I realize I’d made a promise to do weekly posts on Breads. What was I thinking? That’s insane. Good thing all my faithful viewers are not bread-heads. Y’all still reading ’bout Ham Choy. Well, I still don’t have anything new to say about Ham Choy.
But I will give you a glimpse of what I have been baking.
Bread Pudding, Panna Cotta with Rasberry couli, Creme Caramel
I’m learning how to make breads at the George Brown culinary school. Last week’s class was French croissants. It was my introduction to laminated breads i.e. breads made with layers and layers of butter.
Through a series of missteps and happenstance I ended up making over six kilos of dough.
If you’re familiar with the lamination process, you will appreciate the magnitude of that effort. Suffice to say it took twelve hours of kneading, rolling and folding to produce these three batches of dough.
I cut and baked the first batch at school. This first set I called my ‘learning batch’. They were less than perfect. I’d cut them too big, shaped them wrong and had not left enough time for proofing. While they tasted ok, there was obvious room for improvement. I took the remaining batches home for practice.
Two batches (4 kg) of dough make a lot croissants. The good news is that raw croissant dough can be frozen. The bad news? I didn’t have enough freezer space.
What to do with all that dough?
Have a Croissant party!
After spending all day Saturday prepping the dough, I spent all day Sunday making pastries. I’d learned a lesson or two in school. My pastries there had been large and under-proofed. At home, I was extra careful in cutting and shaping, aiming for smaller and consistent sizing. Altogether I made about seven or eight dozen croissants. Pain au chocolats, Croissants Almondine. Cinnamon Raisin. Croissant Beurre. Baking trays lined up around my kitchen and everything smelled wonderful.
Croissants must be eaten on the day they’re made. Preferably within two hours from the oven when they’re warm, flaky crisp, soft and redolent with the smell and taste of butter.
Even with seven hungry friends and take-home party bags, I had left over croissant dough. These were the rolling bits and ends that couldn’t be re-rolled into pastry (a big NO-No with laminated dough.)
What to do with all this dough?
Improvise and make Crois-Bits!
I slashed the remnants into to smaller pieces, tossed them with sugar and leftover frangipane and baked them up into into crunchy little bites. They were light and crisp and perfect with my morning coffee.
But still there was more. All the coffee in the world, couldn’t make me finish two dozen Crois-Bits.
What to do with all these croissants?
Make Bread Pudding, of course!
And because these are croissants and not plain old bread, they’re called Diplomate au Bavarois.
Finally, after a week of croissants, I am out of dough. At least, I’m done with the batch that wasn’t frozen.
This Saturday though, is another class. We are making Danishes!
Poverty forced Hakka people to be creative cooks, and the result was salty, rich and hearty dishes that reinvigorated the body. While the cuisine is still popular in Hong Kong, chefs are unsure how long Hakka culture can endure
Interesting article on Hakka cuisine in Hong Kong , published by the South China Morning Post.
It’s been a while since I last posted. Months actually. The funny thing is, my Stats page tells me this site has been getting regular hits every day. Without exception every day someone views Ham Choy is Kiam Chye is Hum Choy. If I was a Views hound, I’d rename the blog to The Ham Choy Chronicles and post exclusively about this Hakka staple.
Too bad I am not a hound. I blog about what I like and I have a new obsession: Bread.
Encouraged by my limited success I continued to make more bread. That was two years ago. Fast forward to November 2017 when I signed up for an advanced workshop on Artisan Bread at the King Arthur School @ The Bread Lab in Washington State.
For four days I learned how to make bread. Straight dough, enriched doughs, biga, poolish, sourdoughs, ryes. We covered all the basics of handmade, long rise bread. Some of it went over my head but I grasped the fundamentals and relished the fruits loaves of my learning.
Ever since I’ve been making hearth style breads regularly. I don’t buy grocery bread anymore. And I’m still learning. There are vast libraries of knowledge on breads and legions of bread enthusiasts in the blogosphere. I’m joining them. Every week I’ll be posting something about bread.
Sorry, Ham Choy readers.
But who knows, maybe someday I’ll experiment and create an new type of bread: Ham Choy buns. You’ll be the first to know.
Singapore’s National Day was August 9. To commemorate the island’s 52nd birthday McDonald’s released some special, limited time only menu items.
Top of the list was the Nasi Lemak burger: coconut flavored chicken covered with a fried egg, fresh cucumbers, grilled onions and spicy sweet sambal sauce. For drinks, there was Bandung McFizz and for dessert Kueh Salat cake, Chendol McFlurry ice cream and fried Coconut pie.
Local TV personality Genevieve Loh gave her impressions on the McD treats. It’s a riveting film clip. Not only because of her eye catching lashes (I watched with full expectation of them falling into her food 😉 ) but because of her reveal that Singaporeans like their fries dipped in ice cream! I challenged my friend Lisa on the claim. Lisa was quick to clarify that only some Singaporeans do this. Only the old timers from her & my generation. The new timer kids eat fries with ketchup and chili sauce. Ahem. That’d be the Singaporean chili sauce … a hot & tangy tomato ketchup … not the American style chili with ground beef and beans.
But back to the Nasi Lemak burger. The pictures looked good and the McDescriptions tantalizing. I had to try and because it was McDonald’s, I up-sized to a $10 set where I had 510,000,000 calories worth of burger, fries, bandung drink & coconut pie.
So how did it taste?
Well, first things first: Appearance. The official pictures looked like the image above.
My burger looked like this.
It’s a saucy, sloppy mess of a burger. The sauce, onions and cucumbers slip around and it was challenging to get a good grip and solid bite. Hunger, conviction and a whole lot of napkins saw me through. The chicken was good. It was real chicken not a pre-fab patty. The first bite of crunchy chicken had a strong hit of coconut flavor followed by a surprising taste of … fish?
At the second bite the fishy taste was even stronger. Everything was freshly made so where did this fishy taste come from? I dialed back to an image of traditional Nasi Lemak and remembered that aside from fried chicken, sambal & coconut rice there was always heaping pile of dry fried anchovies, ikan bilis.
Ha! Now I knew why my burgers tasted of fish. I also remembered why Nasi Lemak was one of my least favorite Singapore dishes.
Verdict: Not bad. Tasty but probably not worth the expense of calories and clogged arteries.
How about the Bandung McFizz? What’s bandung anyways?
Bandung is a local drink made with rose flavored syrup, evaporated milk and crushed ice. It looks a bit like strawberry flavored milk. It’s a favorite of Malaysians and Singaporeans, smooth and soothing after a spicy curry laksa. The McFizz version had all of the sweet syrup and none of the milk. It was super concentrated sugar water. Kind of like a fizzy lemonade with no lemons.
The fried coconut pie reminded me of a Taro pie I had in McDonald’s Beijing. Warm and creamy filing with a strong taste of coconut. The Beijing version had soft cubes purple yam. The Singaporean version had cubes of hot nato de coco. The Beijing version was delicious on a cold and wintry day. The Singaporean version …lets just say that Genevieve’s idea to mix it with ice cream might be a good idea.
Verdict: Has potential but we’ll need to wait until Singapore cools down to a chilly 10C to truly enjoy it.
I mentioned Terry Wong aka The Food Canon in an earlier post on Yong Tau Fu. I met Terry in the recent launch of his cookbook “Mum’s Classics Revived.” The book is a compilation of his mother’s recipes, as artfully described on his website.
“Any Hakka recipes?” I asked.
“Not so many,” Terry said. “but I have the famous zhar yoke.”
My blank expression must have shown a lack of recognition.
“Zhar yoke,” he said. “Hakka fried pork. It’s very popular in Malaysia.”
I purchased the book and eagerly flipped to the Zhar Yoke page. It described a recipe for pork belly marinated in nam yee and five spice powder, then deep fat fried and served dry.
It didn’t look like something I’d eaten before. Except one of the ingredients – an egg in the marinade – tweaked a memory of something my grandmother used to make. I decided to try out the recipe. I’m glad I did.
The pork was tasty but more importantly, I recognized the flavor of my grandmother’s fried chicken.
When I was little, my granny used to prepare cooked lunches and send them home in stacked tiffin pans. My favorite lunch was fried chicken but unlike KFC or Popeye’s crispy fried chicken, her’s was always tender, full of unique flavor, with an unusual moist coating.
I now realised that the mystery flavor was nam yee and the not-crispy coating was the light breading made from flour and egg. As Terry says in his book, “the purpose of flour is to create a thin layer of batter to hold the seasoning” in the meat. “The result after deep frying should not be a layer of crispy batter.”
Terry’s recipe recalled a taste from my childhood that I’ve long forgotten. If you’d like a taste (with far better pictures than mine) here’s his online recipe for The Food Canon’s Hakka Zhar Yoke
Here’s a dish that’s described as classic Hakka: Salt baked Chicken.
After reading about it so many times, I had my first taste in Singapore. Salt baked Chicken is a specialty of Lam’s Kitchen, a food stall located in the Food Opera court at ION Orchard.
Lam’s version is said to rival the famous Ipoh (Malaysia) version called Ayam Garam (Malay) or Yim Kuk Kai (Hakka). Having never been to Ipoh, I can’t compare but the dish in Singapore is divine.
The meat is fall off the bone tender, luscious and rich with a delicate aroma of herbs. Served with rice, soup, cucumber garnish and chilli dipping sauce it looks like Singapore’s (Hainanese style) Chicken rice. The cooking technique and flavor profile is quite different. Whereas the Hainanese style is poached in broth, Yim Kuk Kai is wrapped in parchment and baked in salt.
In this video, celebrity cook Sherson Lian prepares the chicken by massaging it with salt and then stuffing the cavity with ginger, green onions and a packet of herbal soup ingredients. Based on another recipe from The Viandd blogspot, the herbs are Yok Chok (Solomon’s Seal Rhizome), Kei Chi (Wolfberry) and Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis).
Notice how Sherson’s chicken comes intact with feet. This is how I have to buy chicken in Asia. Whole and equipped with feet, toes, head and eyes! I think the local shoppers use the head as an indicator of freshness and cook the feet for added flavor.
Personally I can do without.
Whenever I can, I ask the butcher to cut them off. The first time, when I saw him tucking the severed pieces back in the package, I also learned to say “Discard! I don’t want!”