“I know this prawn noodles I cook at home in Sydney is absolutely lethal
compared the meek ones at food hawkers in Malaysia”
When family-owned Malay-Chinese Takeaway began operating its first outlet at the lower level of the old Carlton Arcade back in 1987, the humble seeds of what is now the ever so popular bowl of laksa were sowed.
So for more than a quarter of a century now, Sydneysiders have grown to absolutely adore this fiery bowl of rice vermicelli in a piquant curry broth. So popular is this dish that Malaysian restaurants are often judged by how good their laksa is.
As much as I love a good laksa, I think Malaysian style prawn noodles, sometimes known as prawn mee, har meen, mee yoke or Hokkien mee as it is called in Penang, is a much under-rated hawker dish from Malaysia.
Done well, prawn noodles have a beautiful prawn aroma accentuated by flavours of chilli, onion, garlic, belachan (fermented shrimp paste), galangal and lemongrass.
The prawn noodles of yesteryear in Malaysia used to be cheap and hearty with good size prawns and a robust stock to match. Today, due to rising costs and a sunset food trade, many street food hawkers are cutting corners with ingredients, especially when expensive prawns are involved. Har meen is now a mere shadow of its former glory and the half-baked efforts of vendors cannot be more obvious – puny little shrimps, a few wispy stocks of kangkong (water spinach) and a broth that tastes more like water with added MSG.
I have completely stopped eating har meen in Malaysia for many years now because I know this prawn noodles I cook at home in Sydney is absolutely lethal compared the meek ones at food hawkers there. The cover image above speaks for itself.
And today, I am taking this prawn mee one-step further where no street food hawker or restaurant in Malaysia or Australia does. I am substituting lean pork slices as found in traditional recipes with hearty chunks of pork belly to bring you Malaysian style Pork Belly Prawn Noodles (cover image above).
Pork Belly Prawn Noodle recipe
Sydney Fish Market has a wide range of the freshest prawns but for this recipe you can use either medium size green prawns or banana prawns which are priced reasonably at around $20 per kilogram.
I can absolutely guarantee har meen in Malaysia will not be served with this kind of quality prawns.
I used to cook prawn mee with my own blend of chilli and belachan paste. However, Tean’s Gourmet prawn noodle paste is an excellent substitute unless you enjoy spending a few hours blending your own concoction and making a mess of your kitchen.
This high quality paste costs a mere $2 a packet and I doubt even a chef with good Asian cooking skills can replicate its rich and intense flavour combination.
For me, using Tean’s paste is a no-brainer because it’s cheaper, faster, more consistent and tastier each time I have a craving for prawn noodles.
Any chef who’s prawn noodle paste is better than that of Tean’s will be marginal and hence negligible. In fact, I will not be the least surprised if Malaysian restaurants in Sydney secretly use this paste (as well as other Tean’s products) instead of their own. On the contrary, I would encourage chefs to use Tean’s because I am confident in a majority of cases, the results would be better than their own.
Why substitute lean pork fillet with pork belly you might ask.
Firstly, pork fillet used in Malaysian style prawn mee is usually poached. When cooked this way, the meat can sometimes be dry and tough. On the other hand, cooking strips of pork belly with its fat and rind, whether steam, poach, stir-fry or braise, is classic Chinese style cooking that renders the meat succulent and tender.
These strips of pork belly are actually labeled as “pork spare ribs” which you can conveniently buy fresh in packs from Coles or Woolies. The thickness of these strips are also perfect for this recipe because all you need to do is to gently simmer them whole in your stock pot until they are tender and soft.
Preparing a good stock base is absolutely essential for this recipe.
Clean and blanch three chicken carcasses and about five to six large pieces of pork soup bones under hot running water to rid of bone fragments, impurities and excess oil and fat. Add the carcass and bones to five litres of water and bring to the boil. Then turn down heat to low and gently simmer for about one and a half hours with the lid closed.
Sambal dipping sauce
A spicy and robust dipping sauce for the prawn slices, pork belly and noodles is absolutely essential in this recipe.
I use a very special, homemade paste that my mum brings from Malaysia whenever she visits Sydney.
The result is a sambal belachan that is arguably the best in the world.
Deep fried eschallot ~ Pre-cooked commercial products vs Homemade
A Malaysian style prawn noodle is not world-class when it is not garnished by crisp and fragrant deep fried eschallots (sometimes also called deep fried shallots or deep fried onions).
There are many ready-made brands of deep fried eschallots that come in clear plastic bottles on the shelves of Asian grocers.
I have stopped buying these products because I find the quality of even the best brands to be sub-standard. Most of these brands originate from Malaysia and Thailand as deep fried eschallots is widely used in Malaysian and Thai cooking.
There is nothing wrong with using pre-cooked products as long as it’s of good quality because it saves cooking time and effort at home. The majority of Asian restaurants now use this deep fried eschallots as garnish on their dishes and increasingly, I find myself avoiding them.
Rumours and scandals have been circulating in Malaysia that unscrupulous manufacturers add plastic and other non-permitted ingredients to increase yield and crispiness. My personal experience in using these products have found indistinguishable bits of hard fragments among the eschallots.
Generally, I don’t deep fry food at home because of the mess and excess left over oil but I will make an important and necessary exception, just for this deep fried garnish.
It’s little more painstaking but I can assure you it’s well worth the effort. I use a good mandolin to ensure the eschallots are very finely sliced in no time and also to avoid the painful tears from raw onion fumes.
Shallow fry in a saucepan if you are making a small batch. My tip is to use a wok and deep fry larger batches as they can keep for months in the fridge in bottles sealed with clingwrap.
I use the excess oil which is fragrant with onion flavours to make the sambal because chilli and belachan can easily mask and complement the flavoured oil. The end result is a good stock of sambal for my freezer and minimal oil wastage.
When I look at the image of these deep fried eschallots, so pure and free of impurities, I can smell its deep, aromatic onion flavour.
You might too if you hold your nose close enough to your computer screen.
So here it is, my recipe for Malaysian style Pork Belly Prawn Noodles
- 3 chicken carcass, clean and rinsed in running hot water
- 5 – 6 pieces of large pork bones, clean and rinsed in running hot water
- 2 tablespoon white peppercorns, crushed and loaded in filter bag for spice or tea *
- 5 litres of water
- 1 packet of Tean’s Gourmet prawn noodle paste
- Salt to taste
* I use the filter bags for tea from Daiso Japan
Deep fried eschallots
- 20 medium size eschallot, peeled whole and shaved cross-wise with mandolin
- 2 – 3 cups vegetable oil for deep-frying
Sambal belachan dipping sauce
- 2 large Spanish or brown onions, peeled and roughly chopped for blending
- 20 large dehydrated chillies, rehydrated and roughly cut into small pieces
- Half thumb sized piece of belachan toasted dry in oven / frying pan and crushed
- 2 – 3 cups cooking oil
- 8 bowl portions of fresh yellow noodles / thin spaghetti *
- 25 medium sized greens or banana prawns, heads trimmed and separated and slit lengthwise down the back with scissors
- 1 large bunch kangkong (water spinach) washed, large stems separated from leaves **
- Beansprouts, washed, rinsed and roots removed
Deep fried eschallots
1. Shave eschallots crosswise with a mandolin set at finest level.
2. Heat oil in wok until slightly simmering, then fry eschallots until golden brown.
Tip: Stir eschallots constantly with a pair of wooden chopsticks as they can easily overcook and become bitter as a result. Turn down heat to low once the eschallots start turn brown.
Sambal belachan dipping sauce
1. Separately blend the onions and chillies until it becomes a rough paste. Squeeze and remove excess water from onion.
2. Heat 1 cup of leftover oil from frying the eschallots until simmering then add onion paste and fry until fragrant and soft.
3. Add the chilli paste and belachan to the onions and stir until it is mixed thoroughly and let it simmer in low heat for about twenty minutes, constantly adding more oil to prevent paste from drying out. Once cooked, this sambal belachan should take on a dark red colour and smells very fragrant.
Pork belly prawn noodles
1. Heat up 5 litres of water in large stock pot until boiling then add prawns and cook for about 3 minutes. Remove prawns and run cold water over to stop the cooking. Peel off shells from prawns, slit prawns into half lengthwise then set aside in the fridge.
2. Add chicken carcass, pork bones, prawn heads and white peppercorn filter bag into stock pot and simmer for approximately one and the half hours until carcasses start to fall apart. Add pork belly slices about half an hour into the simmer and cook for remainder of the one hour or until pork belly is soft and tender. Remove and discard all bones, filter bag and prawn heads from stock, except pork bones.
3. Cut pork belly into bit size chunks and set aside.
4. Stir in 1 packet of Tean’s Gourmet Prawn Noodle paste into the stock and add salt to taste if necessary.
5. Blanch kangkong stems with hot water until soft then flash blanch kangkong leaves and beansprouts as they only take about 15 seconds to cook. Do not overcook vegetables or they will lose crunchy texture and become soggy.
6. Boil spaghetti until soft (it should NOT be al dente for this recipe) then set aside.
7. To serve add kangkong, beansprouts, spaghetti, prawns and pork belly to a large bowl and ladle in the stock.
8. Serve hot and garnish with deep fried eschallots and a sprinkle of white pepper.
1. Retain pork bones as they are delicious when eaten with the sambal belachan dipping sauce.
2. Tean’s Gourmet prawn noodle paste has added salt. Taste the stock and add salt sparingly as it is usually quite flavoursome from the paste.
This recipe serves 8 bowls of awesome pork belly prawn noodles.
The one ingredient that is usually found in this recipe and one that I have omitted is hard boiled eggs. I find this recipe is very flavoursome already and boiled eggs is optional if you so choose.
Although I love soup based noodles such as laksa, Japanese ramen and Vietnamese pho, Malaysian har meen remains one of my all-time favourites.
There is a reason sambal prawns are popular in Malaysian restaurants. The aroma of pungent belachan combined with seafood is extremely appetizing. And Malaysian style prawn noodles are exactly that.
So dear readers, do you buy pre-cooked foods and if so what are your favourites?
Are there any pre-cooked ingredients that you would avoid buying?