Sunday, November 15, 2009
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
It has been said that the best thing about Singapore is its food, and I wish I could disagree, but I can't. A few years ago, three friends from the US visited me in Singapore. I don't think, at the time, that they had much experience with Singapore food. I picked them up at about midnight at the airport, and after dropping off their luggage, we headed to a temporary hawker center at a car park off Somerset Road. The property was about to be developed but in the meantime, they set up stalls serving well-known Singapore dishes. It was like a "Best of" of hawker stalls. If you know Singapore food, you know what a brilliant idea that was.
There was no hesitation — I ordered three dishes for us to share — sambal stingray, sambal belacan kangkong and oyster omelet. That is spicy and rich meal but my friends could not stop declaring the deliciousness of each dish in-between bites. And I think this was borne out not just from their praises, but how crowded it was despite it being 2 a.m. in the morning. Here is a picture of that night in 2004:
As lucky we are to be in the Bay Area where there is no shortage of Asian food, I have yet to see oyster omelet on the menu. Thus, S and I have been cooking it our own kitchen. Luckily, all those times spending in-line to order and buy the oyster omelet paid-off. As the dish is prepared only when ordered, we always have a front-row view of the cooking. An intense-looking cook, pouring the ingredients on the sizzling griddle, and the final dish served hot with the equally important sambal (chili sauce). I love biting into a briny oyster in a mouthful of lightly crisp fried egg with the added heat from the sambal. It makes me wonder why there is no tussle over oyster omelet between Singapore and Malaysia. Here is a list of dishes claimed by Malaysia as "Malaysian dishes". Much ado about nothing, me thinks. Why can't we all be friends and just enjoy the food?
Re-creating the dish at home gave me some room to makes changes to the recipe. Oyster omelet, in its original hawker style, is incredibly oily. While I love it as it, I didn't like the greasy aftertaste. So I reduced the oil. It is best to cook it on a flat griddle or, as we did, on a wide, flat frying pan. This will allow the flour mixture to spread out and crisp, which is important because I don't like it too gooey. Using rice flour also helps with the crisping. We prefer a 'less flour and more eggs' ratio, but feel free to add more of the flour if that is your fancy. The oysters should not be overcooked — the juices will ooze and you will be left with shrunken oysters! I like to char it just a little. Garnish with spring onions or cilantro. The resulting dish really looks more like scrambled eggs than an omelet. Hey, I didn't name the dish! A video of how oyster omelet is made just like at the hawker stalls follows the recipe below.
Oyster Omelet Recipe
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons tapioca flour/starch
2 tablespoons rice flour
¾ cup water
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoon fish sauce
8 fresh oysters
2 sprigs of cilantro (or spring onion)
1. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in the griddle or a flat frying pan to high heat. Mix the flours with water. Pour flour mixture into the pan. Cook for about 30 seconds to let some crust form on the underside.
2. Break four eggs over the flour mixture. Spread the eggs without breaking the flour 'pancake' underneath. Using the edge of a spatula, divide the mixture into 3 or four pieces, and turnover each piece separately. Cook until the egg is slightly crispy - about 30 seconds.
3. Make space in the center of cooking surface by pushing aside the omelet. Pour 1 tablespoon of oil, then the garlic. Add the oysters. Cook for about 20 seconds. Pour the fish sauce. Then break-up the omelet and mix with the oysters. Serve immediately with cilantro/spring onion and sambal (chili sauce)*.
*when I don't have time to make my own sambal, I use Glory's Nonya Sambal Chilli. It's not not too sweet and tastes close enough my mum's sambal.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
How long has it been? The dates suggest that it has been only 2 days since my last post. But it has been much longer than that, hasn't it been? Never mind, we will continue as if nothing happened. Except one thing did happen. See this picture of Dexter? He was at the vet, yes. Sedated, yes. Last Thursday, when I was preoccupied with preparing for a presentation for my evening Spanish class, Dexter was nowhere to be seen. I figured it was just one of those days — his alone time. He would be either in the closet or under the bed, just chillin'.
When I came home from class, he was still in hiding. S told me that he hadn't seen Dexter either, but he must have come out for dinner because the plate was licked cleaned. I decided that his time-out was over and found him in the closet. I picked him up and put him on my lap. It's part of my training him to be a lap cat. I would like him to be a lap cat. Him — not so much. But for the first time, he let out this growl so I released him immediately. Then S and I noticed he was limping badly when he walked away. His right hind leg was bothering him.
So first thing the next morning, we took Dexter to the vet. He was very resistant at attempts to check his leg. He had to be sedated. The effect was immediate. His jaw dropped to the table and his eyes were glazed. It made me laugh so I took out my camera to immortalize the moment. After the X-ray, the vet told us that everything looked fine - no ligament tear, no arthritis, no fracture. It was probably a soft tissue injury which means he should recover in a few days. Whew.
It's been a few days and his leg is much better. I was sad to see him try to walk. He moved slowly and took ginger steps with the foot that hurts. I'm not sure how cats react to pain, but Dexter was less meowy than usual. The vet said he should rest the limping leg as much as possible, so I tried to carry him to his food for meals and to his cat bed at night. He usually sleeps with us on our bed, but that requires jumping which he didn't quite have the strength for. I think the rest worked. There is less limping and he is now snoring next to me as I type. Life is good again. So I thought some deep frying was in order. Deep frying salt cod, specifically.
S and I had never tried salt cod before. But it seems like the perfect food for us — I like fish and he, well, likes anything salty. I bought one pound's worth. I used half of it for a salt cod tart (recipe coming) and I made these salt cod fritters with the other half.
How was it?
We enjoyed every lush morsel. It was the cliche of a perfect fritter — crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. Steaming hot, it was tough not to grab a fritter and bite into the richness, even as you are dropping batter into sizzling oil. But when you do grab one, you do it with your fingers, gingerly, so you don't break its fried coat. Right after you bite into it, you must resist the urge to let its buttery, salty smoothness make a quick getaway straight to your stomach. Chew, roll it around your mouth, just enjoy. I also made a spinach aioli as a dipping sauce. I wonder, does the addition of spinach make it a vegetable side dish?
Salt Cod Fritters (Buñuelos De Bacalao)
adapted from Colman Andrews
½ lb salt cod, soaked 24 hours with 2 water changes
1 medium-sized potato, peeled and sliced thin
1 tablespoon olive oil
¾ cup milk
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 heaped tablespoon chopped parsley
2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt and pepper
oil for frying
For the spinach aioli
adapted from Rick Stein
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
½ tsp salt
1 egg yolk
¾ cup/3 oz olive oil
a handful of spinach
1. Put the cod in a pot of water and bring to a simmer. After 10 minutes, remove the cod. When cool, removed the skin and bones (if any).
2. Put the sliced potatoes in the pot of water and bring to a boil. Cook for 10 minutes or until soft enough to mash.
3. In the meantime, make the aioli. Put the garlic and salt in a food processor. Grind for 5 seconds. Add egg and blend for about 10 seconds. While the food processor is still on, slowly pour in the olive oil. Then add the spinach leaves and blend until the leaves are grounded. Keep in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
3. In the pot, bring the water, milk and olive oil to a boil. Lower the heat and then whisk in the flour until dissolved. Remove the pot from the stove to cool. Heat oil (about 3 inches) in another pan to bring up to a temperature of 350F. If you don't have a thermometer, the oil should be hot enough so that it will sizzle when you drop in the batter.
4. Stir-in the egg, parsley and lemon juice into the flour mixture. Add the mashed potato, mixing well, and finally, the fish. Taste the batter and add salt and pepper as needed. When the oil reaches the right temperature, drop a heaped tablespoon of batter into the oil. Don't crowd the fritters. Fry for about 1 minute or until lightly browned. Scoop out and drain on a paper towel.
Best served warm. Makes about 24 fritters.