Buah Paya Masak Titek (Peppery Papaya Soup)

Thursday, 6 October 2011

If I had a dollar for every bad recipe I come across . . . .

Who is it this time?

It's Sylvia Tan, whom I absolutely loathe because she's such a killjoy. She goes on and on about cutting out the fat from this, that and every other recipe. Biggest turn off ever, she is!

I used to have zero respect for Sylvia Tan, but that was before I saw her on TV. Believe it or not, she made skinless, low-fat (of course!) kong pao Chicken with sambal belachan! Did she think the people in Sichuan eat belachan? Or did she think it's OK to totally disregard the recipe's authenticity? After that awful, bastardized kong pao Chicken, my respect for her fell from a big fat zero into negative territory.

Sylvia Tan has hit rock bottom in my book. You might think that's the worst rating possible but the amazing woman has the ability to penetrate rocks. This time, it's the recipe for Papaya Titek in her cookbook, Modern Nyonya. Her stock for the Peranakan soup is made with the heads and shells of 50 g of prawns! For those who don't know, 50 g would be two prawns each about the size of a forefinger. According to her recipe, the heads and shells of these two small crustaceans boiled in one whole litre of water for 30 minutes would make stock for 4-5 servings. Le sigh . . . . She's considered an authority on Singapore cooking, you know?

Modern Nyonya is clearly a load of crap. The Best of Singapore Cooking, on the other hand, would have given me a very salty papaya soup. The recipe has a huge amount of salted fish bones and dried prawns, in addition to salt and a chicken stock cube.

The The recipe in Cooking for the President isn't ideal either. It's more like a stew than soup since there's more papaya than water. There aren't any fresh prawns, and it's less spicy than The Best Of. But I like the idea of dry-frying, then simmering the dried prawns.

In the end, I sort of combine the two better-but-not-ideal recipes. I don't use as much papaya as Cooking For, nor as much salted fish bones as The Best Of. I omit the salt and stock cube but there're fresh prawns, as well as dried ones dry-fried till very fragrant. Lastly, I go along with The Best Of's amount of white peppercorn and chilli.

The soup doesn't make me jump up and down with excitement, but I like the fruity sweetness of the papaya contrasted with the salty and mildly spicy stock. Le purr . . . . I'll definitely make Buah Paya Masak Titek again when I have a papaya that's too green for eating straight, and too ripe for pickling.

Source: Adapted from The Best of Singapore Cooking and Cooking for the President
(Recipe for 6 persons)

350 g prawns
peel, leaving tails on, devein and rinse; reserve shells and heads for making stock
80 g salted threadfin bones, rinse twice
900 ml water
40 g dried prawns (¼ cup), rinse and dry-fry till fragrant
12 g candlenuts (3 pieces)
1 red chilli
1 tbsp white peppercorns
80 g shallots, peel, wash and chop roughly
800 g half-ripe papaya (skin should be green with a hint of yellow)
peel, rinse, quarter lengthwise, discard seeds, trim inner surface, and cut crosswise 1½ cm thick
sugar to taste, about ½ tsp

Bring prawn shells and heads, salted fish bones and water to a boil. Simmer gently, covered, for 5 minutes.

Make spice paste whilst stock is simmering. Blend or pound dried prawns, candlenuts, chillies, peppercorns and shallots finely.

Remove and discard prawn shells and heads from stock with a slotted spoon. Add ground paste. Continue gentle simmering for 10 minutes. Add papaya and bring back to a boil. Simmer till almost tender, 3-4 minutes depending on how ripe papaya is. Do not overcook or papaya would turn mushy. Turn off heat. Let soup sit 10 minutes, covered, to develop flavours.

Reheat soup till gently simmering. Taste and season with sugar to taste, about ½ tsp. Add prawns and heat till just pink and opaque. Do not overcook.

Serve Buah Paya Masak Titek hot, accompanied by sambal belachan and calamansi lime juice as a dip.

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