Four flavourful recipes from the heart of Singapore

A perfect meal: Nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice), served with a fried egg and sambal oelek (chilli paste).
A perfect meal: Nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice), served with a fried egg and sambal oelek (chilli paste). Photo: Kris Kirkham/Bloomsbury

To chef Elizabeth Haigh, Singapore is ruled by its belly. Yet the cuisine can defy easy definition, with influences from Malay, Indian, Thai, Indonesian, Dutch, Portuguese and English cooking.

"It's impossible to pinpoint where dishes have come from, so when people ask me what food is Singaporean, I simply reply: 'The delicious type'," she writes in Makan: Recipes from the Heart of Singapore.

"South-east Asian cuisine is a proud mix of migrants and influences from all across Asia, and from afar, which fuses together to create something even greater than the original."

Elizabeth Haig's new book, Makan: Recipes From the Heart of Singapore.
Elizabeth Haig's new book, Makan: Recipes From the Heart of Singapore. Photo: Kris Kirkham/Bloomsbury

Born in Singapore and raised mostly in Britain, Haigh's interest in the kitchen began when she left for university and missed her mother's cooking.

Within a few years, her passion and studies took her into many kitchens, including Pidgin in London, where she was head chef when it was awarded a Michelin star in 2016.

Her cookbook melds this professional training and her Nonya heritage with what she loves to cook at home with her family. 

Elizabeth Haigh.
Elizabeth Haigh. Photo: Supplied

Nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice)

Compared to the Chinese fried rice, this recipe is spicier, full of shrimp and prawns and contains my favourite combination of runny fried egg on top of rice. A perfect meal.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 fresh, medium-hot, red Dutch chillies, roughly chopped, deseeded if preferred*
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1 banana shallot, peeled and roughly chopped*  
  • 1 tbsp toasted belachan (fermented shrimp paste)
  • 4 tbsp cooking oil
  • 200g dried shrimps, soaked in hot water, drained and pounded fine
  • 150g peeled raw prawns, deveined
  • 2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 600g cold cooked jasmine or long-grain rice
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 1 tsp fish sauce, or to taste
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* Substitute shallot if banana shallot is not available, and red cayenne chilli if Dutch chilli is not available

METHOD

  1. Using a pestle and mortar or a small food processor, pound/grind the chillies with the garlic and shallot to make a paste, then mix in the toasted belachan.
  2. Heat the oil in a wok and fry the pounded dried shrimps until fragrant. Add the chilli-garlic paste and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the prawns and continue to stir for a few minutes until they are cooked. Remove the sauce and prawns from the wok and set aside.
  3. Heat the sesame oil in the wok on a high heat. Add the cold rice and stir well for 5 minutes to break it up. Make a well in the centre of the rice and add the beaten eggs. Leave to cook until the egg forms an omelette. Add the prawn-chilli mix and stir everything together into the rice until thoroughly incorporated. Add the salt and fish sauce to taste, then serve hot.

Variation: Heat some cooking oil in the wok and fry the beaten eggs first. Remove and set aside to cool, then cut up into strips. Continue with the prawn-chilli mix and the rice. You have to use cold cooked rice, otherwise the fried rice will just clump together in one sticky mess. Add the omelette strips at the end.

Serves: 4

Extract from Makan: Recipes from the heart of Singapore by Elizabeth Haig, published by Bloomsbury, RRP $49.99. Photography by Kris Kirkham.
Sweet and sour pork
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Flexible dish: Make it with 600g prawns for a seafood twist. Photo: Kris Kirkham/Bloomsbury

Sweet and sour pork

This is what I call a store cupboard dinner, and one that just sums up British-Chinese food culture – combining British food products, like HP and Worcestershire sauces, with Chinese flavours such as chilli sauce. The recipe makes enough for 12, which can be scaled down, but I find that everyone seems unable to stop eating it once they start. It's a really flexible dish – you can make it with 600g prawns instead of pork.

INGREDIENTS

  • ¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 300g boneless pork shoulder, skin removed and excess fat trimmed off, diced into 2.5cm cubes
  • ½ tbsp cornflour, plus extra for dredging groundnut oil for deep-frying

For the sauce

  • 4 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 150ml water
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 4 tbsp tomato ketchup
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp HP Sauce
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • ½ tbsp chilli sauce

For the slurry

  • 1½ tbsp cornflour
  • 2 tbsp water

To garnish

  • 1 large onion, cut into wedges
  • 3 spring onions (green part), cut into 2.5cm pieces
  • 1 fresh, medium-hot, red Dutch chilli, deseeded and julienned*
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, deseeded and finely sliced
  • 1 tomato, cut into wedges

* Substitute red cayenne chilli if Dutch chilli is not available

METHOD

  1. Mix together the bicarbonate of soda, salt, sugar, water and egg yolk in a bowl. Add the pork. Sprinkle the ½ tablespoon of cornflour over and mix well to coat the pork. Leave to marinate for at least 15 minutes.
  2. Prepare the sauce by mixing all the ingredients together in a bowl. Mix the slurry ingredients in another bowl.
  3. Heat the oil in a wok or heavy-bottomed pan to 170C.
  4. Working in batches, dredge the marinated pork cubes in extra cornflour and deep-fry until lightly golden and crispy, turning the pieces once in the oil to fry evenly. Remove carefully from the oil and place on kitchen paper on a tray to drain excess oil.
  5. Fry the pork for a second time, for extra crispiness, but don't colour it too much. Transfer to a serving dish. Keep warm.
  6. Pour most of the oil from the wok, leaving 2 tablespoons. Stir-fry the onion wedges. Pour in the sauce and bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer. Whisk in the slurry a little bit at a time to thicken the sauce. Pour the sauce over the fried pork and garnish with the remaining ingredients. 

Serves: 12

Stir-fried beef

This quick and delicious beef stir-fry is a staple dish for us at dinnertime at home. You can omit the chilli and dried chilli flakes if you're cooking for little ones, which is what I do for my son, Riley. As with all stir-fries, have your ingredients measured and prepped ahead, because the cooking time is very short.

INGREDIENTS

  • 250g boneless beef rump, sliced into bite-sized pieces
  • 4 tbsp cooking oil
  • 1½ tsp finely chopped root ginger
  • 2 tsp finely chopped garlic
  • 1 red capsicum, cut into bite-sized pieces similar to the beef
  • 1 fresh, medium-hot, red Dutch chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (optional)*
  • 2-4 tsp dried chilli flakes, or to taste
  • 2 spring onions (green part), finely sliced
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil

For the marinade

  • 1 tsp rice wine (Shaoxing or sake)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp light soy sauce
  • ¾ tsp dark soy sauce
  • 1½ tsp potato flour
  • 1½ tsp water

METHOD

  1. Stir the marinade ingredients together in a bowl. Add the beef and mix in well with the marinade.
  2. Add 3 tablespoons of the oil to a wok set over a high heat and swirl the oil around to coat the wok. When it is starting to smoke, add the beef and stir-fry briskly, separating the pieces using a Chinese spatula. When the pieces are separated and still a little pink, remove them from the wok and set aside.
  3. Add the remaining oil to the wok, then add the ginger and garlic. Allow them to sizzle for a few seconds to release their fragrance. Tip in the red capsicum and fresh chilli, if using, and stir-fry until hot.
  4. Return the beef to the wok and give everything a good stir, then add the chilli flakes. When all is hot and fragrant, add the spring onions and remove from the heat. Stir in the sesame oil, check the seasoning and serve.

* Substitute red cayenne chilli if Dutch chilli is not available

Variation: Venison is a very healthy alternative to beef, as it is rich in iron, potassium and zinc and is very lean. Replace the beef in the recipe above with 250g venison fillet, cut into strips, and add a splash of stock at the end to prevent the stir-fry from being too dry. 

Serves: 4

Barbecue chicken wings with sticky tare sauce

Always a winner when there's a hint of sunshine outside. Serve these with plenty of wet wipes at hand.

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 large free-range chicken wings
  • 300ml tare sauce (see below)
  • 100g molasses
  • 1 lemon

For the chicken wing brine

  • 1 litre water
  • 90g sea salt
  • 30g muscovado sugar
  • 50g honey mixed herbs
  • thyme, rosemary, bay (optional)
  • freshly ground black pepper

METHOD

  1. To make the brine, put all the ingredients into a large pan and bring to the boil, then leave to cool. Once the brine is cool add the chicken wings and leave to brine in the fridge for 2 hours.
  2. Meanwhile, put the tare sauce into a saucepan and stir in the molasses. Simmer to reduce to a sticky sauce. Think of a runny honey texture.
  3. Prepare the barbecue. You want a temperature of about 200C, which will be when the flames have died down and the coals are ashy grey with red hot interiors.
  4. Remove the wings from the brine and dry thoroughly with kitchen paper. Grill the wings on the barbecue to get a little colour all over, then baste the wings liberally with the tare sauce. Continue grilling, turning the wings and regularly basting with the sauce. Keep the wings moving on to different spots on the barbecue because the sugars in the tare glaze will colour quickly. Use a probe thermometer to check if the wings are cooked through: they should be at 73C minimum.
  5. Add a good squeeze of lemon across the chicken wings before serving.

Serves: 4

Tare sauce 

The browned juices left at the bottom of a pan or baking tray when roasting meat have lovely flavour that is vital for sauces and gravies, so make sure you get every last bit from the pan. However, if the juices are black and burnt, do not use them as they will make your sauce taste bitter. Next time you roast meat, remember to lower the temperature or reduce the length of the roasting time to prevent burning.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2-3 chicken backs and bones (ask your butcher)
  • 225ml rice wine (Shaoxing or sake)
  • 225ml mirin
  • 450ml light soy sauce
  • white pepper 

METHOD

  1. Preheat the oven to 160C fan-forced (180C conventional). Break up the chicken bones into pieces and roast in a large non-stick baking tray for 30-45 minutes. You're aiming for perfectly browned bones and roasting juices (fonds) caramelised at the bottom of the tray.
  2. Transfer the roasted bones to a wide saucepan. Put the baking tray over heat on the hob and deglaze the fonds with some of the rice wine, using a spatula to scrape up the fonds and dissolve them in the hot wine. Add to the bones in the saucepan along with the remaining wine, the mirin and soy sauce. Bring to the boil, then simmer, uncovered, really gently for 1 hour.
  3. Strain the sauce into a bowl, discarding the bones, and season well with white pepper. Set aside to cool before storing in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.

This is an edited extract from Makan: Recipes from the Heart of Singapore by Elizabeth Haigh, published by Bloomsbury, RRP $49.99. Photography by Kris Kirkham. Buy now