May 24, 2009
Internet prawn star
To give her prawn noodle soup an added boost, Yvonne Soh added spices such as star anise, cloves and black peppercorn
By Huang Lijie
Instant noodles and the occasional plate of fried rice were all Ms Yvonne Soh, 34, cooked up until four years ago.
That changed when the IT product marketing manager with a multinational company relocated to Shanghai in 2005 for work.
Six months after the move, she found herself craving for her favourite Singaporean food such as prawn noodle soup and claypot rice but was unable to satisfy the yearning.
She says there were restaurants selling Singaporean fare in the Chinese city but it did not taste quite the same as those sold back home.
'The fishballs in the fishball noodles were less bouncy and the broth for the prawn noodle soup was sweeter. It just didn't hit the spot,' she says.
So she decided to learn to cook them herself.
She says: 'Growing up, I had no interest in cooking. Also, my mother is quite a neat person and doesn't like people touching her things in the kitchen, so I never learnt how to cook from her.
'However, she was eager to share her recipes when I called her from Shanghai, so that was how I picked up the method for cooking some of her home-style dishes such as mee sua in chicken soup.'
She adds that her mother, being an instinctive cook, was unable to provide her with the exact amount of ingredients in the recipes, so she had to search for similar recipes on the Internet for approximate quantities.
As to whether she encountered any catastrophes in the kitchen in Shanghai, she says: 'No. There were no major failures, although the seasoning for some dishes might have been slightly off at times. Some dishes would also be a little overcooked.'
One of the earlier dishes she made was minced pork porridge, which she adapted from her mother's repertoire.
She says: 'My mother used to serve stir-fried minced pork with taucheo fermented bean paste as a side dish when she cooked porridge. I decided to combine the two into a single dish because my boyfriend, who was also working in Shanghai, preferred the taste of pork in the porridge.'
Another dish she replicated successfully in Shanghai was prawn noodles, the recipe for which she shares below.
She says: 'I grew up eating prawn noodles. I used to live a street away from the famous Beach Road Prawn Noodle in East Coast Road and my family would have it at least once a week.
'My mother would also make her own version of prawn noodles sometimes, without the fried lard bits, so I really missed eating prawn noodles in Shanghai.'
The recipe her mother gave her, however, lacked the depth in flavour she was looking for and she often found herself making up for it by adding more soya sauce to the stock.
Again, she turned to the Internet for help and found recipes for Penang-style prawn noodles that include spices such as black peppercorn, star anise and cloves, which turned out to be the solution to her weak-tasting broth.
On whether she feels her modified versions of her mother's recipes are superior, she laughs and says: 'No, I wouldn't say they're better. They're different and I still get cravings for my mother's cooking.'
The one dish she never managed to make in Shanghai, much as she wanted to, was chwee kueh, or steamed rice flour cakes topped with preserved radish bits.
She says she was daunted by the complicated recipes for the dish, which she found on the Internet.
She adds that she had trouble communicating the ingredients in the recipe to the Shanghainese market vendors.
Since returning to Singapore in 2007, she has found herself cooking about five to six times a week.
This is twice as often as when she was in Shanghai. She attributes the increased frequency to her growing passion for cooking and the availability of ingredients in supermarkets here.
She has also widened her repertoire to include dishes such as pizza and aglio olio pasta, which she spikes with store-bought chilli padi for extra heat.
For ideas on what to cook, the tech-savvy cook turns to webcasts by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. She also relies on a free application on her iPhone, which she downloaded from food website allrecipes.com.
The application, called Dinner Spinner, suggests recipes based on the user's desired ingredient, type of dish and cooking time.
She says: 'Four years ago, I would never have thought that cooking would become my hobby, but it has and I now find cooking for my loved ones very rewarding.'
MAKE IT YOURSELF: PRAWN NOODLE SOUP
20 large prawns
400g pork ribs
4 Tbs olive oil
50g dried anchovies
2 tsp brown sugar
3 cloves garlic, crushed with skin on
1 litre water
5 black peppercorns
1 star anise
1 Tbs dark soya sauce
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground white pepper
6 shallots, finely sliced
250g yellow noodles
50g bean sprouts
4 fresh chillies, sliced
1. Shell and set aside the prawn heads, tails and shells.
2. Devein the peeled prawns and cook them in a pot of boiling water. Drain and set aside.
3. Place the pork ribs in a sieve and pour hot water over it slowly. Set aside the ribs. (Avoid scalding the ribs in boiling water as too much of its flavour might leach out.)
4. To a heated pot, add 2 Tbs of oil and stir-fry the prawn heads, tails and shells for about eight minutes on high heat until the shells turn a deep orange and soften, in order to achieve a rich-tasting stock.
5. Add dried anchovies and brown sugar to the shells, mix well and continue to stir-fry for two minutes.
6. Add garlic and fry for another three minutes.
7. Allow the pot to cool for one minute before adding water to the mixture. Stir well and bring to a boil on high heat.
8. Add cloves, black peppercorns and star anise. Lower the flame and let the stock simmer for 30 minutes.
9. Scoop out and discard the shells, anchovies and any surface scum.
10. Add dark soya sauce, salt and pepper to the broth. Stir well and set aside.
11. Fry the shallots in 2 Tbs of oil until golden brown. Set aside.
12. Blanch the noodles, bean sprouts and kangkong in a pot of boiling water for about one minute or until the kangkong leaves turn limp. Drain and place in two bowls. 13. Add prawns and stock to the noodles. Top with shallots and chillies.