Yes my writing and blogging mojo is back and hopefully it would last a tad longer this time round. It is afterall nearing the end of the year and the festive mood is kicking in, with Christmas in just a couple of weeks’ time and Deepavali tomorrow! My Hindu neighbours are already cooking up a storm in their kitchen and I can smell the aromas of mustard seeds and other spices blistering in the oil as they are used to cook an assortment of yummy dishes! I’m busy in my own kitchen too, after getting a new hob gifted by Turbo-Italia. Lovin’ it totally! So spacious and the heat is so strong to the point of roaring! I can almost smell the wok hei as I was stir frying, or so I thought! Yet another homecooked meal yesterday to satisfy my cravings, and this time round, I am cooking Itek Sioh, a really old Peranakan dish. I checked my old photos and realised that the last time I’d cooked it was more than 2 years back. A timely revisit indeed!
Ikan Gerang Asam is one of the first Peranakan dishes, or what is known to the babas and nyonyas as “laok embok” I’d “learnt” to cook when I was young, after getting to know the tricks to frying sunny sideups with runny yolks and crispy edges for telor tempra and braising tauyew bak until the collagen-packed babi sam cham become wobbly soft that is. “Cooking lessons” were never formal or formative, save for the times when I was taught how to use a “pisoh chye toh” , a Chinese cleaver that is, to do a wondrous list of things with it, to potong, to iris, to bukak, to persiang, to kupair a wide variety of ingredients. Otherwise it was always learning through observing how my mum and grandma worked around the kitchen while helping out with the tasks along the way and of course tasting the yummy dishes they’d prepared. And it was the same with “learning” to cook Ikan Gerang Asam”…
Many of us love spicy dishes but find it daunting to prepare the chili mix which breathes life unto these savory delectables which are part and parcel of our culinary repertoire in this region. “Rempah” as it is commonly known in Singapore and Malaysia, otherwise called “bumbu” in Indonesia is the heart and soul of Southeast Asian cuisine in this part of the world. But there are many different types of rempah in existence, “rempah titek“, “rempah gerang asam“, “rempah kuning“, “rempah cili-bawang” are just some examples, which we will explore in the course of this blog over time but is there a rempah which is most commonly used amongst many dishes? Indeed there is. I call this “generic rempah” for ease of remembering, something I’d mentioned and used in many of the dishes I’d introduced earlier like laksa lemak, kangkong masak lemak and rendang ayam. Its versatility extends beyond these dishes of course, some of which I would prepare and blog about in time to come… hopefully. A large batch can be made and it stores pretty well but just to put it into immediate use after its been freshly prepared, I’d used the generic rempah in a simple recipe for Sambal Ikan Bilis, an indispensible condiment in our favorite nasi lemak. (more…)
Mention squid ink infused food and Mediterranean dishes like the Venetian Pasta al Nero di Seppia from Italy or the Catalan-Valencian Arròs negre from Spain immediate comes to mind for many of us. Lesser known to most is Sotong Masak Hitam, a classic dish from Malay cuisine which also celebrates the use of squid ink which lends the dish its dramatic appeal and subtle flavours of the sea. This dish is also a favorite amongst many Peranakans who spell it as “Sotong Masak Itam” instead, though like Rendang, remains a peripheral and never really properly assimilated into Baba-Nyonya cuisine proper. Not by definition of Straits Chinese cooking for most at least. It is nonetheless enjoyed by many, Malays, Peranakans and even Chinese alike, for its piquant flavours make this dish all the more moreish.
We cook asam fish all the time at home. In fact, whenever the belimbing trees are laden with fruits, those few days are asam fish days. For us at home, Ikan Gerang Asam is the default way of cooking asam fish. But of course there are geographical variations to how asam fish is cooked. Ikan Gerang Asam, the Melakan peranakan of preparation depends heavily on the use of daun limau purut (kaffir lime leaves) amidst other fresh ingredients like lengkwas (galangal ginger) to work up the aromatics! And that most certainly helped to work up an appetite! When I was preparing Laksa Belut Perlis, the famous eel laksa from the most northern Malaysian state in the Peninsula, all the rempah (blended ingredients) were basically boiled together with the broth base without any sautéing. But yet, it was still very delicious. And this month’s MFF brings me down all the way to the far south, to the bordering state of Johor for Ikan Pari Asam Pedas.