Monday, April 30, 2012

Claypot Pork Belly with Salted Fish

I have this book "All About Claypot Dishes" for the longest time but have never attempted any of the recipes till recently. Cooking with claypot is a new experience for me. I bought my claypot from a shop near KL's Pudu market at only RM8.00 if I remember correctly. Or was it RM7.50. Yup, it's that cheap!

In Asia, claypot is a highly popular cooking vessel as it retains heat very well. It also heats up evenly, thus making the food inside, especially meat, cooked faster while maintaining its full flavor.

So here, I'm going to share in summary what I have gleaned of from this claypot book of mine.

How to pick a good claypot?

The pot should not have any cracks and when a gentle knock is given, it should produce a crisp and loud sound. The lid should cover the pot evenly and nicely, so that the heat and fragrance from the food that is cooking inside will not evaporate quickly. The inside of the pot should also be glazed.

What to do before the first cooking?

Unlike shiny stainless steel pots, a brand new claypot needs to be treated before it is used. To treat it, simply soak it in tap water for a day so that it doesn't crack or break while being used over the stove. After that, boil some water in it, preferably water from rinsing rice. Reason is the starch in the water will seep into the pores of the claypot and thus, helps to strengthen the pot.

How to care and clean a claypot?

Do not heat up an empty claypot. Also, do not immediately soak or wash the claypot after cooking as the sudden change of water temperature may eventually crack it. Wash it with a non-metallic scrubbing pad or brush after the pot has cooled down. After washing, wipe clean and leave to air dry before storing. If the pot has not been used for weeks or months, it's advisable to soak it in water for 1-2 hours before using. 

Although the above sounds like a lot to digest, do not feel discouraged as it's really easy to cook with claypot. The food is flavorful and for a strange reason, it makes me feel somewhat wonderfully nostalgic! 

Last but not least, here's one of the many flavorful recipes from the book - claypot pork belly with salted fish.


~ 300 g pork belly, cut into thin slices
~ 25 g salted fish
~ 2 cloves garlic, chopped
~ 6 shallots, sliced thinly
~ 2 to 3 dried chillies, cut into several pieces, remove the seeds
~ 5 slices ginger
~ 4 to 5 stalks spring onion, cut into 3 cm strips
~ 1 large onion, quartered and sliced
~ 2/3 cup water
~ 1/2 tbsp cornflour (dissolve in 3 tbsps water)
~ Some cooking oil

Marinade - 1/2 tbsp oyster sauce; 1/2 tbsp dark soy sauce; 1/2 tbsp cornflour

Seasonings - 1/2 tsp dark soy sauce; 1 tbsp light soy sauce; 1 tsp sugar; 1tbsp shaoxing wine

~ Combine pork belly slices with the marinade and set aside for 30 minutes. 
~ Pan-fry salted fish until fragrant, set aside. 
~ Heat cooking oil in a claypot. Add shallots, garlic, ginger and dried chillies and fry until fragrant. Stir in pork belly and toss well. Add water and sugar and bring to a boil. Cover the claypot with its lid and simmer over low heat until pork belly is soft. Add a little bit of water one at a time if necessary.
~ Add salted fish and seasonings and continue to simmer for a few minutes more. 
~ Add in the cornflour mixture, stir well and let it come to a simmer and the gravy would have thickened.
~ Stir in spring onion and onion. Toss well for a few seconds. It is now ready to be served with rice.

Happy Labor Day holiday!

petite nyonya

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Apple Plum Almond Cream Tart

Usually, savoury tarts/pies appeal more to me that sweet ones but when I saw this almond cream tart recipe with fruits while browsing through my Martha Day's "365 Days of Desserts" book, I truly cannot wait to try it! I even thought about it the whole time I was trying to fall asleep that night, thinking about the next morning when I could make this. I love anything and everything that has got almond in it - almond cake, almond drink, almond pudding etc - give 'em all to me! And this's really good!
For the pastry, I decided to use Michel Roux's pâte brisée recipe from his wonderful book, "Pastry". It's definitely one of my favorite pastry books!

Good selection of fruits for this tart include apple, pear and stone fruits like plum, peach and nectarine. I used 2 Granny Smith apples and 2 plums for mine.

Making pâte brisée:

~ 250 g plain flour
~ 150 g butter, softened
~ Pinch of salt
~ 3/4 tbsp caster sugar
~ 1 egg
~ 1 tbsp cold milk

Place everything (except the milk) in a mixing bowl. Use a dough hook and mix at low speed. It can be rubbed together by hand too. Once the dough starts to come together, add the milk and mix until everything combines. Take the dough out and on a lightly floured surface, use the palm of your hand to knead it 4-5 times until all bits of flour is well incorporated. Roll out and line the base and side of a 9 inch tart pan. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

After the 20 minutes are up, take the tart pan out of the refrigerator, use a fork to randomly poke holes all over the pastry base and sides so as to release hot air during baking, and straightaway put it in the oven to pre-bake for about 30 minutes at 160 deg C. Take it out and let cool.

Meanwhile, wash the fruits, peel off the skin if you prefer, discard the seeds/core and slice about 5mm thickness.

Making the almond cream:

~ 2/3 cup ground almond
~ 2 tbsp plain flour
~ 90 g butter
~ 90 g granulated sugar
~ 1 egg
~ 1 egg yolk
~ 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
~ 1 tbsp rum (optional)

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and yolk. Stir in the ground almond and flour. Mix well. Stir in the vanilla and rum. Mix well again. Spread evenly on the pre-baked pastry case. Lastly, arrange the slices of fruits in the pattern of a wheel, pressing down gently the bottom end of each fruit slice before overlapping with another slice on top. Bake the tart until it begins to brown and the almond cream cakey part is done.

Happy baking!

petite nyonya

Monday, April 9, 2012

Portulaca - Flower, Weed, Herb or Veggie?

Apparently all answers are right.

Portulaca is the general name for an annual, sun-loving and low flowering plant that has different species. There is portulaca grandiflora - the flower plant, and there is portulaca oleracea - the weed, herb and vegetable.

Portulaca grandiflora is also commonly known as 'moss rose' or 'carpet rose', but I've always known it as 'japanese rose'. Some species has single layer flower petals while some others may have multi-layer petals. The flowers come in a multitude of different colours and they are just beautiful grown in wide and shallow pots or as edging plant in the garden.

On the other hand, portulaca oleracea refers to the weed, herb and veggie variety. Other known names are purslane, pigweed, verdolaga, little hogweed and pusley. In the United States, edible portulaca or purslane is categorized as weed. This is a contrast to other parts of the world. It is recognized as a herb in some European countries like France where it is most commonly used for salads. In Asian countries like India and Malaysia and in many places throughout the African continent, purslane is a much-loved vegetable.

Despite its myriad of names and categorization, portulaca oleracea is better known as 'sayur beremi' ('sayur' meaning vegetable) in Malaysia. This vegetable is pretty much 'off the grid' in terms of its popularity as compared to other everyday vegetables. But any true Peranakan person who is born and bred in Melaka - place of Peranakan culture historical roots - would have known and eaten this vegetable. I guess its 'popularity' is more inclined towards non-urban folks. It isn't sold in any of the supermarkets in the city, especially not in a place like Kuala Lumpur, but just maybe (JUST MAYBE!) it can be found sold by Malay traders at wholesale markets on the outskirts of the city.

Sayur beremi brings so much fond memories to me. As the youngest child in the family, I often tagged along my Mom wherever she went and the memories of us picking this veggie together is indelible. My family was living in a charming seaside village by the Straits of Melaka during my childhood. I remember there was a house by the shore line that has purslane growing abundantly in the sandy soil outside. My Mom and I would go with an empty colander or plastic bag and both of us would come home with lots of this wonderful veggie! We were living just five minutes' walk away. Village folks back then were really generous people and the purslane plants were free for anyone's picking!

Purslane is said to contain a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy veggies. It is also known to be very beneficial for the lungs, especially for those who smoke. Purslane has a delicate bitter taste but other than that, it is simply delicious stir-fried with some spicy chilli paste.

Read here on wiki if you would like to know a host of other benefits this modest veggie (or weed!) presents.

This is purslane (edible portulaca) or 'sayur beremi' as we call it in Malaysia.

This huge bunch costs only RM1.00 at the morning market in Melaka Sentral. My brother-in-law bought 3 bunches two weekends ago to feed my big family as most of us were back in our hometown Melaka for 'cheng beng' (Chinese All Souls' day).

We spent the morning picking and choosing the leaves, discarding the bottom fibrous stems.
This is all rinsed and ready for the wok.

Out of the wok...this is how we love our portulaca, weed or not! Mmmm...tasty!


1 big bunch of purslane/'sayur beremi'
4-5 shallots
4-5 pips garlic
4-5 large red chillies
25 g dried prawns (soak in water for 15 minutes, rinsed once and drain off the water)
1/4 cup cooking oil

- Pound or blend shallots, chillies and dried prawns together.
- Heat oil in a wok.
- Saute the blended paste for 8-10 minutes on low to medium heat until it is fragrant.
- Put in purslane and stir fry on medium to high heat until the veggie is all cooked through.
- A little salt may be added but the dried prawns is already salty.

Last but not least, below are 2 species of my portulaca, the flower plant variety. These are not edible. The first two pictures is of the same plant and the leaves look similar with purslane, the edible portulaca. The last picture has needle-like leaves with multi-layer flower.

petite nyonya