Less than a day to the new Monkey Year! Here’s a perfect excuse to escape from nosy visiting aunties pressuring you to get attached/married/reproduce, to the safe sanctuary of your kitchen.
Bak Kwa is a well-loved local Chinese New Year snack originating from Fujian in South China, usually made by smoking and preserving pork pigs. The mainstream media has been abuzz since last year over World Health Organisation’s processed meat warning. So I’ve R&D-ed a non mock meat version as an even healthier alternative to the highly processed soy-based vegetarian bak kwa. Sweet crispness on the surface, moist, savoury and chewy insides. All the ingredients are usually found in supermarkets and pasars. Also, do the mixing with chopsticks if you wanna experience how our grandmothers did 🙂
½ cup neutral flavour plant oil (don’t use olive or unrefined coconut)
30g vegetarian belacan, toasted and crumbled (from vegetarian grocery shops, or try pasar dried goods stalls. Or sub with red/black miso and omit salt)
1 block of fermented red beancurd
1 tbsp ground flaxseed powder (NTUC health food section)
½ cup water
1 tbsp red rice yeast (optional, gives red hue. Found in TCM shops)
100g raw sugar
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
½ tbsp rice wine (optional)
1 tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce or ¼ tsp vegmite
2 tbsp maltose (pasar dried goods stall confirm have)
2tbsp sesame oil
½ tsp five-spice powder
½ tsp black salt (from Indian grocery shops/Mustafa, or use regular salt)
¼ tsp white pepper powder
1 tbsp maltose
1tbsp water/red water (see step 2)
1 – Steam tempeh for 5mins and let cool. In a food processor, blend with the oil to a thick paste.
2 – Bring the water and red rice yeast to a boil in a pot. The water will be reddish, strain and let cool. (Optional step to give colour) Mix 2 tbsp of water/red water with flaxseed and set aside.
3 – In a large mixing bowl, combine marinade ingredients. Place bowl over a basin of hot water to melt maltose and make mixing easier. Mix till a smooth syrupy texture.
4 – Add in tempeh paste and mix in one direction to a sticky, gooey paste. Cover bowl and leave overnight in fridge.
5 – The next day, preheat oven to 160C. Spread paste on baking paper on a large baking tray. Place cling wrap on the paste and roll a rolling pin over to flatten to about 0.4 cm thick. Sides will be thinner so use a spatula or similar tool, gently push back the sides to minimize burning while grilling.
6 – Bake in oven for ~25 mins till paste is dry to touch and able to lift slightly in one piece. Remove from oven. Increase temperature to 220C. Mix 1 tbsp maltose with 1 tbsp water to make the glaze.
7 – Let the paste cool slightly before cutting to desired shape and size. Brush one side with glaze, transfer pieces (handle gently!) to a new baking paper.
8 – Bake for 7-10mins then remove tray, flip each slice over and glaze the other side. Return to oven and grill for 5 mins or until sides are slightly charred. Watch the oven carefully here, at this point it burns easily!
9 – Remove and let cool, minimize touching when hot, it breaks easily. The slices will harden when cooled. Brush with the remaining glaze (optional, it looks shinier!) Can be kept in airtight container in fridge for up to 2 weeks.
1) Steaming tempeh is to rid the beany taste and introduce moisture. Unlike meat, tempeh has very low fat and water content so we need oil to ‘fatten’ it. Thus Step 1 is very important to achieve a moist and rich texture.
2) Flaxseed powder is vital too as the proteins are able to bind everything so your bak kwa won’t become bacon crumbles upon touching (actually, good idea)! Luckily we can get them from NTUC.
3) It’s thicker than regular bak kwa because anything rolled thinner than 0.3/0.4cm burns quite easily. Timing control at the last step is really important – remove immediately if you start to see smoke. If any part is black but tastes fine, enjoy it! If it’s black and bitter, it’s too burnt to eat.
4) As the slices tend to stick, store each slice between greased or baking paper.
5) A drop of liquid smoke will bring the flavour to another smoky dimension. Sadly I’ve either rarely seen them here or they are too expensive!
6) Experiment with flavours – chilli bak kwa sounds awesome 🙂
Wishing all a prosperous, healthy and happy year ahead!