The first post of 2011. I do apologize for the long absence, it has been such a crazy year-end last year I had no time to properly craft a post but there has been a lot of eating. My parents and brother were here for Christmas and New Years, if you can imagine all the restaurants I wanted them to try on top of all the sight-seeing.
Now that they’ve gone back home and we’re about 10 days to Chinese New Year, I wanted to start the first post of the year with a lot of “Har”. So, I made Penang Prawn Noodles or Penang Hokkien Mee. “Har” is prawn/shrimp in Cantonese and auspiciously it sounds like “Ha” of “Hahahaha”. I am originally Hokkien and we call prawns/shrimps “Hae“, you could say it sounds like “Heh” of “Hehehehehe” too. And so my point being, eating a lot of “Har/Hae” would induce a lot of happiness, one of the auspicious traits you want in your house during Chinese New Year!
Penang Prawn Noodles is a bowl of happiness in my eyes. Its rich broth is made from simmering pork bones and prawn heads until every ounce of their flavour is extracted. And then a necessary blend of spice paste carefully pounded with dried shrimps, chilies, shallots and garlic, which is then sauteed in peanut oil until fragrant and aromatic is added into the broth. It is an absolute delight to slurped on because the marriage of flavours from the prawns, pork and the slick red oil floating on every bowl dances in your mouth like sex.
The most time consuming part of cooking Penang Prawn Mee is the broth, it’s an element that will either make or break the dish so take the time to clean the pork bones and use the freshes prawns you can get. You need A LOT of prawns/shrimps for this dish. Usually, I would used 1500 grams worth of shrimp shells and 700 grams of pork bones for 1.5 liters of broth. If you cannot get as much shrimp shells, you should get a sachet of Tean’s Gourmet Prawn Noodle Paste from your Asian grocery store for a bit of help in boosting the flavour of your broth. You may use other brands but I won’t be able to guarantee how the flavours will turn out.
We will divide the ingredients into three parts –
|A: Pork + Prawn Stock||B: Spice Paste||C: Noodles + Toppings|
||We are going to blitz all these ingredients in a blender. Or if you feel like pounding, use a mortar and pestle.
To start off, you will need 1 large pot, 1 medium large pot, a fry pan and 1 large basin for any rinsing and tempering jobs.
A: Pork + Prawn Stock
1. We’ll first clean the pork bones by boiling them in water for 10 minutes. You’ll see all the gunk floating on the surface of the water and that’s what we want to get rid off for a cleaner tasting broth. Pour the water off and rinse the pork bones, get rid of any dangling fats and white membranes under the running water. Set them in the large basin, while you clean up the pot well.
2. Add about two tablespoon of oil in the same pot, fry up the shallot slices until crispy and golden brown. Scoop them up and onto a paper towel to be used for topping later.**
3. In the same pot, with the oil, add the black pepper, star anise, cloves and the pork bones in and cover the bones with water. While you’re waiting for the pot to come to a simmer, peel the prawns and reserve the shells and heads.
4. When the pot comes to gentle boil, add all the prawn heads and shells in with the sugar and salt. Reduce the heat to a medium low and let it cook for 1 hour. Important: Skim the orangey red foam off the surface every now and then.
B: Spice Paste
While your stock is cooking, it’s time to make your spice paste.
5. In a blender, add all the ingredients in column B, except for the oil, and blitz until fine. Add a tablespoon or two of water to get the paste going if it’s too dry.
6. Once the fresh spice paste is ready, heat up your pan with 1/4 cup of oil and saute the spice paste on medium heat. I sauteed mine for approximately 15 minutes until the paste turns into a dark ruby red and the fragrance of chilies and shrimp permeates the air so thickly you could choke. But all is forgiven when you give it a taste.
7. You will get almost a cup worth of spice paste, set it aside.
8. After one hour, you get a rich autumny color stock you want to sink into – it smells wonderfully porky and prawny. The pork bones are cooked through and the prawn shells are a bright fiery orange. Remember the prawns you peeled earlier? Now is the time to cook them. Throw them into the pot and crank up the heat. Add the eggs in as well. Let them cook through – approximately 2 minutes for the shrimp. Reserve them for topping later.** And another 3 minutes for the eggs to become nicely hard-boiled. Peel them and halve them as topping.**
9. Fish out all the pork bones, prawn shells and spices from the pot of stock. They’ve done their job. Discard the prawn shells and spices. For the pork bones, pull and shred as much pork off the bones as you can with a paring knife and use them for topping later.**
10. The stock is now ready for the spice paste to be added in. Take half a portion of the spice paste and stir it in. From there, you will find that the stock graduates into a broth. It transforms into a rich, emulsified, full-bodied life. Spicy oils from the spice paste floats over the top with a nice red sheen, as if it is a protective layer of the deliciousness below. Your broth is now ready. Keep it heated through and piping hot in a low heat.
C: Noodles + Toppings
11. In a medium sized pot, boil water and scald all the bean sprouts, kangkong and noodles separately and it is best in that order. Why? Because if you cook the noodles first, you’ll starch up the water and leave strands of rice vermicelli in it, which will stick to the vegetables when it’s their turn to cook. However, if you don’t mind bits of noodles sticking to your veggies, I give you permission to cook it in any order you want.
12. Set the toppings and noodles to get ready for assembly.
In a bowl, take a bit of rice vermicelli and yellow noodles and add the piping hot broth over them. Add the toppings and an extra spoon of spice paste, if you’d like.