Someone told me last year that I should try Senegalese food. I’ve not yet found a restaurant serving the food of Senegal in London yet but imagine my delight when an article on the country’s cuisine appeared in last month’s Saveur. Flipping through the article, it all sounded good – black eyed pea fritters, peanut and chicken stew, an okra and seafood stew (that’s next)…but what I had eyes for was the Thiéboudienne, a rice and fish dish served communally. That’s what I chose to make one weekend.

Thiéboudienne

I’ll be honest with you – I knew very little about Senegal, let alone Senegalese cuisine. The official language in these western African country is French though there are other African languages that are also recognised. One is Wolof, the language of the Wolof people, and the name of this dish comes from the Wolof for rice (ceen) and fish (jën) and the Wolof name for the dish is Ceebu Jën. Kinda like Thiéboudienne if you mumble it and put a French accent on it. The country’s location on the coast means that seafood is a big part of their diet and this fish and rice dish is actually the national dish.

Apart from the fish and rice, there’s a whole selection of vegetables cooked in the same pot too. My thiéboudienne was missing the dried smoked fish that gives it a bit of funk; I just used some Asian fish sauce which I’ve read is used as a shortcut anyway in Senegal. The giant platter of spiced rice, boiled fish and vegetables was delicious and comforting. Despite the inclusion of quite a bit of tomato paste, it isn’t too tomatoey and was someone tangy from the tamarind. Thumbs up to my first Senegalese experience at home!

Fish

Thiéboudienne
serves 2 (with leftovers) – 4.

a thick fillet of meaty white fish per person – I used red snapper

for every two fillets
1 clove garlic
small handful flat leaf parsley
1/4 small onion
2 spring onions
salt
freshly ground pepper

3 tbsps sunflower oil
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
100g tomato paste
650 ml vegetable stock (I used bouillon powder)

3 small carrots, cut in large chunks
1/2 medium aubergine, cut in large chunks
10 okra
1 medium potato, cut in large chunks
1/2 small Savoy cabbage, cut in large wedges

1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp tamarind paste

1.5 cups basmati rice, washed

First prepare the filling for the fish. Chop the ingredients for the filling together very finely (I used my trusty mini chopper). Slash the fillets deeply on one side and stuff these cuts with the filling as best you can. Set aside.

Preheat your oven to about 120C.

Heat a large pot or casserole over medium heat and when hot, add the oil (palm oil is traditional but I used sunflower instead) and fry the fish fillets on both sides until almost cooked. Take them out and set aside.

In the same oil, fry the chopped onion and green pepper. When the vegetables are soft, add the tomato paste and fry, stirring constantly, until it has darkened – this will take a few minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat so that the mixture is simmering and gently lower in the fillets. When they are fully cooked, fish them out carefully with a slotted spoon and place in an ovenproof dish. Cover loosely with aluminium foil and place in the oven to keep warm.

Add the vegetables and cook slowly until they are tender – anywhere from 20 minutes to 40 minutes. Stir occasionally and fish out the vegetables when they’re cooked, placing them in the same ovenproof dish as the fish (and keeping them all in the oven to keep warm).

When all the vegetables have been cooked and have been removed, add the fish sauce and tamarind paste and stir to combine. Simmer for another 5 minutes. Add some water if it has reduced too much – you want about 500-600ml of liquid remaining. Add the rice, stir well and slap a lid on the pot.

Leave to simmer for about 15-20 minutes. After this time, your rice should be cooked and you probably have the makings of xooñ (the crispy bits at the bottom of the pot).

Fluff the rice with a fork and pile it all onto a large platter. Scrape any xooñ from the bottom of the pot and scatter it over the rice. Arrange the vegetables and fish on top and serve.

Did you know that this week is Spam Appreciation Week? I have no idea how these food weeks are allocated but this was one I could get behind. My love of Spam is well documented and I know I’m not the only one! The very kind people at Spam UK got in touch with me through Twitter earlier this week and sent me a few cans as well as an apron and spatula and I’m starting to put those tins into good use.

Kimchi and Spam Bokkeumbap

As I also had a big tub of kimchi gifted to me by Sabrina (thank you!), I decided to combine the two to make a bokkeumbap, a Korean fried rice. There was a very good Korean restaurant down the road from where I live but they closed for a new start (so said the sign on the door) and they used to serve the most delicious fried rice, all oily and surprisingly tasty despite the few ingredients in it. It was this I had in mind, as well as a kimchi fried rice we had in Pacific Plaza, when I cooked this. While that version of kimchi bokkeumbap had fatty belly pork in it, I chose to use Spam; the tinned luncheon meat is very popular in Korea and its meaty saltiness pairs well with that spicy cuisine. And with kimchi – yum!

Kimchi and Spam Bokkeumbap

This really hit the spot a few nights ago – it’s fast (so long as you have the ingredients in the fridge, including cold cooked rice) and gorgeous and overall, is some serious comfort food. It’s best with older, stronger kimchi but the you could fry younger kimchi for longer to get more flavour. Do you like it spicier? – Add some gochujang or Korean chilli powder. If you don’t like fried eggs with liquid yolks (really?), you could cook the eggs before hand into scrambly bits to stir into the bokkeumbap near the end. Tweak it all you like as it’s quite adaptable; all fried rice is.

Kimchi and Spam Bokkeumbap

Before I share the recipe for kimchi and spam bokkeumbap, I just wanted to share another fried rice variation I learned about recently from Austin Bush’s blog. Khao phat Amerikan is a Thai American fried rice and I wonder if it is available outside Thailand. It’s fried rice with ketchup and raisins (?!) and is served with fried hot dogs, fried chicken and ham on the side. Quite often there are also fried croutons and a fried egg involved. From what I gather, some innovative cook took the elements of an American breakfast (not unlike a British fry up) and turned them into something a little more Thai. I can imagine fried Spam on the side of this too but strangely, I’m not that keen on recreating this at home. Serve me a kimchi and spam bokkeumbap anytime!

Kimchi and Spam Bokkeumbap
serves 2 regular eaters or 3 on a diet. Hmm.

3 tbsps sunflower oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 small carrot, finely diced
200g of your favourite Spam, diced
1 cup chopped kimchi plus whatever kimchi juices you can salvage
cold, cooked rice for two (use Korean or Japanese rice…the slightly sticky short grain kind), about 700mL in volume
1 spring onion, finely sliced
1 tsp sesame oil
salt to taste
toasted sesame seeds
2 eggs
gim – Korean toasted seaweed (optional)

Prepare all your ingredients. Chop, dice, slice.

Heat a wok or large pot over medium heat and add the oil. Throw in the onion and carrot and saute under tender – about 5-10 minutes. Add the Spam and continue frying for another 2 minutes. Add the kimchi and continue frying. If you’re kimchi is quite fresh, fry for longer to deepen the flavours. If you’d like it a bit spicier, you can add a bit of gochujang at this stage. Pour in the kimchi juices. Break the rice up with your hands (get them wet to prevent it sticking too much) and then add it to the pan. Stir continuously, gently breaking up any lumps of rice. If needed, add a bit more oil… fried rice really does require more oil than you think! When it’s thoroughly combined and all hot, drizzle over the sesame oil, throw in the sliced spring onion and add salt to taste and continue frying and tossing for a couple more minutes to combine thoroughly. Take your fried rice, the bokkeumbap, off the heat.

Heat a frying pan, add a little oil and fry your eggs as you like them. Plate your bokkeumbap, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and top with an egg per serving and some gim. Serve.

This dish really hit the spot last week. It’s getting cold, people, and I want warm food to fill my belly every night. Rice is something I do crave from time to time and nothing says weekday dinner like a one pot dish on top of white rice. Well, to me at least. That and pasta.

Fish Fillets with Scrambled Egg on Rice

Anyway, you might recognise this dish as being a direct copy of what my brother ate at Taste of China in Leicester. Yup, I recreated the fish fillets with scrambled egg at home and it turns out it’s quite easy. The dish comes together as you’re cooking the rice and voila, dinner in 30 minutes with not much thinking involved. I find it odd that Chinese restaurants call it scrambled egg when I think of it more as an eggy sauce. I used two eggs here but you could definitely get away with one. Peas were added to make it a proper meal in one with vegetables. If you don’t want to use fish, you could use another meat or some leftovers or a mixture of other vegetables too; it’s quite a versatile sauce. Of course, it’s quite a delicately flavoured dish and if you need some pep, eat it with lots of chili oil!

(I’ve just discovered there’s a lot of similarity between this dish and another called mui fan, a seafood/meat/vegetables mixture in an eggy sauce on rice. Just add anything you like in there; it’s a great catch-all dish. If you are going this route, try sauteing some garlic first before adding the stock. Mmmmm….)

Fish Fillets with Scrambled Egg on Rice
serves 2.

2 fillets of a white fish like cod (I think I used coley)
600mL chicken stock (or vegetable, fresh or from a cube)
1 tbsp soy sauce
a handful or two of frozen petit pois
2 spring onions, chopped
1-2 eggs
salt and white pepper to taste
cornstarch to thicken
sesame oil
hot, cooked white rice for two

Pour the stock and soy sauce into a large saute pan and bring it to a boil. Add the petit pois and bring the stock back up to a boil. Reduce the heat and let the peas simmer until almost fully cooked. Meanwhile, cut the fish fillets into pieces and slip them into the pan when the peas are ready.

Beat the eggs well and when the fish has just cooked through, pour them into the saute pan, stirring all the while so that you end up with a kind of egg drop soup rather than chunks of cooked egg. You should have threads of egg throughout the broth and if you used 2 eggs, the broth will have thickened somewhat. Season with salt and white pepper and finally, use enough of a cornstarch slurry to thicken to your liking. Scatter the chopped spring onions on top and let the heat wilt them a little.

Drizzle with a few drops of sesame oil and pour on top of white rice. Serve immediately.

We couldn’t leave Singapore without having one of its national dishes: Hainanese chicken rice. If you’ve not had this before, you’d be forgiven if you take one look at it and wonder what the big deal about boiled chicken and rice is. Ah, but looks are deceiving. The chicken is poached with plenty of aromatics and the rice is cooked with the resulting stock, rendering it wonderfully fragrant. In Singapore, you get the rice, the chicken, some of the stock served as soup and a chilli sauce and dark soy sauce on the side. It’s absolutely delicious but I never expected to have it twice while I was there!

One night, we headed to Boon Tong Kee, a popular chain of chicken rice restaurants, and though it’s a chain, the chicken rice is rated highly there. As it’s a proper restaurant, they also have a full menu of other dishes as well, lending a bit of variety to the meal. Our very friendly waiter suggested that we try both their chicken versions and so we went with half a Hainanese poached chicken …

Hainanese Poached Chicken

… and half a crispy deep fried chicken. This was served with a wasabi dip and very fine salt, both not really necessary. We already had individual sauce dishes of the traditional red chilli, garlic and ginger sauce for the Hainanese chicken. Both chickens were excellent, with the tender poached chicken just edging out the fried one for first place in my books.

Roast Chicken

Individual bowls of chicken rice (that is, the rice cooked in the chicken stock) were doled out and we started tucking in. I loved their rice – according to the Makansutra guide, each grain is lovingly coated in their secret recipe sauce before cooking.

Chicken Rice

My colleague chose this stewed pork belly with preserved vegetable, and in doing so, he went up greatly in esteem in the eyes of our waiter. It was everything we expected: a luxuriously fatty bit of pork belly stewed with dark soy with salty preserved mustard greens. It was excellent and a good way of keeping the meal from being too healthy.

Stewed Pork Belly with Preserved Vegetable

Again we ordered bean sprouts with salted fish, a dish common in Singapore and Malaysia but not so common here. This version was excellent but the attention to detail is what impressed me: they’ve picked off the root part of the bean sprouts! This is quite common practice at home over there or at the very least, it was common practice in my home! My mother would buy a huge bag of bean sprouts and then give them to me to pick off the roots. It’s an activity best done in front of the telly.

Bean Sprouts with Salted Fish

Another colleague’s order of a stuffed aubergine dish was unavailable (they’d run out) and was replaced with a spicy aubergine hotpot. Despite it being listed under the vegetable section of the menu, there was minced pork within and even better, large chunks of crispy fried pork fat! Now that’s a good claypot dish!

Spicy Aubergine Hotpot

With a drink or two each (I had a homemade barley water!), the meal came to about $100 – so $25 per head. It’s very good for a restaurant meal and one dines in air conditioned comfort here too which is always a plus in Singapore! I believe you can order an individual plate of chicken rice but I don’t know how much this will cost.

Boon Tong Kee
401 Balestier Road (there are other restaurants but this one is supposed to be the best)
Singapore 329803

In contrast, Tian Tian Chicken Rice is located in the Maxwell Food Centre, an outdoor hawker centre, and this hawker centre just so happens to be one we went to on our last trip here – it’s smack dab in the middle of Chinatown so is perfect for tourists without being too touristy itself. We found ourselves there for lunch again and almost immediately, Mirna joined the humongous queue that led towards the chicken rice stand. You can’t miss it.

Hainanese Chicken Rice

The chicken was served off the bone and the meal came with a bowl of chicken stock. The meat is wonderfully flavourful as is the accompanying chilli-garlic-ginger sauce (I like the latter better here). Sadly, the rice was a bit of a let down compared to the one we had at Boon Tong Kee. It was certainly tasty but it was the texture I took issue with; it seemed a little stodgy. There have certainly been reports that they haven’t been very consistent with the quality of their rice as of late.

We also chose a few sides (well, I mostly did as I was feeling greedy) since we were faced with so much variety at this hawker centre. From Tian Tian Chicken Rice as well, Mirna added an order of bok choy with oyster sauce.

Bok Choy

From the China Street Fritters stall, I got some ngoh hiang – fried goodies served with a gooey sweet brown sauce and a chilli sauce. I just bought two pieces of the classic five spiced pork rolled in bean curd skin. Crispy outsides and tender, flavourful insides.

Ngoh Hiang

A stand for Hainanese curry caught my eye on my first runaround and the nice man running it sold me a fried pork chop smothered in the curry sauce. This was my first time tasting Hainanese curry, which is odd seeing that I developed a minor obsession with it after seeing photos online. Very happily, it lived up to expectations – it’s a thickened, very slightly sweet and quite spicy and I loved it. I’m still looking for a reliable recipe for it!

Hainanese Curry

When I rejoined the queue for the chicken rice with Mirna, I overheard the women behind me talk about getting some rojak with their meal. Rojak! I hadn’t had that in years! They pointed me to the stand and I bought a small plateful of the salad of cucumber, jicama, pineapple and fried Chinese doughnuts tossed in a sticky, spicy, black prawn paste dressing and covered with chopped peanuts. It may not look like much but I absolutely adore it – it’s one of those flavours of home for me.

Rojak

All this food came to about $15 total, I think, and I was absolutely stuffed at the end. If it’s just the chicken rice you want, a large plate will set you back only $3.30.

Tian Tian Chicken Rice
Stall 10
Maxwell Food Centre
Singapore

I first came across khao mok gai on one of my Flickr contact’s photostream and after a bit of investigation, I found some a very informative post on the dish by Austin Bush. The name translates to “buried chicken rice” and is a Thai version of a biryani and it’s notoriously difficult to replicate at home. Of course, not having tried the original on the streets of Thailand, I was happy to give it a go! From the ingredients, you can see that it’s a Thai-Muslim dish made with a number of spices not typically associated with Thai food. Some recipes use coconut milk while others use regular milk and butter and I went with the latter, as suggested by the recipe I adapted.

Khao Mok Gai

Now, I love my rice and I love me some Indian biryani. I found this version to be more subtly spiced than what I was used to but what really made the dish was the accompanying sauce. Spicy and sweet and fresh and green, it went really well with the rice and chicken and I found myself dousing it on the cucumber slices too. So if you do make this recipe, don’t leave out that sauce! And the fried onion (really it should be shallots but I had none to hand) slices – you also need this.

Khao Mok Gai

The recipe uses a rice cooker to cook all the ingredients together. Of course, if you don’t have a rice cooker, you could easily make this on the stove. Bring the water to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until done.

Khao Mok Gai
Adapted from this recipe.
Serves 4.

4 whole chicken legs, separated into thighs and drumsticks
2 cups (500mL) basmati rice, washed/rinsed
water (use the ratio that your rice cooker calls for)
1 small onion, quartered lengthwise and then sliced across thinly (or a few shallots)
1 tbsp butter
sunflower oil
1/4 cup single cream
3 cloves garlic, minced
thumb sized piece of ginger, minced
2 bay leaves
2 green cardamom pods, lightly smashed

For the Spice Mix
2 tsp curry powder (I used a Malaysian meat curry powder)
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar

For the Sauce
2 green onions (mine was humongous so I used 1)
4 sprigs fresh coriander
1/4 cup ginger
1 long green chili
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp water
1/4 cup plain vinegar

I found it easiest to marinate the chicken in a large ziploc bag (due to the size of my fridge) but you could also do it in a bowl. Trim the chicken pieces of any extraneous fat, poke the thighs here and there and place them all into the bag. Mix together all the spice mix spices and place half of the mixture into the bag along with the chicken. Set aside the other half. Add the single cream into the bag and zip it up. Toss the bag around, massaging the chicken with the cream and spices, until coated evenly. Place in the fridge for at least an hour (up to overnight).

To make the sauce, roughly chop the green onions, coriander, ginger (peeled), and chili (destem) and place all into a blender or mini chopper. Process until finely minced. In a small pot, heat the sugar, salt and water over medium heat, stirring until the sugar and salt and dissolved. Take off the heat and stir in the vinegar (keep your face out of the way!). Keep stirring until any sugar that’s hardened has dissolved again. Add the green onions, coriander, ginger and chili and stir well. This will keep well in a jar in the fridge for at least a couple days.

Heat a couple tablespoons of sunflower oil in a saute pan over medium high heat. Add half the sliced onion and fry until brown. Drain the fried onion well on some kitchen paper. They’ll crisp as they cool. Set aside.

Return the saute pan to the stove and reduce the heat to medium. If there’s any oil left in the pan, leave it or else add another tablespoon of sunflower oil. Add the butter too. Toss in the rest of the onion and cook until it’s translucent. The other half of the spice mixture is added to the pan now along with the bay leaves and green cardamom pods; fry for about a minute. Add the washed rice and continue frying for another few minutes. Transfer all the now seasoned rice to your rice cooker pot.

Rice in the Rice Cooker

Place the saute pan back on the stove and increase the heat to medium-high. Add a tablespoon of oil and allow it to heat. Add a layer of the marinated chicken pieces and allow to brown all over. When the pieces are browned, place them in the rice cooker with the rice and continue frying the remaining chicken pieces. As before, transfer all the browned chicken pieces to the rice cooker.

Frying the Chicken

Add enough water to the rice cooker for the amount of rice inside and set it cooking. When it’s done, both the rice and chicken will be cooked through.

Serve with the sauce alongside.