One of the things I enjoy most about eating at restaurants is thinking, "How did they do this and how can I do this?" The French Laundry Cookbook has taught me that even the most complex food can ultimately be reduced to a recipe, and the more I cook the easier it is to recognise patterns in the way food is made and ingredients are combined.
Inspired by a great meal the other night at East Taste, I set out to make Singapore noodles at home. When trying to reverse engineer a dish, a descriptive menu and some dominant flavours are the best starting point. But unfortunately, the name "Singapore noodles" is unhelpful, and the taste is just, well, Singapore noodles. What mixture of spices and sauces do they use to get that unmistakable flavor?
Reading recipe after recipe revealed a common ingredient: plain old British "curried egg sandwiches" curry powder. It's that simple. I didn't have any curry powder in the house, so I made some up by adjusting this recipe ever so slightly — if it tastes rubbish with store-bought curry powder, try making it with homemade curry powder before you throw the recipe out the window. Singapore noodles vary from restaurant to restaurant (and aren't even from Singapore, by the way), and my version here is closer to the dry, savory style I prefer. Try adding some dark soy and a tiny amount of hoisin sauce if you prefer a sweeter style.
Ingredients (makes 2 main course servings1):
- 180g vermicelli rice noodles
- Peanut oil
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 a red capsicum (red pepper), sliced thinly
- 1/2 an onion, sliced thinly
- 70g raw prawn meat
- 90g char siu pork, sliced
- 1.5 tsp curry powder (recipe after the jump)
- 7 tsp light soy sauce
- 1 spring onion, sliced
- 1 handful of bean sprouts
- 1/2 tsp sesame oil
- 1 small handful of fresh coriander (cilantro)
1. Soak the dried rice noodles in very warm water for about 20 minutes until pliable but still unpalatably tough2. Make sure you've got your mise en place, uh, en place. Briefly whisk the eggs together with a tablespoon of water and a pinch of salt. Heat a wok with 1 teaspoon of oil to a medium-high heat, then add the egg mixture and cook like you would an omelette, removing it to a bowl when still a little runny.
2. Turn the heat up as high as it will go, add 2 tbsp of peanut oil and heat until smoking. Add the onion and capsicum and stir fry for 1 minute. Add the pork and prawns and stir fry for 30 seconds or until the prawns are just cooked on the outside3.
3. Add the noodles, curry powder, about half of the soy sauce, and cook tossing regularly. Test the noodles, adding 1-2 tbsp of water at a time if they're still not cooked through and are drying out.
4. When the noodles are cooked, remove from the heat and toss through the sesame oil, spring onions, bean sprouts, fresh coriander, and omelette, roughly breaking up the omelette. Test for seasoning and add as much of the remaining soy sauce as necessary. Serve right away.
(1) I wouldn't suggest making more than about 3 servings at a time unless you have an exceptionally fierce heat. If you don't, you'll have trouble maintaining the high heat in your wok necessary to get the smoky flavour of a good wok dish.
(2) Err on the side of undersoaking your noodles: you can always add more water to the wok and cook them for longer, but once they're mush there's no turning back.
(3) They will be underdone in the middle at this stage, but this is necessary to prevent overcooking them.
Homemade curry powder4
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 tsp cardamon seeds
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp dry mustard powder
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1. Toast the cumin, cardamon, and coriander seeds in a dry, hot pan, then remove to a spice grinder and allow to cool.
2. When cooled, add the ground turmeric, mustard powder, and cayenne pepper to the whole spices and grind to a fine powder.
(4) I'm talking about recreating the British spice mix labelled simply as 'curry powder'. This it by no means meant to be a traditional Indian masala.