Hokkien Prawn Mee Soup
The secret to making a memorable Hokkien Prawn Mee Soup is in, as with most Asian noodle soups, the stock. My grandmother, who spent a good part of her childhood in Penang (to this day, I think of Gurney Drive's version as the definitive one), taught me that a properly made Hokkien Mee stock should be a deep ruddy brown even before the addition of soy sauce or palm sugar. The stock derives its rich flavour and colouring from prawn shells, patiently sauteed until well caramelized - not only is much flavour concentrated in the shells, but their carotenoid pigments contribute to the stock's characteristic burnt umber hue. Skimp on this step and the resulting stock will be anaemic in both flavour and colour. Whenever we eat crabs, prawns, crayfish or lobster, I hoard their throwaway heads and shells. Carefully cleaned, wrapped and frozen into packages, it means there's always a stash to call upon for amplifying any shellfish based stock, ensuring a brew sweetly saturated with shellfish flavour - as was the case when we decided to have Hokkien Mee last Sunday. A mixture of pork is also used to round out and frame the shellfish flavour - tail lends succulence and body, while meaty bones and ribs add flavour. The following recipe is my grandmother's - the only change I've made is to cook a separate batch of pork for topping the Hokkien Mee instead of using the meat from the stockpot, which tends to be tired, having given its best to the liquid.
HOKKIEN PRAWN MEE SOUP
Prawn and Pork Stock
*1Tbsp peanut oil *200gm pork fat, cubed *15 shallots, thinly sliced *300gm pork ribs *300gm meaty pork bones *1 pork tail *5 dried red chillies *At least 4 cups of loosely packed prawn heads and shells, including those of 12 large tiger prawns (to be used later for topping) which have been de-veined and set aside *3 litres water *1 tsp salt *1 tsp black peppercorns *3 cloves *1 cinnamon stick *1 star anise *2 Tbsp gula melaka (palm sugar), or more *2 Tbsp light soy sauce, or more
Heat wok over high flame until very hot. Add oil and pork fat dice, which will release a lot of oil as it crisps and browns. Remove, drain well on paper towels, and set aside (to be used later for topping). Now fry the shallots in the same wok till golden brown. Remove, drain well on paper towels, and set aside. Turn flame down to medium-high. Stir-fry the pork ribs, bones, tail and chillies (in batches if necessary) till crusty and golden brown. Remove and place in a roomy stock pot. Set aside. Turn flame down to medium. Add prawn heads and shells to the wok, frying slowly until shells are crisp, caramelised and well-coloured. Remove and add to stock pot. Add water, salt, peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, and star anise to stock pot. Bring to the boil. Turn down to a leisurely simmer. Simmer for 4 to 6 hours, until stock tastes richly flavoured and is the colour of tea. Add palm sugar and soy sauce to taste. Simmer another 30minutes. Strain stock. Set aside.
Toppings & Garnishes
*12 large tiger prawns, de-shelled and de-veined (from making the stock earlier), poached 2 minutes in simmering salted water till cooked, drained, sliced lengthwise *Fried pork fat cubes (from making the stock earlier) *Fried shallots (from making the stock earlier) *6 pork spare ribs, cubed, rubbed with 1 Tbsp soy sauce and steamed over high heat for 2 hours (add resulting juices to stock; set meat aside) *2 finely sliced fresh red chillies, placed in a small bowl with 3 Tbsp light soy sauce *Large handful of beansprouts, topped and tailed *Large bunch of kangkong (water convolvulus, or morning glory; substitute spinach if unavailable), thoroughly rinsed, woody stems discarded, leaves plucked with a little hollow tender stem attached *Pinch of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
Prepare all the toppings and garnishes as described up to the red chillies macerated in soy sauce. Set aside in individual bowls. Blanch beansprouts and kangkong separately in a large pot of boiling water into which a tiny pinch of bicarbonate of soda has been added (this helps retain colour). Drain very well and set aside.
*1 kg Hokkien mee (fresh yellow egg noodles)
*200gm beehoon (dried rice vermicelli)
When ready to eat, blanch Hokkien mee and beehoon separately in large pot of boiling water. Drain well. Divide both into deep roomy serving bowls. Top with prawns, pork cubes, beansprouts, kangkong, fried shallots and fried pork fat. Bring soup to the boil. Ladle over each bowl of noodles and serve immediately. Let diners help themselves to the chillies and soy sauce. Alternatively, bring everything out on separate serving dishes for everyone to help themselves, including the hot stock in a large pitcher or bowl.
Serves 4 to 6