With thoughts of home and heritage, Singapore's culinary doyenne Violet Oon, of Violet Oon Singapore, delves into her archive of treasured recipes
Chef Violet Oon shares six of her treasured recipes
Steamed Duck With Glutinous Rice Serves 6 to 8
A large stuffed bird always signifies a special occasion, says chef Oon. She loves this dish as it reminds her of the 10-course feasts she enjoyed during her childhood days in the 1950’s.
1 large fat duck around 2kg, cleaned
10 cups vegetable oil
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp salt
½ tsp five spice powder
3 slices old ginger
4 bunches spring onions
3 pcs star anise
For the stuffing
100g glutinous rice, soaked overnight
8 whole dried mushrooms, soaked, drained and quartered
180g dried chestnuts, soaked in hot water 2 to 3 hours
150g Cantonese roast pork (siew yoke), sliced
10 shallots, peeled and halved
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp oyster sauce
⅛ tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
¾ tsp five spice powder
⅛ tsp ground white pepper
For the sauce
50g carrots, peeled and sliced
100g broccoli, cut into florets
8 fresh baby corn, halved diagonally Gravy from the steamed duck,
1 tsp sugar
¼ tsp salt, or to taste
1½ tbsp oyster sauce
100ml chicken stock or water
3 tbsp cornflour mixed with 3 tbsp water
1. Make the stuffing. Place a wok over high heat. When it starts to smoke, add 3 tbsp oil. Heat the oil for about 1 min, then sauté shallots until light golden. Add mushrooms and stir-fry another 3 mins. Add chestnuts and roast pork, stir-fry until fragrant. Add rice and stir-fry for about 5 mins till translucent and half-cooked. Stir in the remaining stuffing ingredients, heat through and set aside. (The stuffing can be made a day in advance and stored in the fridge. Before using, leave it at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours.) 2. Prepare the duck. Chop off 5cm of the buttocks to remove the 2 bullet-shaped glands which are the source of the unpleasant gamey duck smell. (Do not touch them or your hands will smell.) Wash and pat dry.
3. Stuff the cavity full with the filling and use a skewer to seal the opening. Rub dark soy sauce all over the duck, leave aside for 5 mins, then rub salt over the duck. Retain any excess dark soy sauce. 4. Place a clean wok over high heat and put a small low round wire rack (like a steamer rack) at the bottom of the wok. (This will support the duck so that its skin would not come into contact with the bottom of the wok and cause uneven browning.) Add the 10 cups oil. When it starts to smoke, stick a meat hook into the neck of the duck. Holding on to the hook, lower the duck into the oil with breast side down. Deep-fry for about 3-5 mins till golden brown. As the duck will not be fully submerged in the oil, ladle hot oil over the exposed parts of the duck to cook it, while still holding on to the hook.
5. Gently turn the duck over after 3 to 4 mins and deep-fry a further 5 mins till golden brown. Remove the duck and drain on a large sieve or strainer. 6. When cool enough to handle, rub the five-spice powder all over the duck. Place the spring onions and ginger in a deep metal dish large enough to hold the duck. Place duck on top and pour over with any remaining dark soy sauce from Step 3. Top with star anise. Steam for 4 hours over medium high heat. 7. Make the sauce. Drain the duck and set aside the liquid left over from the steaming. Blanch the vegetables until al dente. Drain and set aside. Heat a wok, add in the liquid from steaming, sugar, salt, oyster sauce, chicken stock or water, and the cornflour mixture. Bring to a boil for about 2-3 mins till the sauce thickens. Add in the vegetables, boil until cooked, then turn off the heat.
8. To serve, place the duck on a serving platter, arrange the vegetables around the duck and pour the sauce over. (Apart from the steaming liquid, you can make the rest of the sauce a day in advance and store it in the fridge.)
Prawn and Peanut Dip Serves 6
Chef Oon loves dips served with vegetables or crackers. She encountered this dish many years ago and fell in love with how easy it was to make.
1¼ cups thick coconut cream, storebought, or squeezed from
2 grated coconuts mixed with ½ cup water
100g minced pork with a little fat, finely chopped
100g prawn meat, finely chopped
60g large white onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp fish sauce
⅛ tsp salt, according to taste
1½ cups toasted peanuts, roughly pounded
20 mini keropok, storebought
12 rice cakes, storebought
10 butter lettuce leaves
1. Mix ½ the coconut milk with the minced pork and prawn and stir well to break up the meat.
2. Boil remaining coconut milk in a small saucepan. Turn heat down to low and add all the remaining ingredients, except for the peanuts. Stir well and boil for 1 min.
3. Add the peanuts and continue to stir over medium heat till the pork is cooked and the mixture has thickened. Set aside to cool.
4. Place dip in a bowl and serve with mini keropok, rice cakes and butter lettuce leaves.
Minced Beef Fried Rice with Shrimp Paste Serves 2
Chef Oon learnt to make this dish from a chef when she was in Hong Kong in the late 1970s on assignment. "I was fascinated to discover the Cantonese shrimp paste 'har cheong' and learnt how to use it.”
2 tbsp water
½ tsp salt
1 cup sunflower oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cups long-grain rice, cooked
100g minced topside beef
1 tsp cornflour
30g young ginger, julienned
1½ tbsp Chinese shrimp paste (har cheong)
2 tbsp finely sliced spring onions
1. Beat eggs with water and salt till wellmixed but not fluffy. Heat 3 tbsp oil in a frying pan and fry the egg into a thin omelette. Let it cool, then cut into strips. Set aside.
2. In a wok, heat up another 2 tbsp oil, sauté half of the garlic for about 30 secs till fragrant, then add in the cooked rice. Stir-fry over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 mins until the individual rice grains are all nicely coated with oil. Dish out and set aside.
3. Using your hands, mix the minced beef with 2 tsp oil and cornflour. The oil keeps the mince moist and separate, while the cornflour prevents the meat from drying out while being cooked.
4. In a wok, heat the remaining oil till very hot and deep-fry the marinated beef till cooked, about 20 secs. Drain on a sieve and add to the rice.
5. Remove all the oil in the wok leaving 2 tbsp. Heat the oil and sauté the remaining garlic, ginger and shrimp paste till fragrant. Add the beef and rice back into the wok and stir-fry for 30 secs.
6. Add in the spring onions, eggs and toss for another 30 secs. Adjust seasoning and serve.
* This is the Cantonese method of ‘yeow chum’ which means to ‘soak in oil’. Instead of boiling in water, the ingredients are ‘boiled’ in oil and this allows for each piece of mince to be cooked to equal doneness.
Khong Bak Mui Choy Serves 6 to 8
Says chef Oon, “I love the skill and art of Hakka food. It may seem very 'country' but this dish incorporates sophisticated culinary techniques.”
300g salty mui choy
300g sweet mui choy
800g square piece of belly pork with skin on**
3 tbsp vegetable oil
8 cloves garlic, chopped finely
½ tsp salt
4 tsp sugar
3 tbsp thick dark soy sauce
1½ cups pork stock
2 tbsp Chinese white wine (pijiu) or yellow wine (huatiaojiu)
1. Prepare the mui choy. Wash the salt off mui choy, drain and repeat with fresh tap water several times, then soak for ½ hr. It is best to use mostly stalk rather than leaves. So discard ½ of the leaves, squeeze dry the remaining leaves and set aside. Soak the hard stems in more fresh water for an extra ½ hr for the sweet mui choy and 1 hr for the salty mui choy to remove the excess salt. Drain and squeeze dry.
2. Cut away and discard the hard, solid root of the mui choy. Slice the stems and leaves of all the mui choy into 2cm lengths. You'll want about 300g stems and 200g leaves. Store away any excess. (The mui choy can be prepared a few days in advance. Wrap them in cling film, store in the fridge until required.) 3. Place pork in a saucepan and add enough water to fully immerse it. Bring to a rolling boil for 10 mins, then turn off heat, and cover the pan. Let the pork cool completely for about 6 to 8 hours. Remove the pork and set aside two cups of the pork stock.
4. Cut the cooled pork into 2 rectangular pieces, then into 1 to 1½ cm thick slices. 5. Heat the wok over high heat, add oil and sauté chopped garlic until fragrant. Add pork, stir-fry for ½ min, then add in salt, sugar, dark soy sauce and 1½ cups of the stock. Bring to a boil, then add in the wine and simmer for 15 mins over medium heat.
6. Remove pork slices and set aside. Add the mui choy into the gravy and simmer for 10 to 15 mins till the gravy thickens. 7. Place the pork slices skin side down in a heat-proof bowl. Arrange the vegetables in the middle and pour stock over. Press down well.
8. Steam for 2½ hours over high heat till the meat is breakaway tender. Leave aside to cool a little. Invert the bowl over a plate, and serve the pork and mui choy as part of a Hakka meal.
** This dish incorporates the Chinese culinary technique of poaching a large piece of meat until semi-cooked. According to chef Oon, this ensures that once sliced into smaller pieces, the meat keeps its shape. This is called “twicecooked meat”.
Hakka Stuffed Mushroom Wrapped in Caul Serves 10-12
Stuffed mushrooms wrapped in pig’s caul fat with Hakka yong tau foo filling is a dish for special occasions like Chinese New Year and birthdays.
For pig’s caul lining
400g pig’s caul fat* 3 to 4L water 2 tsp salt
For Hakka pork filling
6 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp dried cuttlefish, finely julienned
300g fatty pork, minced
150g fish meat, minced
1½ tbsp tapioca flour
4 to 6 tbsp water
½ tsp salt
1½ tbsp spring onions, chopped
3 tsp deep-fried dried flat fish (pee hee)**, pounded
6 water chestnuts, peeled and diced
1 tsp fish sauce
For the sauce
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, pounded
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce ¼ tsp sesame oil
2 cups superior stock
For the mushrooms
20 dried mushrooms, soaked, then squeezed dry
6 cups vegetable oil
1 to 2 tsp salt
Large pot water
1. Prepare the pig’s caul fat. Soak caul fat for 15min in 3L water with 2 tsp salt. Spread the membrane out in the water— it will float—and wash well. Drain and repeat soaking and washing 2 to 3 times in fresh batches of water. Drain on a wire rack.
2. Line a serving tray with paper towels and gently spread out the pig’s caul fat. Cut the caul fat with a pair of scissors into 15 by 15 cm pieces. Top with a plastic sheet and another piece of paper towel. Repeat till you have cut and laid out all the caul fat.
3. Prepare the Hakka pork filling. Heat a wok. Add 6 tbsp oil and when hot, add in the cuttlefish and stir-fry for about 1 to 2 mins. Drain and cool.
4. Mix pork, fish and tapioca flour in a large basin. Add about 4 tbsp water and the salt and knead till the water is absorbed and the mixture is springy. Add more water if the mixture feels dry.
5. Lift the mixture and throw it against the side of the basin about 10 times till the mixture is springy.
6. Add the spring onions, fried cuttlefish, pounded pee hee, water chestnuts and fish sauce into the mixture. Knead well and throw it against the tub for another
10 times. The filling is now ready. (This can be done one day in advance and stored in the fridge.)
7. Make the sauce. Heat a wok and add in the oil. When the oil is hot, sauté the garlic for about 2 mins till fragrant. Add all the remaining sauce ingredients and mushrooms. Braise over mediumlow heat for 30 mins till the liquid has thickened. Drain mushrooms and set aside. Retain the gravy.
8. Fill each mushroom cap with 1½ tbsp of filling and wrap the filled mushroom with one sheet of the prepared pig’s caul. To wrap, place the mushroom on a sheet of pig’s caul lining and fold the sides of the lining inwards over the mushroom as if you were cling-wrapping it. Repeat with another sheet of pig's caul lining. 9. Steam the stuffed mushrooms over medium heat for about 6 to 8 mins till the meat mixture is cooked. While steaming, lift the lid of the pot occasionally to release the build up of steam.
10. When done, place the mushrooms on a wire rack to cool for at least 30 mins. (You can prepare this dish up to this point one day in advance. Cool the mushrooms completely, cover with cling film and store in the fridge till ready to proceed.)
11. Heat the 6 cups oil. Deep-fry the mushrooms over medium heat till the caul fat is golden brown. Drain.
12. Put reserved braising liquid into a pan and bring to a boil. Add in the deep-fried mushrooms and simmer for about 5-6 mins till the sauce is absorbed into the mushrooms. Serve on a bed of lettuce leaves.
* Pig’s caul fat, also called ‘chee mong yeow’ in Cantonese, is the lining of the pig’s stomach. Order it from your pork seller at least 1 day in advance as each pork stall has only 1 or 2 of them.
** This is also known as 'pee hee' in Hokkien and 'ti poh' in Teochew.
Hot Lamb Shank or Mutton Curry Serves 4 to 6
Says chef Oon, “This curry is best eaten at least a day after cooking to allow the flavours to fully develop. Reheat by slow cooking on the stove or in the microwave oven."
2 whole lamb shanks (or 1 kg leg of mutton)
2L boiling water
200g + 20g old ginger
3 large Bombay onions, peeled
6 cloves garlic, peeled
100g meat curry powder (storebought)
4 to 5 cups additional water
6 tbsp vegetable oil
3 sprigs curry leaves
3 tbsp canned tomato purée
5 whole green chillies, halved lengthwise
5 whole red chillies, halved lengthwise
3 ripe tomatoes, quartered
2 tsp salt
Juice of 5 limau kesturi or
½ cup yoghurt, optional
1 sprig curry leaves
2 red chillies, cut into 4cm lengths
2 green chillies, cut into 4cm lengths
1 cup vegetable oil
1. Cut the mutton into large 4cm cubes; if using lamb shanks, leave them whole. Cut the 200g of ginger into 2cm pieces and smash them to release the flavours.
2. Boil about 2L of water in a wok, or enough to cover the meat. Add the ginger and bring to the boil. Add in the meat and bring to a boil again for 15-20 mins if using mutton. For lamb shanks, boil for 10 mins. Drain the meat and discard the water. (This helps to reduce the gamey smell of the meat and gets rid of excess blood.) 3. Meanwhile, place the large onions, 20g ginger and garlic into a food processor or mortar and pestle and grind to a fine paste.
4. Mix the curry powder with 60ml (4 tbsp) water to form a thick paste.
5. Heat the oil in the wok, add the onion mixture and stir-fry for 5 mins till the spices are fragrant. Add the curry powder paste and fry till fragrant, about 5 mins, and then add the meat and curry leaves. Stir-fry till the meat changes colour.
6. Add the tomato purée, chillies, cut tomatoes and stir-fry for about 1 min. 7. Add the remaining 4 to 5cups water and add salt, bring to the boil and turn the heat to medium and simmer. Lamb shanks will take around 2 hrs while the tougher mutton will take 1 to 2 hrs more. Add more water if necessary.
8. When it is ready, the meat should be tender and the gravy of a coating consistency. Add lime juice and yoghurt, bring to a boil and simmer for 1 min. Turn off heat and adjust seasoning. 9. Prepare the garnish. Deep-fry curry for a few seconds till the colour changes. Set aside. Deep-fry the chillies till they go limp. Garnish and serve.