Singapore And The Food Blogger's Irony

It's now the middle of December, 2016, and I haven't blogged in exactly ten months. Why, you ask? Did the Gourmet Male lose his passion for food? Has he gotten lazy? Has he signed a multi-million dollar cookbook contract? Um, yeah, no. Although the last one is.... most certainly not true. In late January of this year I packed up the house and moved to Singapore to take on an incredible new work opportunity and to experience living in Asia for the first time. Now, I know, most people's reactions centres around just how much food there is here in Singapore and why the move didn't improve my blogging. Well, let me explain.

The blog has never been focused on restaurant reviews. I would never feel adequate enough or knowledgeable enough to challenge the food delivered by an experienced chef. There is so much sweat, blood, and passion poured into a restaurant and I think, "Who am I to judge?". When I do visit an amazing restaurant, I make sure to get a post up about it. I've always focused on food experiences, recipes, and travel. And to be honest, it's easy to get caught up here in the hustle and bustle and forget to reflect and share some of the amazing food opportunities in the city where they greet you by asking, "Have you eaten yet?".

To make things worse, I left the kitchen of my dreams in Sydney and have had to make do with the horribly tiny kitchens here in the land of the Merlion. And I mean TINY. I ended up in the best place I could find, with gas and induction burners in an open plan kitchen. You can imagine my disappointment when I was told that I couldn't use the gas burners as they would torch the back laminate. Hmmm, who designs these places? And now I have a full-time, live-in helper so am not doing so much cooking. Suffice to say, the food blogger gods have been working against me. 

So, what have I seen? What have I eaten? What's it really like to live, work, and eat here in Singapore? I'll try to sum things up in five points:

1. You can spend a bomb on food here, if you want

No doubt about it, Singapore has some of the most expensive food in Asia, if not the world. I've been taken to Cut for a $300 steak - and that's before caviar, wine, and dessert. Even one of my favourite places, No Signboard Seafood, can run north of $200/person if you're not careful.

And there's Waku Ghin, Tetsuya's new-ish Michelin starred restaurant at Marina Bay Sands. That'll set you back more than $400/person, ++. Don't ever forget the ++. That's another 17% for GST and service charge.

But if you want to really splurge and eat some amazing food, Singapore has many options to quickly rack up those frequent flier miles on your favourite card.

2. Then again, you can spend an absolute pittance on a great meal

I still can't believe the first hawker centre that I visited over at Maxwell, near Chinatown. $4 for a tasty plate of chicken rice... and that's at "tourist" prices! Tall longnecks of Tiger beer around $6. And no messing around with any ++, either. These are nett prices, and probably only cash. But the options are endless. Just pick a hawker centre close by and go nuts! The old advice to find the longest line for the best options probably still holds. Just get ready to wait.

In my neighbourhood, near Dhoby Ghaut, are many universities, arts schools, and the like. And we all know what students are searching for - cheap eats! One of my local favourites is a Koren BBQ called I Am Kim (underneath School of the Arts). The prices are cheap, the food is good, and it's a great place to bring a crowd of Ang Moh and live it up with Soju Bombs and some K Pop.

3. The mid-level food scene is improving

Even since I've been here there have been new mid-level options crop up as well as increased visibility of some other restaurants that are gaining in popularity. I absolutely love the brunch at Open Door Policy in Tiong Bahru, as well as a bookstore and coffee browse afterward.

If you like BBQ, check out Meatsmith or MeatLIQUOR.

One of my latest finds is a new Aussie restaurant, Cheek By Jowl, over on Boon Tat Street. Catch your breath, people, this lunch for two was $35++/person. Amazing. I went back for dinner and sat at the kitchen stools while chatting with the chef. This will definitely become a regular spot for me, particularly as it's only a 10 min walk from my office.

4. Have food, people will visit

The real food fun in Singapore involves entertaining. I was taught pretty quickly that if you want a group to show up, thrown on a feed. Back in my first few weeks in the country I was lucky enough to meet the guys from Iskina Cebu and made a call then that they HAD to do a full manual lechon for my birthday in July. Let me say, they didn't disappoint and the 30 people that joined us were blown away. It's probably not the best option, though, for a modern communal dining area in your apartment complex. They are indeed adding new rules to the tenant's guide by the day due to my shenanigans.

5. Get up here and eat yourself silly

It's cheap and easy to get here from Australia, New Zealand, or anywhere in Asia. It's the perfect stop-off when coming through Changi in transit (incidentally rated the best airport in the world many years running). It's incredibly safe, easy to get around, and the people are so very friendly. There are food options everywhere. 

I've accepted that it's not about my cooking so much anymore. Really, it's all about food with new friends and enjoying what the local chefs are all about. 

Just prepare yourself for $20 beers. ++.

Sous Vide Chicken Breast

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a sucker for new kitchen gadgets and cooking techniques. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. One technique that’s been getting a lot of airtime recently is sous vide, or water bath cooking. But while it seems like a bit of a fad, sous vide has been in use for over 200 years and in serious use for 50 years. 

Sous vide means “under vacuum” in French and is a straightforward and effective way of cooking poultry, meat, and fish that ends up succulent, most, and most of all, correctly cooked*. And with sous vide circulators these days going for under $200US there’s no reason to not give it a try. I did recently with some chicken breast and it was the best chicken breast I’ve ever tasted. 

So you will need to get your hands on a sous vide circulator (I use the clip on Sans Aire) and a vacuum sealer, such as a FoodSaver. As usual, I went over the top recently and installed an Irinox chamber sealer but it’s completely not necessary for this recipe. 

You’ll need:

  • 2 chicken breasts on the bone
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp canola oil
  • 1 tsp olive oil

Pre-heat the water via the circulator to 66C.

Rinse the chicken under cold water. Season the skin with salt and pepper and place a slice of lemon on each breast. Vacuum pack the breasts individually – make sure to roll the edges of the bag down before you drop the chicken in to ensure there is nothing preventing a good seal and to avoid contamination. 

Drop the chicken into the water bath and cook for one hour.  Toward the end of an hour heat a skillet or fry pan on medium/high heat with the canola oil. 

Remove the chicken from the water bath and take out of the vacuum bags. Pat dry and then place skin down in the skillet. Press the breast against the edge of the pan to get good contact and fry until brown (2-3 minutes, usually). 

Take the chicken out of the pan and lay on a cutting board to rest. With your hands, simply remove the breast from the bone (this should happen very easily). Cut the breast into slices on a diagonal bias and then serve with the olive oil.

Seriously, look at how moist this chicken breast is! This is after resting and slicing...

See, sous vide isn’t that complicated! And you’ll never look at chicken shop chicken the same ever again. Enjoy!

* Sous vide can go wrong if you don’t follow precise times and temperatures. You can also get people sick. I recommend you do some research before you do serious sous vide cooking. My recipe here is simple and hard to mess up but you’re on your own – I take no responsibility for your outcomes.

Baby Octopus, Potatoes, and Preserved Lemon

If you follow GourmetMale on Twitter or Instagram (@gourmetmale), you’ll see that I have a serious addiction to cool cookbooks. I’m up to over 350 of them and will be shipping over 25 (!!!) boxes of cookbooks to Singapore in a month or so for the new job. Recently I got my hands on the Broadsheet Melbourne book and was inspired by the MoVida octopus recipe to create a little riff of my own. This was mainly because I couldn’t get octopus tentacles (even frozen) but I wanted to do a few different things to change it up. The feedback was great and I’ll definitely be making this one again.

To serve 4 people you’ll need:

  • 20 baby octopus (about 300g)
  • 3 medium waxy potatoes
  • 1 preserved lemon rind quarter
  • smoked paprika
  • olive oil
  • salt

Bring the water to a full boil and then drop the baby octopus in. Let them boil for about 2 ½ minutes, checking one at that time to ensure it’s cooked but still very tender. Remove the octopus, set aside, and add the potatoes.

While the potatoes boil, chop the octopus into halves or thirds. After about 7 minutes the potatoes will be soft and start to lose their skin in the water. Remove the potatoes, let them cool a bit, and then cut into eighths.

Chop the preserved lemon finely. Scatter the octopus, potato, and preserved lemon on a plate. Sprinkle generously with paprika and salt. Drizzle a good amount of olive oil on top of all ingredients. And then serve!

This is a 15 minute dish that will definitely be a crowd pleaser!

Salt and Pepper Prawns

I haven’t been posting as much recently as I’d like - I’ve been distracted by renovating my house and being headhunted for a new job in Singapore. I know, that’s a strange combination but that’s how things have worked out this year.

In any case, I pushed hard to get my house done a bit early so that I could move in for Christmas. Luckily, my builder was able to pull it off. There’s still plenty to do but I decided things were good enough for a little housewarming party.  I, of course, went over the top with the menu and barely got to chat with the guests!

Anyway, one of the dishes on the day had standout comments and I thought it was worth sharing with everyone. These salt and pepper prawns are about as easy to make as anything I cook but almost everyone is a fan.

 

You’ll need:

  • 12 green king prawns
  • 1/4 box of Krummies or other breadcrumbs
  • 3 tbsp pepper
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 1cm canola or vegetable oil in a deep fry pan

First, mix the Krummies, salt, and pepper together well and set aside. Then remove the heads from the prawns and shell the bodies, leaving the tails on.

With a small knife make a shallow cut along the full length of the top of the body, from the tail to the head. This will allow you to remove the digestive tract and also butterfly the prawns. Coat the prawns in the mixture on both sides, making sure to sprinkle all areas with your hands.

Heat the oil over medium/high heat until it sizzles when you drop a breadcrumb in. Cook the prawns in batches of four, 1 minute on each side (turning between sides).

Remove the prawns and place on some paper towel to drain. Season with a little more salt and that’s it! Your easiest party snack sorted from now on…