theboywhoatetheworld cooks: Kerabu Chicken and Woodear Salad
As much as I love eating and cooking the Nyonya food I grew up with, I must admit that the sheer number of ingredients required can sometimes be a bit off-putting. A Nyonya chilli paste alone can often require up to 10 ingredients, some of which are particularly difficult to source abroad. Hence, although I’ve been learning intricate Straits-Chinese recipes aplenty from my godma, I was also interested to get some insight into some of the more simple, quick and easy recipes in her repertoire.
Kerabu Chicken and Woodear salad (or ‘Kerabu Kay Bok Nee’ as it’s known in the Hokkien dialect) is one of my favourite Nyonya appetisers. And as far as Nyonya recipes go, this has got to be one of the simplest yet most satisfying dishes you can whip up in under 20 minutes. What’s more, it’s one that can easily be made ahead of time and chilled in the fridge. The spicy, tangy flavours of the lime and ‘sambal belacan’ (fermented shrimp and chilli paste) dressing can transform even plain jane steamed chicken into an extraordinary mouthful. Crunchy shallots and woodear fungus give the salad a nice contrast of textures, whilst the fresh mint and kaffir lime leaves add a burst of freshness.
Ingredients (serves 4 people as a starter)
- 1 chicken breast fillet (250g), sliced into 1 cm strips for quicker steaming
- 1 large handful of Woodear fungus (a.k.a. cloud ear – available dried in most chinese grocers)
- 6 – 8 shallots (100g), finely sliced
- 1 small bunch (15g) of mint leaves, roughly chopped
- 3 Kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Optional: Leaves from 2 little gem lettuce
For the lime-based ‘sambal belacan’ dressing:
- 3 fresh red chillies
- 1 tablespoon of fermented shrimp paste (‘Belacan’ – available in Asian grocers) – toast in a dry pan until fragrant before using
- Juice of 5 small Kalamansi limes (alternatively, the juice of 2 normal limes will do)
- 1 teaspoon dark soya sauce
- 2 tablespoons light brown soft sugar
- First, add all the ‘sambal-belacan’ dressing ingredients into a food processor and blend into a fine paste
- In a mixing bowl, combine the dressing with the sliced shallots. The lime juice from the dressing will lightly cure the shallots, removing it’s pungency and sharpness.
- Marinate and mix the raw chicken breast fillets with a pinch of salt, white pepper and sesame oil in a heat-proof dish then steam for 8 – 10 minutes until cooked, making sure to collect and reserve any cooking juices.
- While the chicken is steaming, rehydrate the woodear fungus in a pan of hot, salted water, boiling until soft and edible (this should take no more than 3-4 minutes). Drain, then finely chop the fungus into thin strips. Add to the mixing bowl with the dressing and shallots.
- By now, the chicken should have finished steaming. Shred the chicken fillets roughly with a fork and spoon then add the meat and all of the cooking juices into the mixing bowl with the rest of the ingredients.
- Plate up the salad in a serving dish and garnish with the chopped mint and kaffir lime leaves.
Serve at room temperature with some fresh little gem lettuce leaves on the side for people to help themselves to and cradle the salad.