I have a confession to make: I have never tried cooking my own char kuay teow.
For most kiwis, this doesn’t really mean anything, but for me this is embarrassing as a Malaysian who LOVES char kuay teow. It really is Malaysian comfort food for me, along with laksa, chicken curry (which I do cook, but confession #2: from a good quality paste and not from scratch; but honestly, where can you find candlenuts in Auckland?), and Hainanese chicken rice (which I do cook from scratch – though I suppose it’s more Singaporean than Malaysian). My dad used to cook char kuay teow for us when I was growing up and now that I’m no longer at home, I tend to get my fix from Malaysian restaurants. However, in Auckland, this can be a rather hit and miss experience.
So after being inspired by looking at the delicious pictures on Sam Han’s great blog The Bonding Tool, I decided to finally have a go myself.
I was really pleased with the way it turned out, although I did have to adapt it because some ingredients are not readily available here. Unless you live near the coast or are holidaying in the Coromandel, you are unlikely to find cockles in any food stores I know of. I used gow choy, which I got from the Fruit World in Greenlane. These are the Chinese chives that Sam calls ku chye in her recipe – gow choy is the Cantonese name I’m told (thanks Dad!). I put them in slightly earlier than in the recipe because the stems were a bit thicker and I thought they required a bit more cooking. I also used slightly more noodles than the recipe suggests (just because I had more) but found that this didn’t water down the strength of the seasoning or the dryness of the final product.
I also found that the chilli sauce recipe yielded quite a lot (confession #3: I was stupid and didn’t use gloves when removing the seeds from all the dried chillies – I had some pretty painful chilli burns on my fingers that night, but it was worth it!). It might be useful to freeze the leftovers for your next char kuay teow venture. I didn’t put belachan in it (very un-Malaysian of me) because we didn’t have any, but we didn’t really miss it in the end.
One other thing I love about char kuay teow (warning: healthy food eaters, stop reading now!) is the crispy pork lard croutons which you can sprinkle on at the end. My dad always used to do this and I decided to include a step explaining this part. However, again, a bit difficult to find pure pork fat for sale, so I decided to buy some rindless pork chops and cut the fat off to use. I used the rest of the pork, thinly sliced, in the recipe (seeing as I had no cockles).
A few more things to note: make sure you get all the ingredients ready before you start stir frying as the process is VERY quick. Also, make sure you have a good wok (I wouldn’t recommend using a teflon-coated one for instance) and cook on a high heat. Don’t worry if things catch on the bottom – once you add liquid, those bits scrape off easily and just add to the “wok hei” essence of the dish.
In the end, it was delicious, savoury and spicy. I will definitely be cooking it again!
This recipe below is my adapted one (I hope you don’t mind Sam), but you can find the original on Sam’s website here. There is also a video on her post which shows the method of cooking.
Char Kuay Teow
For the chilli sauce:
30g dried chillies, soaked in warm water until soft, seeds removed and drained dry
2 fresh red chillies, stem and seeds removed, cut into small pieces
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
3 shallots, peeled
3 Tbsps water
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
a few dashes of ground white pepper
1 Tbsp oil
1 tsp belachan (shrimp paste)
For the soy solution:
a dash of fish sauce (if you have it)
1 1/2 Tbsps dark soy sauce
2 – 2 1/2 Tbsps light soy sauce
1 Tbsp water
a few dashes of ground white pepper
For the stir fry:
300 – 400g fresh flat rice noodles (you could reconstitute dry noodles, but be aware that the weight will be different afterwards)
200g bean sprouts
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 lap cheong (Chinese waxed sausage) sliced thinly
1 piece fried fish cake, sliced thinly
1 bunch of gow choy, ends removed, sliced into 5cm lengths
10-15 prawns, shelled and veins removed
pork fat, cut into cubes
1 pork steak, thinly sliced and marinated in a bit of dark soy sauce and white pepper
peanut oil or lard
1 small to medium sized squid, cut into rings – optional
1-2 Tbsps of chilli sauce
1 quantity of soy solution
For the chilli sauce, put the chillies, garlic and shallots into a blender and add enough water to blend into a wet paste. Heat oil in a small pot and fry the shrimp paste until fragrant. Add in the rest of the ingredients and bring to the boil over medium low heat, breaking up the belachan until melted into the paste. Simmer for 5-10 mins, stirring occasionally until colour turns dark and paste is fragrant and cooked (and there is no more raw taste from the chilli). Let cool completely and use as required.
Before stir frying, ensure that all the ingredients are prepped and ready and that you have mixed the soy solution together. Also, spend time loosening the strands of the rice noodles to ensure even cooking.
In your wok on a medium heat, put in the diced pork fat with a little oil. Render it down until you have small cubes of crispy pork fat. Take these out and set to one side, but leave the oil in the wok.
Heat up the wok until nearly smoking. Add the sliced pork and stir fry for about a minute before adding the lap cheong. Stir fry for about another minute and then add the fish cake, prawns, squid (if using) and garlic. Keep stirring until the pork and seafood is nearly cooked.
Add the gow choy, noodles, chilli sauce (the amount depends on how spicy you want it) and soy solution. Toss well.
Add in the bean sprouts and stir fry a few more times.
Push noodles to the side of the wok, add one more tablespoon of oil in the centre of the wok and scramble the eggs into it.
Bring the noodles and egg together. Check seasoning and adjust to taste. Sprinkle over the pork fat croutons and serve.