Chefs' tips on cooking appliances, easiest dishes to make, how to steam a fish, and more
A novice's guide
Everyone — we mean everyone — is getting busy in the kitchen these days. Of course, cheat days happen with the help of takeout and delivery services available islandwide, and they should, especially in support of our local F&B scene. But if there's anything this circuit breaker has compelled us to do, it's to use our kitchen more often.
There are plenty of lessons to learn when it comes to navigating that one unfamiliar space in our home, more so for working professionals who hardly had the time to learn the ropes of the kitchen, let alone cook up a decent meal that don't involve instant products and the microwave. Everyone starts somewhere — so a few of our city's chefs have very kindly offered up pockets of advice for any clueless novice out there alone staring aimlessly at the stove.
On cooking pasta...
We ask Chef Lim Yew Aun of Cicheti Group (of Bar Cicheti, Cicheti, and Caffe Cicheti)
What's the secret to cooking al dente pasta?
Always cook the pasta for no longer than a minute in rapidly boiling water throughout and don't trust the instructions on the packaging if they say otherwise.
What's the best pasta dish to start with if you're cooking for the first time?
Aglio Olio. Two out of its three main ingredients are ones that Singaporeans are more than familiar with.
What else do people usually miss out when cooking pasta at home?
A bottle of high quality extra virgin olive oil.
If you could make a pasta dish from three ingredients, what would they be?
My favourite ingredients — chilli, garlic, and a really good extra virgin olive oil.
Visit Bar Cicheti a 10 Jiak Chuan Rd, Tel: 6789 9801
You can also order their at-home experience here.
On hunting for fresh produce and cooking Asian flavours...
Do you have any tips when navigating a wet market for the first time? Whether it be picking out fish, greens, or raw meat?
The best time to visit a wet market is always before 7am to beat the crowd and on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. I tend to stay away during the weekends. I recommend visiting a few stalls to scrutinise what is available before purchasing. Most stalls sell similar produce, however you'll find a couple who sell more rare and micro-seasonal produce that others do not have access to. They may sell vegetables at a premium because they are not just better but taste sweeter. These stalls are usually crowded as customers know the quality and are willing to wait for them. So I encourage you to take your time, walk around, talk to the suppliers and you will start to notice the nuances.
When it comes to pork, I buy Indonesian pork to ensure freshness, it is transported daily from Bulan (Indonesia), slaughtered and delivered to our wet markets. Similarly chickens are delivered fresh daily and for better texture, I recommend buying free range or kampong chicken. Buy chickens that weigh 1.6kgs and above as they can be a little scrawny below 1.2 kgs. Remember, they are "free range" so the bigger the better. Just cook them a little longer! Clear eyes are the best sign of fresh fish. Lifting the gills does not help, neither does pressing the fish! For prawns, find a stall that has Ang Ka prawn — usually from Singapore or Malaysia — and ask the stall where it's from. If the Ang Kas are gleaming, their heads intact without any trace of darkening on the head, they're fresh.
What's the secret to great stock?
A good stock requires a little patience. I usually prefer to have various stocks on hand in the kitchen and keep it pure in essence; they're incredibly versatile and lend a depth of flavour when used as a base for our cooking. It depends on what stock you need but here are a few examples for your pick:
When preparing a fish stock, clean and remove all the entrails and blood from the bones. Preferably use; threadfin (Kurau), snapper or grouper bones. Start with cold water and boil for two hours minimum on a medium flame. For one kilogram of bones, use two litres of water. The use of carrots, celery, and onions is optional. Remember to skim the surface. When cool, strain into containers and freeze for later use.
For chicken stock, use a whole chicken or the carcass plus wings. If you use only the carcass the flavour will not be that pronounced. Clean the insides of the chicken thoroughly. For a chicken weighing 1.5 kilos, use 2.5 litres of water. Start with cold water and boil for two hours over medium flame. Again you can add carrots, onions and celery if preferred. When cool, strain into containers and freeze.
For pork, use the backbone or (Leng Kut). Ask the butcher to cut the backbone into two-inch lengths. For one kilogram of bones, use two litres of water. Boil a litre of water, when boiling add the backbone and boil for five minutes then discard all the liquid. Refill the pot with water and boil over medium heat for around one hour and 45 minutes. When cool, strain into containers.
What's the best, easiest way to steam a fish?
The best way to steam a fish, is to keep it simple. Fish should be fresh, especially if you're going to freeze it to steam at a later date. Clean the fish thoroughly, especially the bloodline (remove every trace of blood by using a toothbrush).
While there are many styles of steaming, as long as your fish is fresh, I recommend a simple Teochew-style method which we also use at Kin to preserve all the pristine flavours.
Place spring onions and coriander root at the bottom of the plate (to prevent it from overcooking and sticking to the plate) with some sesame oil. Separately, mix salted plum with Shao Xing wine, light soya sauce and preserved bean curd (taucheo) until well mixed. Place this on the fish together with julienned bentong ginger. When steaming, always wait for water to boil before placing the fish in. For every 100 grams steam for 90 seconds. So for a one kilogram fish, steam for 15 minutes. After steaming, place coriander, julienne spring onions, and young ginger on top before serving. Pomfret, threadfin fillet, or seabass are all good choices. Alternatively, speak to your fishmonger to find out what the freshest catch of the day is.
Visit Kin at 31 Bukit Pasoh Rd, Tel: 6320 9180
Stay tuned for their at-home menu to be launched soon
On cooking for the masses...
We ask chef Dylan Ong of The Masses
What are some basic essentials one needs to get started in the home kitchen?
A stove is essential, alongside a non-stick wok or pan, and tongs to hold, move, and/or transfer ingredients. These items can be found at Sia Huat in Chinatown, ToTT in Suntec City or Tampines, or even your neighbourhood kitchenware store.
What's a good appliance/brand you'd recommend? What can you do with it?
I like to have a blender and a handheld electric whisk. For those looking for an entry-level brand, Phillips or Braun should do the job. Otherwise on the higher end, there is KitchenAid. I typically use the blend to make vegetable purée or emulsify a sauce or vinaigrette. With the electric whisk, it's handy for whipping cream and eggs.
Portioning is something hard to do when it comes to cooking for a big group — what's a good rule to abide by?
A serving portion of 130-150g for fish, and 180-250g for meat are good estimates. Proportionately, more vegetables and starch would mean the need for less meat and fish — this boils down to personal preference. Typically, a person would consume 250-300g per meal.
How long can fresh foods like vegetables, meats, seafood be stored?
For freshness of red meats, do prepare and consume immediately. Frozen meats can be kept up to one month. Chicken can be kept in the chiller for three to four days if vacuum-sealed. Fish can be kept for four days maximum in the chiller. For vegetables, root vegetables usually last longer than leafy ones or those higher in water content. Colour is a key indicator — typically freshness is lost as they turn yellow.
A novice wants to attempt three dishes + one soup — what'd you suggest?
1. Roasted root vegetables ( potatoes, carrots, zucchini, bell peppers)
o Season with salt, pepper
o Glaze with a knob of butter
2. Pan fried salmon
o Drizzle olive oil
o Garnish with a dash of lemon juice
3. Salad — could be anything from a mixed fruit salad to a romaine Caesar salad
o For dressing, an easy one is a lemon vinaigrette. Mix olive oil and lemon juice
o Ready-to-use dressings can be bought from the supermarket too
o Some crunch like croutons, nuts, or even dehydrated greens/fruit make a good topping
4. Mushroom soup
o Sauté mushroom with a bit of thyme and butter to taste
o Add chicken stock
o Let it cook for 45min
o Blend with blender
o Season with a dash of lemon juice, and salt or cream to taste
Visit The Masses at 85 Beach Road, #01-02, Tel: 6266 0061
Takeaways and deliveries are also available
On baking bread...
We ask chef Konstantino Blokbergen of Firebake
The best beginner bread to make is....
The easiest beginner bread to make is a milk bread. It is more 'forgiving', as it is an enriched bread — meaning besides just flour, water, salt and yeast of a basic white bread roll, the milk bread has the addition of milk and sugar which adds additional flavour.
What's a good home oven to recommend?
For bread making, it is important to have an oven with an accurate thermostat. Ideally, to achieve a crusty loaf, the oven should be able to reach at least 240°C. I would also recommend an oven large enough to fit a Dutchoven or cast iron pot. Most ovens come with a timer, so that's good.
Best way to tell that your bake is ready?
When a bake is ready, it releases a distinct smell — what you would associate with the beautiful aroma of freshly baked bread. It is like the bread calling you, 'take me'. A helpful tool to have around is the temperature probe. To test if the bread is done, pierce the probe into the core of the bread, and it should register at least 96°C.
For someone making sourdough for the first time, what are the essentials? Walk us through a quick step-by-step method on attempting it from home.
If you don't already have a sourdough starter, the quickest way is to adopt from someone who has one. If you want to make your own starter, it will take around a week, using flour and water. To activate the starter, you need to adopt a 'feeding schedule', which involves a morning and evening feed of flour and water at room termperature. As sourdough bread only contains four ingredients — flour, water, salt, yeast (sourdough), it is essential to use the best quality ingredients. Many forget that at the core, real bread is about flavour and nutrients, which Is why, the most important element, is to use a good quality flour — organic, non-bleached and stone-milled if possible.
As an introduction for a new baker, I would recommend fermenting the dough in the fridge over a 48-hour process. This is because fermentation at roomtemperature requires experience and skills to accurately handle. Fermenting at a lower temperature in the fridge will be slower but safer for new bakers. The process starts from a good morning starter feed, followed by dough mixing in the evening where you take part of the starter and mix into the dough recipe. The dough is then kept in the fridge overnight for bulk fermentation. The next morning, you remove the dough for shaping, and then place it back into the fridge in a banneton or baking basket for the entire day. In the evening, preheat your oven, and you can take the dough straight from the fridge into the oven for baking. Putting it in a preheated Dutch oven or cast iron pot in the oven is recommended.
Visit Firebake at 237 East Coast Road, Tel: 6440 1228