more cradle of flavor

Another week, another episode of Top Chef Masters to look forward to, so I thought I’d put judge (and Saveur magazine editor) James Oseland’s Cradle of Flavor to the test again. This time it’s the Penang-Style Stir-Fried Kuey Teow Noodles. I was pretty well-stocked from my shopping the week before, so I just had to pick up some bean sprouts and scallions (instead of the Chinese chives).

If you don’t already know, shrimp paste has a strong odor. Okay, it kind of stinks. If you’ve got a kitchen window, I suggest you leave it open. The recipe has a technique I’ve never heard of before. You start with a little of the paste on a piece of aluminum foil.

Then you fold up the foil to make a packet and toast that over a burner on the stove. It doesn’t take long to roast the paste.

I’m simplifying things a bit here, but you mash the roasted shrimp paste with chiles. He calls for using a food processor, but it was a lot more fun using my Thai mortar and pestle.

Again, I’m streamlining this (you really need to check out the book for yourself), but you cook the paste in peanut oil, and then you put it aside (see it in the bowl above). It’s quite a bit of work. I have a sneaky feeling I could tweak the method and get similar results, but it sure was interesting to follow the recipe this time.

Surprise… the recipe has shrimp. Yeah, yeah, I doubled the shrimp measure (and all of the ingredients). Here it’s cooking in peanut oil and garlic. Eventually you add that crazy paste you made.

The recipe gives an option for dried rice noodles, which is what I used (shown here uncooked, obviously). It also calls for Indonesian sweet soy sauce as an option, which you might have to do some searching for if you really want to try this recipe. And another cool method is when you make a well in the center of everything in the pan and start scrambling an egg in the middle. Before it sets, you mix everything up and the egg coats the noodles, adding to the richness of the dish. The bean sprouts and scallions go in last. The suggested little bit of salt really helps this dish, and I added a some more of the special soy sauce too. The flavors are sweet, salty, and spicy, all at once. Is the recipe worth all the effort? If you’re up for a culinary adventure, then the answer is yes.

49 thoughts on “more cradle of flavor

  1. I know I'd enjoy this dish. Thanks for that info about toasting the shrimp paste in the foil, I often toast it in the pan with a little oil and I find that it mellows out the strong flavour just as how it works for anchovies.

  2. jenn: that's a good thing about the windowcynthia: good point about anchovies, which also benefit from a little mellowingjamie: thanks for visitingmaybelle's mom: you definitely have to visit a specialty asian market for the soy sauce

  3. christina: yeah, I think a lot of asian cultures know their stinky foodshari: thanks for visitingpeachkins: hmm, it would be hard for me to say i love shrimp paste, but it does do cool things for the recipe

  4. Wow Justin, nice job on the kueh teow!! I'm sure all the work you did with the shrimp paste really added depth of flavor.(and my wimpy marble mortar & pestle is totally jealous of your beautiful Thai mortar & pestle)

  5. lisa: it's definitely recommendedphyllis: ha, that's funny. a writer I know brought it back from Thailand for me, and it weighs a ton. thanks re: the kuey teow.

  6. o.m.g. Char kway teow! That brings so much nostalgia! I love the ones they have in Penang, it's the best. When I was in Penang I had a bowl of this in a famous place called the Two Sisters…they even put a bit of fresh crabmeat on top!

  7. WOW, I am so impress with you Justin. A lot of people still having a hard time to appreciate this pungent ingredients. I never used the wet one, like your photo here. I only bought the Indonesian shrimp paste that already roasted. It's less smelly and the taste is more subtle, and more delicious too. Scrumptious dish for sure!

  8. burpandslurp: wow, i would love to try this dish in penangelra: hmm, I guess I didn't know you could buy pre-roasted shrimp paste. This was all they had at my Vietnamese market. thanks for the comments.

  9. haven't seen shrimp paste roasted before that's interesting. Here in the Philippines shrimp paste are pan fried to help the flavors mature. I specially love chili shrimp paste good as condiment for green mangoes

  10. simplepleasures: i thought i would just pan fry it next time, so I'm glad to hear that technique works wellchristine: i LOVE asian foods, as you can probably tell from scanning my blog.

  11. girlichef: sorry, I missed your post. thanks for visiting. if you can find shrimp paste in a specialty market, it's definitely an interesting ingredient for experiment with.

  12. That Thai mortar and pestle looks fun, I have something like it that we use for crushing toasted sesame seeds.Yeah, I must say that I'm not a fan of shrimp paste, but the stir fry looks fantastic.By the way, thanks for the exercise tip on my blog! I regularly exercise, but have been avoiding it due to my lack of energy. However, maybe bringing the exercise back up will help (not gung ho crazy or anything though).

  13. zoe: thanks for visitinggaby: thanks to you toopandalicious: thanks… i got a lot of photos of making this dishheartswholefoods: yeah, that can be a bad cycle — less energy, then you exercise less, and then you have even less energy. in my book, exercise is always a good thing. thanks for visiting.

  14. That does sound like a rather long adventure 🙂 But the fact that it resulted in something good makes me interested in trying it!! I hate when you do all the steps and the dish comes out just ok. 🙂

  15. "If you don't already know, shrimp paste has a strong odor. Okay, it kind of stinks. If you've got a kitchen window, I suggest you leave it open." lol, yes shrimp paste can smell pretty bad. The things we do for good food…;)

  16. stephchows: yeah, I hate thatmurasaki: I'll put up with a lot of the end result is greatunconfidentialcook: thankssteph: omg, I eat way too much shrimp… I have a backlog of stuff to write about now, but I have to skip shrimp next time!

  17. Have you figured out a good way to store shrimp paste? My cupboard stinks something vicious. I try to pretend that my roommates don't notice. I put it in a plastic bag with a rubberband in addition to a seeled jar top. Additionally, I got really excited when I saw the hand pulled tag. I have been practicing my pulling. Have you done it before? thoughts?

  18. katie: my jar of shrimp paste doesn't seem to smell so bad right now… phew. and that's odd because this post isn't about hand-pulled noodles. i think i added that by mistake. i have written about those a lot on my blog, but mostly to review chinatown restaurants. i've never tried it at home.

  19. This is the 1st time iv seen shrimp paste in a 'paste' form! lol. Ours usually come in 'block' form and some even comes pre-toasted which is a big plus.But you know what i envy most from your pics? The huge mortar and pestle that you have! Mine is still the sad tiny one from ikea. lol.

  20. salt n tumeric: someone else mentioned the pre-roasted kind, but I didn't know it came in blocks. and thanks re: the mortar and pestle. a friend brought it back from thailand for me. it weights a ton.

  21. favorite shrimp paste..we call it "bagoong" in filipino and it's a staple in every filipino pantry..indeed it kinda smells funny but it is absolutely delicious..i hope you agree..=)

  22. Love the shrimp paste, butmy question is really: how the hell do you mask the odor of an opened shrimp paste jar in your cupboard? Mine is sealed in a plastic bag and it still manages to infuse my flour with the taste of shrimp heads. Oy. love it. never new roast it was the secret. Do you know how it is related to the solid shrimp paste? So it in another blog.

  23. katie: one of the other comments above talked about the solid stuff. I think they said it is preroasted when it's sold in solid form… which would be very different. my jar doesn't smell so bad, strangely enough.

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