By Shu Han Lee | 12 Jul 2022
Bak chor mee is one of my favourite Singaporean dishes. Chewy egg noodles, slippery with fragrant lard and fried shallot oil and coated with an addictive sauce made with black rice vinegar, soy sauce and the mother of all chilli sauces, sambal tumis belachan, there isn’t a better combination to remind me of home! This is a dish that might sound intimidating to make at home yourself, but really isn’t once you have all the elements in place. So here I also include a recipe for a spicy pungent sambal, for fragrant fried shallot oil and for rendering your own lard/lardons. These are all things you can make ahead in advance and stir into all types of dishes for instant oomph.
(These are all recipes from my book Chicken & Rice: Southeast Asian Recipes from a London Kitchen – Fig Tree Penguin Books)
Sambal Tumis Belachan
This is one of the key chilli pastes in Singaporean and Malaysian cuisine. It can be served on the side – smeared over fried eggs and dolloped over nasi lemak – or used a base for all manners of stir-fries, like sambal prawns or aubergines.
Makes about 500g or 2 standard jars
- 30 dried chillies
- 3 tbsp tamarind pulp
- 1 inch off a block of belachan
- 400g shallots
- 4 large fresh chillies (not spicy)
- 6 cloves garlic
- 3 stalks of lemongrass, white part only
- 1 inch slice (4-5 tbsp) of gula melaka (unrefined dark palm sugar)
- 100ml groundnut oil
- sea salt, to taste
- Put the dried chillies into a sieve. Using a pair of kitchen scissors, snip the dried chillies and shake the sieve vigorously to remove most of the chilli seeds. Soak in warm water till soft, before draining and discarding the water. In a separate bowl, soak the tamarind in 6 tbsp of hot water for 15 minutes, until softened. Massage and squeeze to get the juices from the pulp, then strain and discard the pulp.
- Open your windows. Toast the belachan in a dry pan, chopping at it with your spatula to break it up, till aromatic and powdery. You can also do this in the oven for less fuss/complaints from next door.
- Blend/ pound the toasted belachan, shallots, chillies, garlic, and lemongrass till you get a smooth paste.
- Heat your wok up and add the groundnut oil. Fry the paste over medium-low heat, stirring to make sure it doesn’t stick or burn. 20 minutes in, add ¾ of the tamarind paste, followed by the gula melaka, allowing it to slowly melt into the hot sambal. Keep stirring. The chilli is cooked when you see the oil separating from the mixture. It usually takes at least 30 minutes. Taste and adjust with more sugar, salt or tamarind paste if needed.
Fried Shallot Oil
Fried shallots are the pefect final flourish to anything from soups and stir fries to steamed dishes or even plain rice congee. The oil you get from frying the shallots are also incredibly useful – a little drizzle adds instant fragrance to any dish.
- groundnut oil
- pinch of sea salt
- Peel shallots and slice thinly, and break apart into little rings by tossing with your fingers gently. Dab dry first, then toss with the salt, which helps them crisp up better. Do this at the last moment before you fry them or they might sweat.
- Heat about 2 inches of oil in a wok or heavy-based pot over medium heat. If the heat is too low, the shallots don’t fry; if it’s too high, the shallots will burn. A good test is to stick a chopstick into the oil, there should be very tiny bubbles sizzling around it gently.
- Add shallots to the heated oil. They should bubble mildly. Let cook about 8-10 min till the edges get a bit brown. Pay attention from this point onwards. From this point onwards, you can go from beautiful crispy shallots to a burnt mess really easily. Once more than half of the shallots are golden, remove from heat and let them continue to sizzle in the residual heat of the oil until they are perfectly browned. If you wait until they are already brown before removing from the heat, they will end up burning.
- Drain the fried shallots, they crisp up as they cool. DO NOT discard that fragrant flavourful oil. You can store the shallots in the oil too, but still drain and let cool or else the shallots will keep cooking in the hot oil.
How to render lard
Make sure you render lard from fat that comes from a happy healthy pig for the best flavour and nutrition. To do that, you’ll want to find a good source of free-range pork from a butcher you trust. I just use normal back fat, but if you want perfectly snow-white lard, you should get hold of leaf lard.
- 1 kg of fat from a happy pig*
- A little water
- Chop up the fat into small pieces.
- Add enough water to cover the base of a heavy-bottomed pot. The water prevents the fat from burning before it starts to melt. Add the chopped fat and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.
- After about an hour, the water will evaporate and the fat will be melted, and later, the solids (white crackling) will start to sink. You can then strain at this stage and use the more or less odourless flavourless lard for baking or anytime you want a neutral cooking oil. Then let the rest of the crackling continue to go until brown and crispy and then strain again, using that savoury lard for flavourful frying.
- Keep the cracklings (delicious salted and sprinkled over salads or noodles) and pour the strained fat into jars. When cooled, it will become a soft creamy semi-solid, the first batch whiter than the second one. It will keep in the fridge for about 2 months.
Bar Chor Mee
The ratios for the sauce are just a guide. For instance, I always ask for extra vinegar when I order this from the hawker stalls; Chinese black vinegar has a wonderful musky sweet-sharpness that helps to cut the richness from the pork fat.
- 2 bundles of flat or thin egg noodles
- 100g minced pork
- 70g very fresh pork liver, sliced (optional)
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp white pepper
- 2 cups pork or chicken stock
- sea salt
- For the braised mushrooms (makes extra)
- 6 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1 tbsp good soy sauce
- 2 tbsp good oyster sauce
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 tsp unrefined brown sugar
Ingredients (For sauce):
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 2 tbsp Chinese black vinegar
- 2 tbsp sambal tumis belchan
- 1 tbsp fried shallot oil
- 2 tsp lard
Ingredients (To Serve):
- chopped spring onions
- fried shallots
- fried lardons
- lettuce leaves
- Mix the pork with the fish sauce and white pepper. Measure out enough water to cover the mushrooms, then add all the seasonings and mix well. Leave both in the fridge for at least an hour to marinate, preferably overnight
- The next day, slice the mushrooms into fat slithers. Bring the mushrooms to the boil in the soaking liquid and simmer gently until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the mushrooms are now plump with delicious juices.
- Combine the ingredients for the sauce and divide into bowls.
- Blanch the noodles in boiling water till they are cooked but still retain a toothy, springy bite. Fresh noodles only take seconds while dried noodles will take longer– a good gauge is when they float to the top of the water. Do it portion by portion for best results. Drain well by tossing hard in a sieve to shake off excess water then turn the noodles out into the bowls. Using a pair of chopsticks, toss the noodles in the oily sauce immediately, making sure each strand is well-coated. It is important to do this while the noodles are still warm, or they will clump and stick together as they cool.
- The pork stock should be at a rolling boil. Season with salt, then blanch the minced pork in the stock for a minute, or until cooked. Use a fine sieve to remove the pork, then add over the noodles. Repeat with the liver if using.
- To finish, top the noodles with the braised mushrooms, crackling, and fried shallots. Ladle the hot pork broth into smaller bowls and finish with an added dash of white pepper and spring onions, and serve alongside the bowls of noodles.
About Shu Han
Shu Han Lee moved to London from Singapore as a student. Homesick and hungry, she started teaching herself to cook the food she’d grown up with – Singaporean and Malaysian dishes, with a strong Chinese influence from her mother. Today, she runs Rempapa Spice co, bringing the southeast Asian spice paste to London!