray. Roast in the oven for 10 minutes.

Heat the sauce until it thickens. Take the ribs out of the oven, place in a serving dish and pour over the sauce.

My Chinese chicken

4 chicken drumsticks
4 chicken thighs

For the marinade:

2 tbsp runny honey
4cm ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp Chinese five spice
2 tsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp red currant jelly
1 tbsp sesame oil

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

Slash the drumsticks with a sharp knife and place in a bowl with the thighs.

Mix together all of the marinade ingredients and pour over the chicken, making sure they are well coated. Leave to marinade for at least two hours or overnight.

Put the chicken pieces on a roasting tray with a few spoonfuls of the marinade and place in the oven for 40-45 minutes, turning occasionally and spooning over more marinade if it looks like it is drying out.

Also great served cold as part of a picnic or in a packed lunch.

Miss Mash tucks into the pork ribs in her soup

Miss Banger’s favourite was rice with soup spooned over