Friday, August 8, 2014

Mee Siam

It is customary to eat noodles on your birthday.  It symbolizes long life.  Naturally, I made myself Mee Siam for my special day.  Alas, the noodles did not look long and luscious like what Mee Siam rice vermicelli is supposed to.  Instead, the noodles were 'cut up' into short bits.  I wasn't sure if it was because I had used a spatula to toss and stir the vermicelli and had thus broken the lengths of the noodles.  Later on, my sisters suggested that I should soak the dried vermicelli in tepid water before cooking, not in hot water.  The latter would make the noodles too brittle.

I doubled the recipe to accommodate so many in my household.  In doing so, you have to apply the agak agak method.  You don't double straightaway.  You tweak by subtracting too much salt, or adding a bit more taucheo according to your preference.
We fed 9 adults and could have fed even more.  It is important, particular in a hot climate, to refrigerate leftovers soon enough to prevent rancidity.  This is a Nonya recipe that contains coconut milk, NOT the type of Mee Siam that you would find in a school tuckshop - sourish and Bukit Merah red - and for that matter,  garnished with dry taupok.   Eeew.  Sacrilege.

The shrimp was my downfall and the cause of my complaint that the ingredients totalled S$70.  Well, S$22 went to the Indian vendor at the wet market for the dried chilis, belachan, dried shrimp, tau cheo and Chili brand beehoon.  S$10 went to the other wet market vendors for the bean curd, chives, limes and fresh chili.  And a good $40 went to NTUC for eggs, shrimp, beansprouts and coconut milk.


Mee Siam 
Spicy Fried Vermicelli with Shrimp and Egg Garnish

Family friends often called my mother, urging her to teach them her lovely version of Mee Siam.  These same friends remembered the vermicelli to be slightly “crunchy”.    Mee Siam was a family favorite and appeared regularly at children’s birthday parties as tea-time fare for the adults.  It was also an annual special request from my sister Molly, to celebrate her birthday.  

8 servings

170 g or 6 ounces dried shrimp, soaked in warm water for ten minutes and pat dry
60 g or 2 ounces dried chili, stems and seeds removed, soaked in warm water
60 g or 2 ounces belachan, cut into small cubes
230 g or 8 ounces shallots, peeled and diced
¾ cup oil for frying
700 g or 1 ½ pounds dry vermicelli
900 g or 2 pounds bean sprouts (taugeh), roots discarded
2 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoon sugar
150 g or 5 ¼ ounces salted soya bean paste (taucheo), finely pounded
100 g or 3 ounces tamarind (assam), soaked in 2 ½ cups or 20 fluid ounces of water
4 cups thin coconut milk*
2 big red onions, sliced
2 to 6 tablespoon sugar, or more if gravy is salty

*(preferably squeezed from ½ to 1 lb. grated coconut, with water added) (or 4 cups [32 oz.] milk diluted from one 13.5 oz.  tin of coconut milk)

Garnish (can be prepared ahead of time)
4 large pieces yellow firm bean curd (taukwa), fried lightly and cut into 1 cm or  ½  inch small cubes
450 g or 1 pound medium shrimp, boiled, shelled and sliced into halves
12 small green lime, cut into halves
10 eggs, boiled and sliced or quartered
1 bunch chives ( khoo chye), chopped finely


[Tip: This spice paste can be prepared ahead of time and frozen.  Thaw before cooking.]

Having soaked the dried shrimp in warm water for at least ten minutes, drain and pat dry.  Also drain the chopped pieces of dried chili.

Pound or blend the dried shrimp, followed by the dried chilies, shrimp paste and shallots in order.

[On the day of cooking.]

Soak the dry vermicelli in water for at least an hour to soften the noodles.  Then drain the vermicelli.

Line a baking sheet with grease-proof paper.  This will be used to hold the noodles later.  

Place the frying pan or wok on high heat and when it is sufficiently warm, add the oil.  When there is a slight smolder, lower heat and pour in the spice paste.  Stir and fry until fragrant and ‘red’ oil bubbles through.  Scoop out some oil and approximately half a cup of the spice paste to reserve for the gravy.  

With the remaining spice paste in the wok, add in water, salt, sugar and let it boil.  Then add in bean sprouts and stir for one minute. Set aside the bean sprouts.  

Next, add in the rice vermicelli to the wok.  Stir with tongs and let the vermicelli soak well with the spice paste. Reintroduce the bean sprouts back to the wok. 

Lower the flame, fry on medium flame and stir continuously, be careful not to let the vermicelli stick to the bottom of the wok. Cook until vermicelli is soft and slightly remains moist.  Transfer to a tray lined with grease-proof paper. Let it cool before serving.

Meanwhile, in a pot, add in the half cup of spice paste and oil, along with the pounded salted soy bean paste.  Strain the tamarind juice.  Pour the tamarind juice and the coconut milk slowly into the pot and let boil.   Then add in the sliced red onion.  Turn down heat to simmer.  Finally add in sugar for taste.  [If gravy is salty, add more water and sugar and stir.]

To serve, dish out vermicelli, sprinkle bean curd cubes, sliced shrimp and spoon gravy over the dish. 

Squeeze lime over the dish, arrange sliced eggs on top and sprinkle with chopped chive.   Add a dab of shrimp sambal to kick up the spiciness.

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