THE NUTCRACKER

The ayam buah keluak is a sta­ple in Per­anakan cui­sine. With the black nut’s nat­u­ral touch of bit­ter­ness, the dish could be tricky to bal­ance and pull off. Can­dlenut’s head chef and owner Mal­colm Lee shows us how he tem­pers this dish.

Wine & Dine Cookbook - - CONTENTS - WORDS CHAR­LENE CHOW PHO­TOG­RA­PHY JAMES LIANG

Can­dlenut’s chef-owner Mal­colm Lee pre­pares ayam buah keluak

The ayam buah keluak is a spicy, tangy dish, of­ten thought to be labour-in­ten­sive be­cause of the many in­gre­di­ents for the rem­pah (spice paste) and work in­volved crack­ing open the black nuts. But the calm and me­thod­i­cal chef Mal­colm Lee at­tests that the unique flavours you get with buah keluak is well worth the ef­fort. He says, “I love buah keluak. It brings back mem­o­ries of my child­hood when my grand­mother and mother would cook this dish, es­pe­cially dur­ing Chi­nese New Year. It also has an earthy, smoky flavour that goes very well with rice, chilli and pro­teins es­pe­cially beef. If the last dish I have is buah keluak with rice, I’m a happy man.”

Meld­ing his Per­anakan her­itage with a modern ap­proach, chef Lee’s ver­sion of ayam buah keluak in­volves scrap­ing out the filling af­ter the black nut is cracked open, re­mov­ing piths and any other “bro­ken de­bris”, sea­son­ing and then grind­ing the mix­ture finely be­fore stuff­ing them back into the nuts. He also adds part of the mix­ture to the gravy to thicken it and in­ten­sify its nutty flavour.

Tak­ing your time to stir the gravy and let­ting it caramelise is a step that is as im­por­tant as the blend­ing and fry­ing (over medium heat) of the rem­pah, says Lee. At Can­dlenut, Lee has also served beef cheek, beef tongue, and even wagyu and king prawns with the buah keluak.

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