It had been quite some time since I last cooked at home. Previously, due to work commitments and irregular off days, cooking at home just doesn’t seem to make sense.
After I changed my job from fine-dining chef to becoming a ramen guy, my work-life balance is more like regular Joe next-door. ‘A Noodle Story’ is located in the Central Business District meaning my working hours is not crazy like those of a chef. I still put in long hours, but my hours are pegged more to office hours with weekends and public holidays off.
My wife had been nagging, saying she did not get much chance to sample my cooking.
I love to cook for leisure and was thinking, “Why not I stay home and cook this weekend.”
Wet Market – An Introduction
Most people, especially youngster would prefer to make their purchases at supermarket for convenience and cleanliness. However, I prefer shopping for my ingredients in the neighbourhood wet market for numerous reasons. Besides the impeccable freshness of ingredients, there’s an amazing array of choices to choose – from live bull frogs, fresh meat, to a myriad of seasonal vegetables, eggs, dried goods, noodles and beans products.
At the wet market, I can purchase just the quantity I need; a small knob of old ginger, a few cloves of garlic, a handful of coriander, a bunch of scallions all for less than a dollar. If I were to buy from the supermarket, I would probably return home with standard pre-packed packages costing me at least several dollars more.
Another advantage in the wet market is the butchery services. You can ask the vendor to cut the meat into the size you want, or to gut and fillet the fish for you. And if you’re unsure which cut of meat is best for your dish, ask the butcher for some expert advice.
The best part of buying food from the wet market must be the fun of bargaining with the market vendors. It is also a good way to practise your negotiating skills. Any slight blemish on the goods is an excuse to lower the price. Another good time to haggle is when the vendors are about to close for the day and wouldn’t mind selling slightly cheaper to clear stock.
Wet Market – My Dishes
Here are some of the dishes I cooked on Saturday for my family. Only the ‘Imperial Herbal Chicken’ was left out as I forgot to take a photo of it.
Wok-fried french beans with minced pork in XO sauce.
Steamed egg custard with minced pork and spring onions.
Sautéed broccoli with sliced pork and shiitake mushrooms in oyster sauce.
Home-style braised sesame oil chicken.
Steamed red coral garoupa in superior light soy sauce with Chinese wolfberries.
Wet Market – My Bonus Recipe for Steam Fish
If you spent a huge amount of money buying a very fresh high-quality fish, all you need to do is to cook it as simple as possible. Just simply steam it accompanied with some light soy. So long as you do not overcook the fish, the end result will be gorgeous.
Steam Fish Recipe
1 medium size fish 600 – 800 grams, scaled and gutted
1 tablespoon cooking oil
10 grams coriander root, finely chopped
10 grams garlic, finely chopped
2 slices ginger
100 grams water
45 grams superior light soy sauce
3 teaspoons fine sugar
2 drops dark soy sauce
2 drops sesame oil
Coriander leaves and sliced scallions for garnish
- Steam fish for 6 – 8 minutes depending on size until just barely cooked through.
- Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. Heat up 1 tablespoon cooking oil and sauté chopped coriander root, chopped garlic, and ginger slices until fragrant.
- Add water, light soy, sugar and dark soy and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Strain the sauce and add the sesame oil.
- Pour the sauce over steamed fish and garnish with coriander and scallions.
- Serve immediately.
Go on and shop at the wet market as it is a trove of treasure waiting to be discovered.
A Noodle Story – The first and only Singapore-style ramen!!
It had always been my dream to have my own little place where I can serve warm, delicious food to happy guests. Today, I’m very happy to announce that I’m a step away from realizing that dream as we’re launching “A Noodle Story” soon. Please help to like our page at https://www.facebook.com/ANoodleStory to help spread the good news!!
A Noodle Story – Tired of eating noodles that can’t seem to get it right?
The reason to create A Noodle Story is simple: how many times had we being disappointed by the standard of noodles served in the market?
We ordered a bowl of noodles and it just doesn’t justify the price we paid for it at all. Noodles are soggy, ingredients are too little, meat is tough and dry, or the taste just sucks.
Sure, it is possible to get a bowl of delicious noodles but they are rare like diamonds. Furthermore, most of them are located either in cafe or restaurants, and they charge anything from $10 to $20 for a bowl of noodles.
A Noodle Story – Our Story
Ben and I started off as classmates in Shatec and we both shared immense passion to create the best dishes to make people happy. To do that, we needed to learn the culinary techniques and wonderful flavour combinations from the best masters, and hence began my journey working five years in the best restaurants in Singapore.
I have always love to eat noodles since young, so it comes very naturally to use noodles as a medium to create something special and delicious – an ultimate noodles dish and sell it at a price that seems like a fabulous value to our guests.
And we thought: Where better to reach the mass than at a food center. As you probably know, rental plays a major role in the final retail price. And here in Singapore, the rental is a killer. What we want to do is to make such gourmet quality food easily available to the common people. Not only to those privileged enough to fork out $200-$300 for a meal at a fine-dining restaurant.
Here at a noodles story, we are using modern techniques utilising our understanding of kitchen science to cook better food. Coupled with a creative re-engineering of local hawker favourites (think prawn mee and wonton mee merge into one dish) and given an innovative twist, we created this Singapore-style ramen. This simple yet complicated dish is specially created to suit the local taste buds.
“Why simple and yet complicated?”
“Because the simplest dish to make is actually the most complicated as there is nothing to disguise it; whether in term of flavours or quality of ingredients. It’s either good or bad. ”
What this means is you can now get delicious gourmet quality noodles without burning a hole in your wallet. But be warned; there won’t be any pretty hostess greeting you when you arrive, there won’t also be a vase of pink roses to beautify the table while you chat. And most probably, you will need to carry the food to the table yourself. One thing for certain though, in spite of our limitations, we will serve you an ultimate noodles dish which you’ll never forget. This, we promise you at “A Noodle Story“!!
Sous Vide Cooking
Season’s greetings! This year, I got a very special Christmas present from Santa. Although I’m Santa myself, I’m still very happy with my purchase. It was something I had always wanted for the cooking lab geek in me; an immersion circulator.
So what is it used for?
An immersion circulator, together with a vacuum packing machine allows you to perform sous vide cooking or what I call ‘culinary magic’. Sous vide is the French term for ‘under vacuum’. This technique basically means sealing food tightly in a food-grade plastic bag and immersing it into a hot water bath with the temperature and circulation of heat regulated by an immersion circulator.
At the core of this simple but ingenious cooking technique is the constant and controlled application of heat from the water bath to the food itself. If the temperature of the water bath is set to 65°C, there’s no way the temperature of the food in the bag will go beyond it. This means that you can’t overcook it!
Harold McGee, a prominent food scientist said a better term for sous vide would be ‘precision cooking’ and called it “one of the greatest culinary advance of modern times.”
Sous Vide Cooking – The Cooking Vessel
What I really want to share in this post is not to tell the world: “I bought an immersion circulator for Christmas.” The reason I wrote this post is to share my choice of container for holding the water bath.
As sous vide cooking is usually done at a lower temperature range of 40°C – 90°C, this means that it is usually cooked for a prolonged period of time; usually from hours to days. But this will also guarantee that your electrical bill will rocket to the sky if you choose the wrong choice of container for your water bath.
The immersion circulator is designed to be able to clamp to most cooking pot or container with a thin wall. But do really want to use a cooking pot as your water bath container knowing that most are made of metal? Metal is a very good conductor of heat (that is why cooking pots are made of metal) and it will transfer heat out of your water bath faster than anything else, making the immersion circulator working harder to maintain the set temperature.
Sous Vide Cooking – Search for Cooking Vessel
What we are looking for is something that is a good insulator. Something that minimizes heat lost and evaporation. The first thing that came to my mind is Styrofoam box. I happily found a suitable size and proceed to try it out. I switched it on over the night, and to my horror the next morning, water was leaking from the box. Apparently, the Styrofoam box couldn’t take the constant high heat.
What I need is something sturdier. So my search led me to a Cambro plastic container which is able to withstand heat up to 99°C. But that piece of Cambro is still not a good enough insulator; my wife will still be shocked at the electrical bill come end of the month. So I did something simple, I found a Styrofoam box that is just able to hold my Cambro snugly. Another additional advantage of using Styrofoam is it is easy to cut the lid to custom-fit the immersion circulator. What I have now is a good sturdy container for a water bath that is insulated all around with a custom-fit insulated lid.
I proceed to test the insulating capabilities of my water bath. I heated the water till 67°C, switched the circulator off and cover it. After around an hour, the temperature dropped by only 1.2°C.
I guess my search for a water bath container ends here. Next to try out will probably be something that floats on the water to minimize evaporation. Till then…
Happy sous vide cooking!
No More Overcooked Meat
For meat lovers, there are few pleasures in life that can rival the satisfaction from biting into a thick juicy slab of steak. How many times had we encountered dry, tough, and severly overcooked meat? But before we actually start to cook, we need to first understand the composition of meat and how they affect our cooking, the proteins’ reaction to temperature changes and so on. Meat is made up of three basic components: muscle fibres, connective tissues, and fat
Meat is form up from bundles of long muscle fibres which are connected and held together by connective tissues. Understanding connective tissues in meat is essential as they will determine the way you cook them so as not to end up with overcooked meat. Connective tissues in meat are real tough, and the wrong methods used to cook meat that are high in them will result in meat that is tough and chewy.
Connective tissues are most abundant in muscles that exercised and worked hard. That is why the legs of a cow are higher in connective tissues than its back. Older animals also tend to be higher in connective tissues, and they are much tougher compare to younger animals.
The two main connective tissues in living animals are elastin and collagen. Elastin, which cannot be broken down by heat should be removed by cutting it away, or breaking it up mechanically as in pounding or grinding. Fortunately, they account for only a small percentage of connective tissue in meat. The other major connective tissue, collagen, dissolves in heat to form gelatine. They are concentrated in the skin, bones, cartilage, and tendons of animals.
Ever had a very good short-ribs or lamb-shank before? The meat feels so smooth and slippery as if lubricated by jelly-like substances. That is tough collagen dissolved into gelatine.
Fat or Flavour?
Who says that fat is bad? Fat provides tenderness, juiciness, and flavour to meat. It is the over consumption of too much fat that is bad. Marbling is used to describe fat are intertwined in between meat, and is highly prized. What happens in cooking is that the intramuscular fats melts and lubricates the muscle fibres; so when you bite into it, it separates easily.
No More Overcooked Meat – Cooking it like a Pro
Anyone can throw a piece of meat into an oven to cook. Easy stuff. But it takes a person with skills and knowledge to know when to take it out of the oven at the right time, so as not to end up with overcooked meat.
Raw meat is soft and difficult to chew. When cooked just right, meat undergo some physical changes to become firmer, juicier, and easier to chew. When cooked for longer periods of time, its muscle fibres fall apart and break away easily. Let’s take a look at the temperature effect on meat.
When heat is applied to meat, its proteins start to coagulate at around 50°C and its muscle fibres start to contract and become firmer. There is minimal water lost at this ‘rare’ stage. Meat is tender and juicy. As the temperature rises, the muscle fibres become tighter, and more water is squeezed out of it. Meat becomes progressively drier. When meat reaches 70°C, which is also the well-done stage, it is firm and dry and had already lost a lot of liquid. Further cooking for hours will break apart the muscle fibres making it soft, but the meat will still be dry unless there is enough gelatine lubricating the strands of muscle fibres.
We like our meat to be nicely tender and juicy. This means that we should never cook it beyond 70°C to avoid the full tightening of the muscle fibres and to minimise fluid loss. But as we learned earlier, meat from some parts of animals that worked hard are high in connective tissues. Even if the temperature does not exceed 70°C, the meat would still be tough because the collagen is not broken down. Collagen dissolves into gelatine during prolonged cooking at 70°C and above. At higher temperature, it dissolves even more rapidly. Therefore, it’s a fine balance between minimising protein coagulation and yet maximising collagen breakdown. There is no one size fits all method in cooking meat.
The trick here is to understand the different cuts of meat. Cuts of meat like the loin or the breasts, which contain minimal connective tissues; its core temperature should never exceed 70°C to maintain tenderness and juiciness.
Tougher cuts that are high in connective tissues like the legs and shoulders should be cooked long enough at 70°C or above to transform the tough collagen into gelatine. In a traditional braise or stew, cooking temperature is higher and will dissolve the collagen faster; but the internal temperature of the meat will usually exceed 70°C. Yes, the melted gelatine will lubricate the meat fibres making it smooth and succulent, but meat fibres will be tight and dry as it is severely overcooked! We can make it even better.
I personally prefer to slow-cook tough cuts at 65°C – 70°C using sous vide for its precision in cooking. When the immersion circulator heating the water bath is set to 65°C, the core temperature of the meat will never exceed 65°C. You can leave it in there as long as you like and the meat will still not be overcooked. We take the meat out when it is done, that is when enough collagen had dissolved into gelatine. How do we know if it is ready? Just by pressing lightly, we can determine if the meat is tender enough and will yield lightly to pressure. At such low temperature, it will take a long time, usually one to three days to dissolve the collagen. But the end results are worth it; meat that is tender, juicy, smooth and succulent.
To summarise, the core temperature of tender cuts of meat should be cooked just long enough to hit the range of 50°C – 65°C depending on your preferred doneness for tender, juicy meat. Tough cuts from the well exercised parts of animals should be cook at around 70°C for a prolonged period of time until the tough collagen had dissolved into gelatine. Any longer is detrimental as the gelatine will dissolved from the meat into the cooking liquid. This is good in making stock or sauces, but useless in meat cookery.
Table on Temperature Effects on Meat
Proteins start to coagulate
Muscle fibres tightening and start to lose water
Meat turning pinkish in colour.
Little juice left contained in muscle fibres.
Collagen starts to dissolve into gelatine
Meat is dry and greyish brown
No More Overcooked Meat – Flavour and Colour
Anybody like to eat boiled or steamed meat that is pale and flavourless? Not really. We generally prefer meat that is grilled or roasted because they look more appetising and also taste better. What happens is that at high temperatures above 120°C, meat undergoes complex changes called the Maillard reaction. In addition to browning the meat, this reaction also generates new complex flavours and aromas. The Maillard reaction will not occur in moist cooking methods as the temperature of water will never exceed 100°C. This is the reason why people sear their meat first before adding them into a stew; for a deeper colour and more meaty flavours.
However, with such high heat, it is very easy to overcook meat. The high heat at the surface of the meat will continue to conduct into the center of the meat. This “carry-over heat” will continue to cook the meat even after you stop cooking. The core temperature of a small piece of meat or steak can go up by 1°C – 2°C, while a larger roast can have a carry-over heat of as much as 5°C – 10°C. It all depends on how hot the surface temperature of the meat is. It takes only a minute or two to go from rare to well done on a thin piece of meat, therefore much care must be taken to prevent overcooking.
It had been found that cooking proteins over high heat like grilling and frying will result in the creation of carcinogens. The darker the colour, the more carcinogens contained. But it should be fine as long as you are not having grilled or fried items for lunch and dinner every day. As with anything in life, moderation is the key.
No More Overcooked Meat – Techniques for Tender Meat
Here are two techniques which I frequently use to make meat tenderer before cooking; slicing technique and brining.
Meat is a bunch of long muscle fibres held together. Always slice meat across the grain of the meat fibres, as it takes more effort to bite and cut across long strands of fibres then shorter strands. If you slice along the grain of the fibres, the jaws will have to work harder to tear apart the long fibres.
I love to brine meat, especially poultry as it imparts added juiciness and flavour to the meat. Brining is basically soaking in a salt solution to allow osmosis to occur. What happens when you brine, is that the salt solution will diffuse into the meat together with any added flavouring from herbs and spices in the brine. Moisture loss during cooking is compensated by the moisture absorbed during brining. Thus the meat will be juicer than if you had not brined.
The strength of the brine and the length of brining will depend largely on the thickness and size of the meat. I recommend starting with a 5% salt solution and you can make your own adjustments to the strength of the brine and duration with experience.
Of course there are meat tenderizers out there. They are usually made from enzymes that break down proteins. I personally do not use them as I feel it makes the surface of the meat overly mushy before the interior of the meat is penetrated. Chinese cuisine uses baking soda or sodium bicarbonate to marinate and tenderise meat which also works in a similar way.
With this article on meat cookery and techniques, The Chef Story hopes that there will be no more overcooked meat for you ever again.
Fried Carrot Cake
There’s this dish on the current menu in the restaurant that requires little perfect cubes of daikon radish. Needless to say, I’m regularly left with a mountain of daikon trimmings. That set me thinking what I can do with all those extra daikon trimmings instead of going to waste.
“Why not make some carrot cake?” I exclaimed to myself.
Fried Carrot Cake – An Introduction to one of Singapore’s Favourite Street Food
Fried carrot cake (cai tow kway) is a local favourite very much enjoyed in Singapore. It’s a savoury dish that is cooked in either ‘black’ style or ‘white’ style and does not look like a normal cake at all. It is very much different from the western-style sweet carrot cake which is more like a dessert. Singaporeans eat this mouth-watering dish at any time of the day; whether it is for breakfast, lunch or supper.
The funny thing about fried carrot cake is there’s no carrot in it at all, and it doesn’t even look like a cake. It may seem like a joke, but there are absolutely zero carrots in it. The reason why this popular street food is named as fried carrot cake is because one of its main ingredients is daikon, which is literally translated into ‘white carrot’ in Chinese. Hence, the name carrot cake.
Secrets to Amazing Fried Carrot Cake – My Super Duper Ultra Wonderful Recipe
The cooking of fried carrot cake, or should I say daikon cake is split into two parts. First, is the making of the carrot cake itself. The mixing and steaming of the carrot cake or more specifically, the ratio of rice flour to water is the crux of the recipe as that is the base for the whole dish. You get the texture of the cake right; everything else will fall into place. Get that wrong and your dog wouldn’t even want it for its supper.
The second part consists of frying the carrot cake with chopped garlic, eggs, preserved radish, and seasonings. Simple enough? Let’s get going…
Part I – Carrot Cake Recipe
200 grams rice flour
450 grams water
2 tablespoons cooking oil
200 grams grated daikon radish with its juices
20 grams chai po (preserved radish), rinsed briefly to remove saltiness and drained
450 grams water
8 grams salt
15 grams sugar
1. Grease a metal container, preferably rectangular, on all sides. This will be the container use to cook the cake batter.
2. Mix the 200 grams of rice flour with 450 grams water until you get a smooth batter. Set aside.
3. Heat up oil in a pan over medium heat.
4. Once hot, add the grated daikon and chai po and cook briefly for 2-3 minutes.
5. Add the 2nd part water, salt and sugar into the pan and bring to a boil.
6. Once the mixture boils, turn off the heat and whisk in the batter from step 1 until smooth.
7. Over a low heat, cook the mixture while stirring the batter continuously until the starch begins to gelatinize and thicken.
8. Once slightly thickened, remove immediately from heat and pour the mixture into a greased metal container and steam covered, for 20-30 minutes or until fully set.
9. Cool down completely and cut into desired size.
Part II – Frying the Carrot Cake
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 piece Carrot cake, 10cm x 10cm (or any desired size)
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chai po (preserved radish), chopped
3 whole eggs, beaten
Fish sauce, to taste
White pepper powder, to taste
Sweet dark soya sauce, optional
Spring onions, finely sliced for garnish
1. Heat oil in a pan or wok until very hot.
2. Add in the carrot cake and using a spatula, cut it into bite-sized cubes.
3. Cook until the edges of the ‘carrot’ cake start to brown and add in the chopped garlic and chai po.(use more oil if necessary) Stir-fry until fragrant.
4. Pour the beaten eggs on top of the ‘carrot’ cake and wait until very well-browned on the bottom before flipping over to cook the other side. Same thing, cook until the other bottom is well browned.
5. Drizzle the fish sauce on the side of the pan to sizzle it and then mix into the carrot cake. This will give a nice wok’s breathe (wok hei) to the fried carrot cake. Season with white pepper powder.
6. If you like your carrot cake to be ‘black’, mix in some sweet dark soya sauce.
7. Remove from pan and garnish with finely sliced spring onions.
There is another way to enjoy this lovely fried carrot cake besides cooking them with eggs. I also like the way they serve it in dim sum; crisp on the outside, while the inside is simply melt in the mouth.
It’s very easy, just deep-fry or pan-fry rectangles of the carrot cake until all sides are well-browned and crisp. It’s so damn delicious served with chai po or Chinese XO sauce. However, I would recommend mixing in some deep-fried dried shrimps (hae bi) and fried shallots into the carrot cake batter when steaming it to bring up the fried carrot cake’s flavours to another dimension.