Har Cheong Gai (Prawn Paste Chicken)

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

How many ways are there to fry chicken?

More ways than there are to skin a . . . c-a-t. (Shhhh! Don't let the kitties hear us.)

Every culture has its own version of fried chicken. That is the chicken's destiny. That is why it crosses the road.

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Lemon Coke Chicken Wings

Monday, 4 June 2012



What's better than fried chicken wings? STICKY fried chicken wings! I don't think I've ever met any sticky food I don't like (natto isn't food unless you're Japanese). I've certainly never met chicken wings I don't like. And coke is tasty, so why not put the two together? Chicken and coke make a natural pair. When chicken meets coke is kinda like when Harry met Sally. It's so obvious they should be together. (If you're too young to know what When Harry Met Sally is, click here.)

Samsui Ginger Chicken

Monday, 21 May 2012

Do you make 白切鸡, 'white-cut chicken'? If you do, chances are you stuff the cavity of the chicken with spring onions and ginger. After checking out the recipes online and in a few cookbooks, I think nine out of 10 people stuff their chicken. It's like these people, when they see an empty chicken, simply can't resist shoving in something. If you're one of them, I'm sorry to have to tell you, the method is wrong.

Why is it wrong?

Braised Chicken with Chestnuts

Thursday, 15 March 2012


My mother always used dried chestnuts, so I'm clueless about prepping fresh ones. Using my common sense, I figure boiling should be the right method for tackling fresh chestnuts' shell and peel. It seems like the obvious thing to do, right?

Jamie Oliver Cooks Hainanese Chicken Rice!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

This is how the Naked Chef makes Singapore's iconic dish, Hainanese Chicken Rice:

The recipe is from Jamie Oliver's column in the Daily Mail, 2 March 2012. The headline reads, 'Cook with Jamie: East is best! These Far Eastern broths are (blah blah blah) good for you'.

XO Cognac Fried Chicken Wings

Monday, 13 February 2012

I have a friend who knows a thing or two about food. He doesn't cook but he's a discerning eater. If he says a restaurant is good, then it's either very good or at least above average. His restaurant recommendations never disappoint me, and I have total trust in his opinion.

One day, this friend of mine asked me to bring him some bak chang made by his mother. He was living in New York at the time, and I was going to visit him for a couple of days.

Smuggle some comfort food to the other side of the planet for a dear old friend? No problemo.

I hopped along to his mother's place, and Aunty gave me six bak chang to hand-carry to her son, plus another six as reward for the bak chang mule.

Paper-Wrapped Chicken

Sunday, 4 September 2011

I hadn't had 纸包鸡 (Paper-Wrapped Chicken) for such a long time I'd forgotten what it was like. I couldn't see the point of wrapping chicken in paper and then deep-frying it. Surely the chicken would steam in its own juices underneath the paper shield? So why not just steam it? Or deep-fry without the paper?

On the other hand, I liked the idea of unwrapping little parcels of food because that would be like unwrapping presents. And I thought maybe the paper served a purpose I couldn't see by theorizing. So I had a practical session and . . . . 'Wow! Hello there, Chee Pow Kai! Where have you been?'

Diced Chicken in Spicy Fermented Tofu Sauce

Friday, 12 August 2011


One day, whilst shooting the breeze with me somewhere, an ang moh acquaintance said he had a tattoo. Without any encouragement on my part, he rolled up his sleeve to show me the Chinese word on his arm. He seemed quite proud of it, and I was all prepared to 'Oooh!' appropriately (whilst running my fingers gently over his bulging biceps *wink wink*). Instead, when I saw the word he had chosen, the beer I was drinking took a detour into my lungs and up my nose. My face turned red; I thumped my chest; he thumped my back; it was a while before I could stop coughing. By then, Acquaintance probably suspected there was something wrong with his tattoo 'cause I was laughing and gesturing at it even as I choked on my drink. Indeed, there was, for the word on his arm was "腐".

Ayam Panggang (Grilled Chicken)

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The hallmark of a good roast chicken is crispy skin, right? Nah, not necessarily. Crispy skin requires hours of air-drying and I can't be bothered most of the time. It's good enough for me if the skin is nicely browned so that there's a 'roasty' aroma.

What? That's good but not very sexy? Ok, let's sex it up a bit.

Lather the tanned chook with lots of sambal that's full of spices and enriched with coconut milk, then stick it back in the oven. As the spicy paste bubbles away merrily in the heat, it caramelizes and forms a crust, transforming the ordinary roast chicken into – tadaa! – Ayam Panggang. How's that?

Prawn Paste Chicken

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

I could smell the fermented prawn paste once the bottle was open. Phwoar! This is potent stuff!

It wasn't belachan, which is quite harmless until it's toasted or fried. Nor was it Penang hae ko, which is absolutely benign because it's got lots of sugar.

What I had was har cheong, a liquid prawn paste made in Hong Kong. It was a very appetizing grey – oh yum! – and the label on the bottle said, so reassuringly, 'Cooked [sic] Before Eating'. Thanks for the warning! You bet I will!

Your first whiff of har cheong might make you think of a rotting rat or, as a friend puts it ever so nicely, a mortuary with no power supply. But once you take a deep breath – be brave! – you'll get the aroma that explains why fermented prawn paste is cherished in Malaysia, the Phillipines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, and some parts of China. That's, what, easily several hundred million people? Oh hang on, I almost forgot Singapore. That adds another few million who eat lots of belachan (but don't make any).

Chicken Satay & Peanut Sauce

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Do you know how satay sauce gets its tinge of yellow? Turmeric? Wrong! The golden hue comes from roasted peanuts, which have to be finely ground and boiled to release their colour.

Thai Stuffed Chicken Wings

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

If you hate bones as much as this chap who's gritting his teeth, and staring daggers at the person who's making him gnaw his food like Bo, then . . .

Korean Sweet Crispy Chicken (Dak Kang Jung)

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Fried chicken coated with sugar, chilli flakes, candied ginger, toasted peanuts and sesame seeds – how does it sound? Dak Kang Jung (Sweet & Crispy Chicken) hails from Korea and, like most Korean food, subtlety ain't its middle name. I don't usually like meat that's sweet but it's a different story when it's also spicy and nutty.

Dak Kang Jung has so many layers of flavour that it's hard deciding what I like most about it. I love the ginger 'cause it's sweet and chewy. No wait, I love the peanuts that are so fragrant, and sweet and spicy at the same time. Yup, the spiciness from the chilli flakes is really good. But so is the spiciness from the candied ginger. Oops, I almost forgot the chicken. Yes, there's juicy, succulent fried chicken, but it's redundant 'cause the stuff sticking to it is so good. Oh hang on, it's better with chicken. Nah, it's just as good without chicken . . . . See what I mean?

Pandan Leaf Chicken

Friday, 18 February 2011

Whenever I see Pandan Leaf Chicken, I'd remember the lunch I had with my Australian boss in a Thai restaurant in Melbourne. That was a long time ago, when Australians probably weren't as familiar with Thai food as they are now.

One of the dishes we had was Pandan Leaf Chicken and, as I chatted away, Boss did something that I still remember now. He picked up a piece of fried chicken, unwrapped it, and put the entire pandan leaf in his mouth – no chicken, just the stiff, wiry leaf!

My eyes widened in horror and my mind went, 'WHOA! WHOA! YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO DO THAT!'

Salted Crispy Chicken (盐酥鸡)

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

It's chicken; it's deep fried; and it's got lots of seasoning. How can 盐酥鸡 – salted crispy chicken – not be a winner? It's practically the king of nighttime street food in Taiwan, loved by young and old alike.

Eat your heart out, KFC, in the land of 盐酥鸡. (Hey, it rhymes!)

Using a recipe from the Taiwanese cookery teacher here, the 盐酥鸡 I made yesterday bore the classic hallmark of street food – it made me quite thirsty! Hah, so it really had the feel of night market food! There was quite a lot of salt in the seasoning, as well as sugar and spices which masked the saltiness. 盐酥鸡 isn't something that should be eaten too often, I guess, but it makes a great occasional nibble.

Besides being heavily seasoned, good salted crispy chicken must be, as its name says, crispy.

Three-Cup Chicken (三杯鸡)

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The most difficult part about cooking, for me, is finding good ingredients. The quality of a lot of products is really quite bad nowadays.

Some chicken is so tasteless that if you ate it blindfolded, you wouldn't know what it is. Likewise with fish that's farmed. Groundnuts, even if freshly roasted and freshly ground, may not have much aroma. Bitter gourd is barely bitter. Mangoes taste just sweet at best and smell of nothing.

When I was a kid, they had such a heady fragrance that holding one to my nose was (almost) better than eating it. So thank goodness there's basil that still smells and tastes like basil.

Taiwanese love basil. They add basil to chicken, pork, clams, prawns, omelette, soup, etc – just about everything. Three-Cup Chicken, or 三杯鸡, is one of Taiwan's 'national' dishes that uses lots of basil. Invented by the Hakkas in Taiwan, it's extremely popular in the home as well as restaurants.

Three-Cup Chicken is quite similar to Sesame Chicken (麻油鸡) since both use lots of sesame oil, wine and light soya sauce. But there're some differences too. Sesame Chicken doesn't have any 
basil; it isn't sweet or spicy; and it has a watery sauce that may be thickened with cornflour. Three-Cup Chicken, OTOH, is a bit sweet and spicy; it's quite dry when it's done because no water is added during cooking; and basil is the soul of the dish.

Let's see, anything else . . . ? Oh yes, presentation. Three-Cup Chicken is typically served in a claypot that's covered. When the cover is removed at the table, everyone gets a full whiff of the fragrance from the basil, sesame oil, rice wine . . . the whole lot. Mmm . . . .

'Three-Cup' supposedly means one cup each of rice wine, light soya sauce and sesame oil, which would make some really oily and salty chicken. Maybe people in the old days liked stronger seasoning so as to stretch the meat?

I prefer to use one cup of rice wine to 0.5 cup of light soya sauce and about 0.2 cup of sesame oil. Strictly speaking, what I make is 1.7-Cup Chicken!

But I guess 'Three-Cup' could be reinterpreted. How about one cup of chicken, one cup of basil, and . . . one cup of rice? Or if you prefer a cup of ice cold beer over rice, that would do too. In fact, why not have both and make it four cups? Three cheers for Four-Cup Chicken – 四杯鸡! Yay!

THREE-CUP CHICKEN (三杯鸡)
(Recipe for 4 persons)

2 chicken legs (450 g), rinsed and chopped bite-size
1½ tbsp white sesame oil
2 pieces ginger, thumb size, washed, and thinly sliced
10 cloves garlic, topped, peeled, and rinsed
2 sprigs spring onion, washed, trimmed, and cut 5-cm (2-inches) long
3 large chillis, washed and cut 2-cm (1-inch) long
6 small chilli padis, or to taste, washed and roughly chopped
½ cup rice wine (8 tbsp)
4 tbsp light soya sauce
2 tbsp sugar
1 cup Thai sweet basil (九層塔), leaves only, washed and drained well
¼ tsp black sesame oil
The chicken should be cut fairly small so that it can be coated with lots of sauce. Otherwise, it's quite tasteless because it's not marinated or braised.

Preheat a small claypot, if you have one, over medium-high heat whilst stir-frying chicken. Don't forget the cover.

In a stonking hot wok, stir-fry ginger in stonking hot sesame oil over high heat till slightly golden.

Add garlic, chillis and spring onion. Stir-fry till garlic is lightly golden and wok is stonking hot again. 

Add chicken and fry till lightly brown, stirring occasionally, and wok is stonking hot.

Drizzle with 2 tbsp rice wine. Stir till wok is stonking hot (again!) and dry, a few seconds.

Drizzle with another 2 tbsp rice wine. Repeat stirring till wok is stonking hot (!) and dry again, a few seconds.

Add light soya sauce and sugar. A few quick stirs. Add remaining rice wine. Stir to mix thoroughly.

When sauce is slightly thickened, turn off heat. Transfer to preheated claypot. Increase heat for claypot to high. Stir till chicken is coated with sauce, which should be gleaming, dark and sticky. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Add basil. Mix a bit, quickly so that basil is only a bit wilted. Drizzle with black sesame oil. Cover. Turn off heat.

Bring covered claypot to the table. Uncover when everyone's seated. They should then go 'Oooooh!' and 'Aaaaah!' Otherwise, don't cook for them again, ever.

If not using claypot, cook chicken in the wok till sauce is sticky. Stir through basil till fully wilted. Plate and drizzle with black sesame oil. Serve.

Thai Basil Chicken

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Why are fat people fat?

The finger has pointed at sugar, carbs, fat, high-fructose corn syrup, metabolic rate, genes, not having breakfast, having a heavy dinner, having a late dinner, some virus (!), fast food, packaged food, soft drinks, portion sizes, depression, boredom, childhood obesity, hormones, mixing with other fat people, lack of information, lack of education, lack of exercise, lack of will power, etc, etc.

Anything and everything under the sun that can be blamed has been.

Soya Sauce Chicken – With Rose Essence Wine

Monday, 1 November 2010

Shucks, I just realized something.

I should have garnished the chicken with rose petals instead of spring onions since it was made with rose essence wine, 玫瑰露酒.

Well, it's too late now 'cause the chicken is all eaten up.  

Dang! Should have thought of it earlier . . . .

OK, please put your imagination cap on and imagine succulent soya sauce chicken with rose essence wine on a bed of rose petals . . . pink, of course . . . .

Authentic Cantonese 豉油鸡 must have 玫瑰露酒. Otherwise, it just doesn't have the floral fragrance that comes from the roses in the wine.

15-Minute Dry Chicken Curry

Thursday, 30 September 2010

15 minutes is all it takes to make dry chicken curry. ... . . .... . . .
....... . . . . . .. .. ... . . ... . . . . . . ... . .. . . .... . .. . . . . . .

Roast Chicken

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

"Spatchcock?" I said, a bit warily. I was talking to the chicken guy at the market, who was asking me how I wanted my chicken cut up. The young chap – a mainland Chinese – didn't understand the word 'spatchcock'. I tried again, this time in my limited Chinese, 'Er, make it look like a butterfly?' He stared at me like I was insane. "Frog? Make it look like a frog?"