A rainy day, a food love story fuelled by greed and a sort of happy ending
That fateful rainy day: It was a nondescript evening. We had no dinner plans as yet and because it had been raining all day, a bowl of chicken curry mee sounded like the perfect cure to an uneventful day. A spoonful of Ah Heng’s Curry Chicken Mee at Hong Lim Food Centre was all that was needed to get me excited. I began thinking of how I could recreate this dish at home as it such a delectable and I was just too lazy to travel all the way to Hong Lim each time the weather was dismal.
Food love story : Several days after I’d slurped the alluring noodles, my hankering for it hadn’t abated. I especially loved the succulent chicken slices that adorned each bowl – so juicy that the meat juices were glimmering under the florescent lights. The contrast between the savoury, mildly nutty and sweet gravy and the perfectly cooked meat was so memorable. And who could forget those unpretentious-looking taupok slices that soaked up all the goodness and oozed out all that mouth-watering gravy with each bite? Not me!
A sort of happy ending: So, I set about making notes and doing some online research to recreate the dish at home. Ah Heng’s Curry Chicken Noodle recipe has been in the family for more than 50 years. He and other Hong Lim stall owners are some of the earliest hawkers of Singapore who used to ply the streets in the CBD area but were relocated by the government in the 70s to a hawker centre. These days, their hawker businesses are run by their families of later generations and some have been in the same business for four generations. However, the sad fact remains that many such hawker businesses may not be around for much longer for several reasons and so, no one knows what will become of the Singapore hawker landscape in a decade or so.
In their chicken noodle recipe, Ah Heng’s uses the poached chicken from their Hainanese Chicken Rice stall located next to them. My guess is that the poaching liquid from the Hainanese-style poached chicken (concentrated stock) is used in the curry mee as though the chicken is not cooked directly in the curry gravy, the chicken flavour is evident. The gravy reminded me of a Nonya Chicken Curry I’d made once and so I used a Homemade Nonya Curry Powder that I love as the base to replicate the flavours. I also saw white sesame seeds in my tastings and detected a mild citrus flavour probably from lemongrass and a good amount of seafood umami probably from hei bee (dried shrimps). Ah Heng’s Curry Mee also adds potato chunks and a lovely dollop of sambal which is full of dried shrimp flavour which I wasn’t able to recreate. Nevertheless, my version of Ah Heng’s Chicken Curry Noodles is still quite spot on to me. It’s my interpretation of a dish that I love and I hope you get to try it.
Some notes on the recipe:
- The chicken is poached in store-bought stock so that it remains succulent and you also have a concentrated stock base without having to poach a lot of chicken. Home-made stock can also be used. I used low-sodium Swanson stock which is available at any Asian supermarket and is more suited for Chinese food.
- Plunging the cooked chicken in iced water is a technique used for making Hainanese Chicken Rice. The iced water immediately stops the chicken from cooking further and the meat remains juicy and tender as a result.
- The thinness and viscosity of the gravy is up to you preference. I prefer a slightly thicker gravy for yellow noodles as it clings on to each noodle strand better. Thin rice vermicelli is better with a thinner gravy. If you find the gravy flavour too strong, then thin out the gravy a little with water. The amount of yellow noodles and/or rice vermicelli you add is also your call.
- I add a little kashmiri chilli powder to the curry paste as I like the crimson red oil layer. I also add a touch of MSG in my gravy as I find that it replicates the ‘authentic’ Ah Heng flavour. Both are optional but highly recommended.
- To make things easier for myself, I made the Nonya Curry Powder a few days before the day I made the noodles. The poached chicken and curry gravy can be made an hour or so earlier and just before your meal, blanch the noodles and extras and reheat the curry gravy.
Singapore-style Curry Chicken Noodles
Recipe by: Vasun, http://www.cupcakesncurries.com
Part 1: Poached Chicken & Concentrated Chicken Stock
- 1/2 of whole chicken with skin , or about 600 g chicken breast/thighs
- 500 millilitres Store-bought ‘Asian’ Chicken Stock
- 500 millilitres water
- 1 inch ‘old’ ginger, smashed
- Large container with enough iced water to completely immerse chicken
- Thoroughly wash chicken.
- In a large stock pot, add chicken stock , water and smashed ginger. Bring to a boil.
- Gently immerse chicken and immediately reduce flame to the lowest.
- Poach chicken in gently simmering stock until fully cooked, about 20 minutes. To check for doneness, poke chicken with knife tip at the thickest part of the thighs and the meat juices should run clear.
- Once cooked, immediately remove chicken and plunge into iced water.
- Remove cooked chicken after 10 minutes and set aside.
- Keep stock for curry gravy.
Part 2: Curry Gravy
- 20 grams dried shrimps
- 4 fresh red spur chillies(each abt 4-5 inches), roughly chopped
- 2 lemongrass stalks, white part, finely sliced
- 80 – 100g red onion, peeled& roughly chopped
- 3-4 large garlic cloves, peeled & roughly chopped
- 4 tablespoons Nonya Curry Powder
- 1 tsp kashmiri chilli powder (optional)
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 300 millilitres coconut milk
- about 500 – 800 millilitres concentrated chicken stock (from Part 1)
- 10 fried tofu (taupok)pieces, cut into 1-cm width strips
- about 250 millilitres water (optional)
- 1/4 tsp Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) (optional)
- Soak dried shrimps in hot water for about 20 minutes. Drain.
- In a food processor, add shrimps and all ingredients for curry paste. Blend curry paste till fine. Add a few tablespoons water to help with blending, only if necessary. Set aside.
- In a large dry pot over medium flame, add 1/2 cup vegetable oil. Heat oil till it is mildly hot.
- Add blended curry paste to the hot oil and saute curry paste until it becomes a slightly darker shade and red oil separates from the paste. Do not saute for too long as the curry will darken.
- Add coconut milk, 500 millilitres of stock and MSG (optional). Over medium heat, bring curry gravy to a gentle boil.
- Add fried tofu strips. Taste for seasoning and desired thickness of curry gravy. Add more stock or water as required. The gravy consistency should be more runny than curry but thicker than soup. Curry gravy would continue to thicken if left simmering. The gravy should also be more heavily seasoned than regular curry as the other ingredients in the bowl are not seasoned.
Part 3: Assembly
- 500 grams fresh/dried yellow noodles (not egg noodles)
- 250 grams dried rice vermicelli
- fishcake / fishball , sliced
- Poached chicken (from Part A) , sliced into medium strips
- big handful of mung bean sprouts (optional)
- 2-3 hard boiled eggs, halved (optional)
- 5-6 bowls/containers for each ingredient above
- a medium /large chinese spider or strainer
- In a medium pot , bring about 2 litres of water to vigorous boil. Add fresh yellow wheat noodles for 5 seconds and using a chinese spider, drain and set aside. If using dried, cook till slightly underdone, drain and set aside.
- In the same pot of boiling water, rehydrate dried rice vermicelli till they just begin to soften. Drain using a chinese spider and set aside in another bowl.
- Blanch fish cake/ fish ball and mung bean sprouts for 5 seconds. Drain and set aside.
- In individual serving bowls, add desired amount of noodles, sliced chicken and other ingredients.
- Bring curry gravy to a boil. Scoop hot gravy and fried tofu strips into each noodle bowl. Enjoy!