Friday, 26 February 2010

Crispy Chinese Roast Pork Belly (Siew Yoke/Siobak)

SAM TAN'S KITCHEN HAS MOVED! Please visit the new website/online store at for all catering enquiries. You can also follow Sam on InstagramFacebook and Twitter. Thank you!

*Also available cooked-to-order by weight. Please email for details.

I made this for lunch the other day for the first time after comparing tons of online recipes, and I must say- never have I experienced an atmosphere so electric with anticipation in this house as at the possibility of achieving hawker-standard siew yoke at home.

Thankfully to our collective yelps of delight, the results were just totally, unbelievably perfect! Crisp crunchy golden-orange crackling and succulent just-fatty-enough layers of pork, the entire toppling pile of siew yoke was wiped out between the three of us in no time.

Be warned however- the whole kitchen will smoke up and your entire oven will be covered in oil splatter. It is totally worth it though if you don't mind a bit of cleaning up- the meat truly tastes like it does back home and if Arivind is anything to go by, your nearest and dearest who get to eat it will hail you as God. Funny how much street cred crackling can get you :)

Crispy Chinese Roast Pork Belly (Siew Yoke/Siobak)

Clean 1 kg pork belly and dry thoroughly (I do this by putting the meat skin side down on some kitchen towels after washing).
Stir together the following ingredients to form the marinade:
½ tbsp salt
½ tbsp sugar *optional*
1 large or 2 small cubes nam yue (red fermented/preserved beancurd-available in jars or tins in Asian shops)
½ tbsp five-spice powder
1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine

Score the flesh part (not the skin) of the pork belly lightly in diagonal lines and rub in the marinade well. Place the joint in a foil-lined roasting tin, marinated side down so it can sit and absorb the flavours.

Score the skin part this time, using a sharp knife and being as thorough as possible. Rub in lots of salt all over, deep into each cut.

Leave the joint uncovered overnight to dry completely. Room temperature is fine in cold climates like London, but you should refrigerate the meat if it's hot where you are.

When ready to cook, lift the joint up and place a flat wire rack underneath to enable fat to drip off into the pan. Pat dry if there is any moisture left on the skin and bake in the middle of a 200C/395 F fan-assisted oven.

After 20 mins, remove and stab the skin all over as much as possible using two forks, one in each hand (I find this much steadier and faster than just using one hand). Drizzle the skin all over with a few tablespoons of rice vinegar.

Return the pan to the oven and switch it to grill/broil setting (upper heat only) at very high heat, about 250C/485 F. You will see the crackling start to bubble and pop wherever you poked with a fork. Grill for a further 30 mins, opening the oven door intermittently to let smoke escape, until the skin gets slightly burnt and charred. Don't worry about the blackened bits- it can be removed easily and is essential to ensure the crackling achieves the correct crispiness.

Once cooked, remove from the oven, scrape off any burnt parts with a serrated knife and leave to rest 15 mins before chopping.

Cheat tip: if any parts of the skin are still soft, just take the joint out of the oven and flip the entire thing upside down onto a large frying pan on the stove, skin side first (you can also cut it into more manageable pieces first if you like). Sear the skin on high heat with no added oil, until everything pops and crisps up. Watch out for oil splutter!

Listen to the satisfying crunch as you cut your siew yoke into chunks.

Save the cleaning up for later and devour with hot steaming rice. Make sure not to leave leftovers- the crackling goes soft when left overnight.


Monday, 22 February 2010

Homemade Kaya (Malaysian Coconut Egg Jam)

SAM TAN'S KITCHEN HAS MOVED! Please visit the new website/online store at for all catering enquiries. You can also follow Sam on InstagramFacebook and Twitter. Thank you!

*Also available made-to-order at $10 per 16 fl oz tub (1 lb/454g)

After several failed attempts trying to make kaya the lazy way (using the jam function of a breadmaker then blending it afterwards), I have resigned myself to the fact that there simply is no shortcut- 75-90 minutes of patience and manual labour are absolutely essential in achieving the right consistency, colour and flavour for this luscious glossy spread. Whilst blending a lumpy breadmaker-made jam may remove its watery scrambled-egg appearance and make it smoother, the texture usually ends up too thin and drippy (due to the excess moisture created by cooking in an enclosed space) or too matte-like and pasty (like peanut butter instead of a shiny curd).

Kaya translates literally to mean "rich" in Malay, and that is precisely what this delicious Malaysian staple is- a thick, sticky, luxurious blend of coconut cream, eggs, and sugar fragranced with the aroma of pandan (screwpine) leaves. The beautiful amber hue is achieved by adding a bit of melted caramelised sugar towards the end- if you prefer your kaya pale then by all means omit this step, and use a touch of pandan paste instead of leaves if desired (though your jam will be a green version).

It's easy but tedious- if you like kaya, have time on your hands and don't mind standing in front of the stove for over an hour (or pull up a chair to sit like I did), then I'd say you're in for a highly rewarding experience :) Happy stirring!

Homemade Kaya (Malaysian Coconut Egg Jam)
Yields 2 cups (16 fl oz/454 g)

Whisk together lightly:
3 whole eggs
2 egg yolks

Stir in 1 cup (200g) caster sugar until completely dissolved.

Stir in
300ml coconut milk, then pour entire mixture through a sieve into a large mixing bowl (to make sure all those lumpy eggy bits are removed).

Add 3-4 pandan leaves, knotted, then plonk your bowl above a pot of simmering water (the bottom of my bowl was submerged in the water) or use a double boiler if you have one.

Cook over low heat for about an hour, stirring continuously.

Stir stir stir stir stir.

Bring a book or laptop if you get bored, but make sure you continue stirring with the other hand.
If it starts getting lumpy, stir HARDER.

After 45 minutes- a teensy bit darker and thicker. I won't lie, as you can see
it takes AGES before any discernable change happens.

After about 75 minutes, dissolve 4 tbsp caster sugar with a bit of water in a separate pan over low heat until a dark golden caramel is formed. I would recommend you switch off the heat a few seconds before it becomes the colour you want, as it will continue browning. Be careful as caramel burns very fast!

Stir the caramel into the hot kaya (it should look golden brown like the picture). Don't worry
if the caramel hardens upon contact- continue cooking and it will eventually dissolve.
Add more darkened caramel if the colour isn't too your liking.

Cook another 10-15 mins until the desired consistency is achieved (remember
it will thicken once cooled). Remove the pandan leaves, scraping off
any kaya stuck to them (nobody likes wastage!)

Let cool, then pour into a jar and store refrigerated. Best enjoyed sandwiched roti bakar style with slabs of butter, or spread on your morning toast, or slathered on crackers or hot waffles or pancakes, or as an accompaniment to sweet sticky rice, or as a dip for breadsticks, or spooned directly into your mouth, or licked off your sticky fingers...