Auntie Ruby's Hokkien Prawn Mee (Penang Hae Mee)Monday, September 16, 2013
Ed notes: In this post, I have done a major update of the recipe and rewritten the cooking notes since I first published it two years ago. I have also written a series of posts with more photos, the "science" behind it and how to cook this for a large party. Check out the series of posts through this link.
My mum's Hokkien Prawn Mee was one of her 'signature' dishes.
It brings back many fond memories.
Annually, on Teachers' Day, she would cook for all the children teachers and helpers in my church's Super Powerkids Ministry. That tradition has of course ceased the year my mum passed away.
When news got round that she is cooking this, family members and friends will gather in anticipation.
And this is the dish she cooked for a a group of friends before she fell seriously ill. It was her last celebration. I still remembered how I visited my friend's place to enjoy it. When we meet, we still reminisce about this.
For some reason, there seems to be a mental block when it came to my Mum's hae mee. "It is too complicated" is an oft heard refrain as some of us discussed the possibility of recreating her specialty.
I have some good news. It is really not very difficult to cook this. There is a simplicity in the way my mum made it and if you follow that, you should be pleased with the outcome each time.
Auntie Ruby's Hokkien Prawn Mee Recipe
To make 30 bowls (about 8 liter of stock)
Preparing the prawn heads and dried shrimp stock
2 kg (4.4 lbs) prawns
300 g (7 oz) dried shrimps (hae bee)
- Peel and separate the heads and shells of all the prawns. There is no need to give the prawns a hair cut as everything is used. The heads will be used for the prawn stock and pulverised (along with the dried shrimps). The shells will be added to the ikan bilis stock and strained away later.
- Heat up 3 Tbps of oil in a wok and roast the dried shrimps for 10 minutes. Then add the heads and roast till they turn golden orange.
- Add 4 litres of water in a pot, add the heads and dried shrimps. Use a stick blender or standing blender to pulverise it finely. You should see some orange or red coloured foam at the surface of the stock.
- Next, cover and simmer the stock for half an hour. Then let it steep overnight for maximum flavour extraction. You can also do this earlier in the day and let the flavours develop by dinner time.
- Set aside 60 pieces of prawn meat for the topping. Keep the remainder for other uses. Devein the prawn meat for the topping using a toothpick or the sharp edge of a knife. It is easier to devein before you blanch them.
- Blanch the prawns in the boiling stock using a strainer. Do this in small batches as the prawns need to cook quickly or the meat will fall apart on the sides. If you are doing this the day before serving, refrigerate the prawns. They keep well after they are cooked.
400 g (14 oz) fried anchovies (ikan bilis)
10 cm (4 in) ginger
- The next step is to prepare the rest of the stock which uses stuff that needs to be strained: ikan bilis, smashed ginger and the prawn shells.
- Put them in a pot with 4 liters of water and simmer for about an hour. My Mum used ikan bills with their heads on. I find that it imparts a slight bitter taste and prefer to spend a bit more to buy it with their heads and guts removed.
1 kg of pork fat (2.2.lb)
100 pieces dried chilli
5 cm (2 x 1 inch in diameter block) belachan or 4 Tbps
- Lard is of course optional but the flavour and mouth feel of pork fat is fantastic in the broth. Cut the pork fat into 1 cm (0.4 in) cubes. In a pan, slowly heat up the cubed fat. The oil will slowly flow out and fry the rest of the fat. Keep the fire low so as not to burn the lardon. It will take about an hour to do it right. When the cubs have shrunk to a quarter of its original size, increase the fire to get the lardon nicely browned. The lardon can be offered as a garnish but the oil is what you want. Lard can be prepared beforehand and stored in the fridge for weeks.
- Leave about half a bowl of the lard in the wok to make the sambal chilli. Blend the soaked dried chilli into a paste. Then, over low fire, add paste and simmer for 15 minutes. You can also use ready-made or store bought chilli paste.
Finishing the Broth
2 Tbps chicken powder or 200 ml (6.7 oz) chicken stock concentrate
2 Tbps chicken powder or 200 ml (6.7 oz) chicken stock concentrate
100 gm rock sugar
A bowl of sambal chilli (200 ml)
Half a bowl of lard (100 ml)
Water to make up to 8 litre of broth
- Strain the Ikan bilis and shell stock into the prawn stock.
- Keep the broth on a simmer. It is important to taste it as you develop the flavours to learn how each ingredients move the broth closer to the outcome you want. While I give the quantities of ingredients in the recipe, the sweetness and saltiness which you prefer may be different from mine. Learn to train your palate to balance the flavours. If you have tasted some good Hae Mee or tasted mine, those palate memories can guide you.
- Add the rock sugar, chicken stock (bouillon powder or concentrate) and sambal chilli. The chicken stock flavouring gives a mellow body to the broth. (Note: You can replace the chicken stock with chicken bones and meat or pork bones if you want to stir clear of MSG.)
- Simmer the pork loin meat in the stock for 30 to 40 minutes depending on how large the chunks are.
- Add the belachan and a bowl of the sambal chili (with lard oil) into the broth.
- Add some water along the way. You can also add an additional half a bowl of lard to improve the stock. You need to end up with about 8 liters of broth for 30 bowls.
Preparing the bowls: garnishing and serving
60 pieces prawn meat (halved into 120 pieces, 4 per bowl)
2 kg (4.4 lb) water convolvulous (kangkong)
2 kg (4.4 lb) beansprouts
1 kg (2.2 lb) pork loin
1 kg (2.2 lb) yellow noodles
1 kg (2.2 lb) rice vermicelli (bee hoon)
90 slices of fish cake (3 slices per bowl)
- Slice the boiled prawns into halves.
- Slice the pork loin and fish cakes.
- Fried shallots are indispensable. Make your own if you can. If you use commercial ones, get those which are fresh and crispy.
- Soften the bee hoon in water for about 30 minutes.
- When it is time to serve, assemble a serving of the bean sprouts, mee, bee hoon and kangkong in a bowl. Blanch the contents of the bowl in rolling boiling water for about half a minute. This will also remove the “kee” (alkaline) smell of the yellow noodles. Put back into the bowl. Garnish with slices of prawns, pork and fish cake. Pour in the boiling broth and drain. Do it twice. Garnish with fried shallots and serve immediately with plates of sambal chilli and lardon on the side.
It may take a few tries to master this dish but the responses from your family or guests will encourage you. It may seem like a lot of work but it will become intuitive as you become more experienced. As with all party dishes, effort and work is needed but your guest will remember this meal for a long time. As someone said, a good recipe is about doing many small steps right. It is true for this dish.
If you want to make Auntie Ruby's, just stick to her recipe/ratio. Resist the temptation to add anything else. Respect her recipe and you will learn something new from making it. Her Prawn Mee is very consistent. I have eaten it so many times that I can tell immediately if it is done her way.
|I added some Hakka Deep Fried Pork just for the photo here. |
You can add blanched thinly sliced pieces of pork, which is traditionally done.
If you want to taste this, you can consider serving in my church's Super Powerkids ministry :).
|Preparing the Prawn Stock: the orangey foam is a sign that a good PPM is on the way. I made this batch for 160 pax.|
|The PPM broth is done.|