Kueh Pie Tee – A Video Tutorial Guide
Kueh Pie Tee aka Kueh Pai Tee is a familiar snack to many. It is commonly eaten as finger food, not unlike hors d’oeuvres or anti-pasti from French and Italian cuisines. Think bruschetta and canapés where the familiar cracker or crostini is being replaced by delicately made cups that resemble top hats, with a savory filling that can be elegantly eaten in a single mouthful. Apart from being an amuse-bouche however, kueh pie tee has an additional dimension as a communal dish, likening Popiah with which Kueh Pie Tee shares a very similar filling, if not the same. The pie tee shells have to filled and eaten almost in situ, or risk these little “golden cups” being too soggy for a proper enjoyment of the delightful crunch from the vegetables against the light crispy textures from the deep-fried shells. As such, they are often enjoyed nowadays as part of a “Popiah Party” where everyone gathers around the table for a hands-on experience in wrapping their own popiah or filling their own pie tee shells amidst all that chitter and chatter.
This dish which has often been associated with Peranakan cuisine, is said to have its origins in Singapore, known supposedly as “Syonan-To Pie” or simply as “Singapore Popiah“, as documented in Ong Jin Teong’s “Penang Heritage Food”. Ong also noted other varieties of the name to the same dish like “Koay Pai Ti” as they are spelt in Penang, or even “Java Kwei Patti” or “Kroket Tjanker” in Indonesia. Interestingly, the Malay community too has incorporated Kueh Pie Tee into their cuisine, but preferring to call it as “Kuih Jambang” since these little cups do take after some kind of pot or vase-like vessel. I am only thankful that they are not called “Kuih Jamban” instead!
Effortless to eat but not-so-easy to make are the pie tee shells, which are much coveted for the light crisp textures and to remain light and crisp is what requires a certain level of practice and dexterity to get it right. I didn’t get it right until the third trial, trying out different recipes before settling on one which I’m most satisfied with. Hence, I’d made a video tutorial for the making of the pie tee shells in hope that it would be easier for those who are making them for the first time.
The batter is a fairly straightforward one requiring 5 ingredients, i.e. rice flour, plain flour, egg, salt and water. A small amount of cooking oil is added into the batter to prevent it from clinging onto the mould during the frying process, thus allowing them to be dislodged easily henceforth. The ratio for the flours are 1:1 while the ratio for flours to water is 1:2 making this recipe very easy to remember and also to adjust the amount of batter to make for different number of pie tee shells as required. Some recipes call for tapioca flour and/or corn flour to be added, I find this confusing and redundant as rice flour on its own is sufficient for the wonderfully crisp textures.
Oil temperature control is THE most important thing for making good pie tee shells, as I had
nagged about reiterated numerous times in the video tutorial. The temperature for making pie tee shells is slightly lower than that of typical tempura deep-frying. Do not be in a hurry to make as many shells within as short a time as possible as that could only lead to a plethora of problems. Firstly, high oil temperature risks creating holes at the base of the pie tee shells. The shells may also crack and cleave due to the turbulence created by the hot oil on the shells which had just taken shape and are still very fragile. Hot oil can also result in air bubbles forming on the surface of the shells that burst to leave unsightly blistering or pockmarked effects. And interestingly, the freshly coated batter may just slide off the mould if the latter is too hot from soaking in the oil when it is being dipped into the batter, just as hot oil in a pan would prevent food that is being pan-fried from sticking to the pan.
That said, the oil temperature should not be too low as well as the shells would end up soaking up too much oil in the deep frying process which would make them cloying and void of the crisp and light textures. Traditionally, “kapur” or better known as “slaked lime” or calcium hydroxide is added into the batter to make the shells crisp. But the batter I’m using creates shells that stay crisp in an air-tight container for easily up to a week and that is good enough for me.
For the video tutorial, I’d also devised a “counts of 8” system to help folks making pie tee shells the first time to get it right within the shortest time possible. Do not expect to get it right the very first time you are making pie tee shells. Lots of experimentation and practice is required, especially with oil temperature control and sorting out the workflow. A little caveat emptor here. The counting system is designed for the recipe that I am sharing. It may not work well for other pie tee shell recipes as the wet and dry ingredients ratio defer and so does the proportion and combination of flours used.
The main ingredient for the savory filling is yambean, otherwise known as jicama or more colloquially, “bangkwang” or sengkwang“. Calling it “turnip” is a misnomer, just like how chinese “carrot cake” actually has no carrots added to them but uses white radish instead.
Bamboo shoots (“rebung” in Bahasa Melayu or “rebong” in Baba patois) is a must-have ingredient in traditional recipes for making the pie tee filling, for the succulent crunch it provides. Much regrettably, it has been omitted in pie tee and popiahs we find available at food courts and kopitiams, owing to the additional costs incurred. But I would encourage the “tradition” be maintained for a more authentic pie tee experience. Canned bamboo shoots are commonly used nowadays but as with other Peranakan dishes like Babi Pongteh, Pong Tauhu and Bakwan Kepiting that calls for them, I love using fresh bamboo shoots instead. It requires a bit more effort to parboil them slightly to rid them of that sourish unpleasant odour which bamboo shoots have been known for.
Another interesting inclusion in traditional recipes for the filling which had been lost is the use of tau kwa (firm soya bean curd). Once again, I would suggest including them, not only to preserve the integrity of the original recipe but also for something more pragmatic…
The tau kwa slabs are flrst cut into thin strips before being deep fried until the exterior turns golden brown. It would have lost quite a bit of the moisture in the frying process to become slightly dehydrated. But these little golden strips would rapidly reconstitute as they soak up the juices from the rest of the ingredients in the second part of the cooking process, “revitalised” as they sponge up all the sweetness from the jicama and bamboo shoot, as well as the umami flavours from the dried shrimp added.
After the pie tee shells are done and the savory filling being cooked, all that is required is to spend a bit of time working on the garnishes. That includes crab meat, prawns, chinese coriander, chopped peanuts and some freshly blended chilli chuka. The last is a must for kueh pie tee and for our own version, we prefer to use the juice of freshly squeezed calamansi lime (limau katsuri) in place of vinegar for the lovely citrusy zing!
For making the pie tee shells (for details and elaboration, please view the video tutorial for making pie tee shells)
50g plain flour (all-purpose flour)
50g rice flour
1 egg (about 55-60g)
a pinch of salt
a tsp of cooking oil
oil for deep frying
Mix plain flour, rice flour, water egg and salt in a mixing bowl. Stir to homogenise, after which add a tsp of oil and mix well to emulsify.
Strain the batter to ease and remove any flour lumps or unbeaten egg white. Pour the strained batter into a small and narrow container, sufficiently wide for the pie tee mould to be completely submerged into, until 2/3 to 3/4 full.
Heat up cooking oil in a small saucepot.
Submerge pie tee mould completely into the oil to heat it up.
Test the temperature of the oil by dripping some batter into the oil. The batter should sink all the way to the bottom before quickly rising to the top.
When the oil is JUST sufficiently hot, lift the pie tee mould vertically and tilt it sideways to drain off any excess oil.
Dip the mould vertically into the batter until it is almost to the brim and count to 8.
Lift the mould vertically from the batter carefully and proceed to dip it gently into the oil until the mould is almost completely submerged. Make 5 counts of 8. At the second count of 8, quickly dip the mould into the oil before lifting it up slightly for a brief moment before completly submerging again. This helps to create the “top hat” effect where the rim opens up slightly. If straight edged pie tee shells are preferred, omit the brief oil dipping on the second count of 8.
Completely submerge the mould into the oil and make another 5-8 counts of 8 before dislodging the pie tee shell from the mould with the aid of a wooden chopstick.
Cook the shell until it develops a uniform golden colour and stops fizzling.
Proceed to work on the next shell once the first is dislodged. Remember to give the batter a quick stir with a separate wooden chopstick first before the mould is dipped in.
Repeat the process until the batter is sufficiently exhausted, i.e when the leftover batter becomes too shallow for the pie tee mould to be dipped in anymore.
Drain the fried pie tee shells, preferably inverted over kitchen paper towels and store in an air-tight container.
For preparing chilli chuka
6 large red chillies (can partially substitute with bird’s eye chilli for more heat, or alternatively remove seeds for less heat)
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 thumb-length knob of old ginger, peeled and sliced
juice from 4-6 large calamansi lime
1 generous tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
500g of bangkwang (yambean/jicama)
300g of bamboo shoots
2 pieces of taukwa (firm soya beancurd)
50g dried shrimp, rinsed and strained
300g pork belly (optional)
8-10 cloves of garlic
salt, 1 tsp (adjust to taste)
1 tbsp taucheo (optional, cut back salt if using taucheo)
50 shrimp/small prawns, head and shell removed (reserve for other dishes that call for prawn stock, like Buah Paya Masak Titek)
150g crab meat (I’d used frozen crab meat)
a handful of chinese coriander sprigs
a cup of roasted and chopped peanuts
Crush garlic cloves with the side of a cleaver/ chopping knife, remove skin membrane and mince finely.
Peel bangkwang and cut into thin strips. Set aside
Cut bamboo shoot into thin strips. Parboil in a small pot of boiling water for about 5 min. Strain and set aside. Discard bamboo shoot boiling water.
If using, cut pork belly into thin strips. Boil pork belly strips n a small pot of boiling water for about 5 min. Strain and set aside. To the same pot of water, add prawns and blanch for 30-40s until they turn pink. Strain and remove quickly to prevent overcooking the prawns. Use the same pot of water, blanch crab meat very briefly if necessary and drain. Retain and set aside pork belly and prawn stock.
In between pieces of kitchen paper towels, gently press taukwa slabs to remove excess moisture. Pat dry with more paper towels if nescessary. Cut taukwa into thin strips. Deep fry taukwa strips until the exterior becomes golden brown. Drain away excess oil and set aside.
To a cooking wok or large saucepan, add 2-3 tbsp of oil from deep frying taukwa and saute minced garlic and dried shrimp until fragrant.
Add bangkwang strips with salt, and/or taucheo and stir-fry until they soften and wilt slightly. Add bamboo shoot strips, taukwa strips and pork belly strips (if using) stir well to mix. Pour in stock from boiling pork belly strips until all the ingredients are barely submerged. Stir fry until most of the water evaporates and the filling is not leaching any juices but remains moist nonetheless. Dish and set aside.
To assemble, fill a pie tee shell with some savory filling using a teaspoon or small fork.
Garnish with some crab meat, a leaflet of chinese coriander, a sprinkling of chopped peanuts, one prawn and finally a teaspoon of chilli chukka.
Repeat until all the ingredients are used up.