Celebrating Food! Celebrating Life!

On the Trail of the Phoenix – Ikan Gerang Asam

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Ikan Gerang Asam is one of my favorite Peranakan dishes. It is also amongst the first nyonya dishes that I’d learnt to cook and experimented with. The intermingling of tang and heat often calls for additional servings of rice just to finish up any remnants of kuah (gravy) and assortment of stewed vegetables that went with it, even when the fish was long gone. Often times, more kuah than what the dish required would be prepared, so as to add more fish or other seafood, as well as vegetables and fruit for second helpings the next day. As with most stew or curry-based dishes, the flavours develop over time making it more sedap nia!!!
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600g of fish or seafood
2 tbsp of tamarind (assam) pulp added to 500ml of water
3 tbsp of cooking oil
5-6 lady’s finger aka okra, stalk removed and cut into two
2-3 medium sized eggplant/brinjal, stalk removed, cut lengthwise and then into broad slices
1/2 pineapple, cut into broad slices
2 medium tomatoes, halved and then quartered
2 kaffir lime leaves (optional)
5-6 buah berlimbing, cut into finger slice pieces (optional)
pinch of salt, pepper and sugar to taste
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Staple ingredients for making rempah, i.e. bawang merah, buah keras and serai

Rempah Ingredients

15 dried chilies, soaked in water and drained
5 fresh red chillies, seeds removed
18-20 bawang merah (shallots), peeled
2 bawang putih (garlic), peeled
5 buah keras (candlenuts)
1/2 thumb length of kunyit (turmeric), peeled and sliced finely
thumb length piece of lengkuas (galangal), peeled and sliced finely
2 stalks serai lemongrass, white portion only, sliced finely
1 tsp toasted belachan (dried shrimp paste) and then crushed and pound into powder

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Staple ingredients in gerang asam dishes – egg plant, lady’s finger and tomato.
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Heart and soul of peranakan cooking – asam pulp and belachan
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1) Prepare rempah with ingredients until it forms a fine paste, either by pounding using a batu lesung or simply blending everything until well amalgamated.
2) Prepare assam juice by meshing asam pulp in water with fingertips.
3) Heat wok until it begins to smoke, add oil followed by rempah and slow fry in low flame until fragrant, with the oil beginning to separate from the cooked rempah.
4) Add assam juice to rempah and fry slowly, bringing mixture to a boil . Cover and simmer for about 5 min
5) Add sugar, pepper and salt to taste, adjusting proportion to own’s liking.
6) Add main ingredients and continue to slow fry followed by cover and simmer for about 5 min until ingredients are fully cooked.
7) Bring to a quick boil again, check for taste and adjust once more with sugar or salt if necessary.
8) Serve with rice.

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Telur kachang panjang or better known in my family as chai dau neng is another dish which my mother frequently prepared for dinner, and goes very well with both rice and porridge. It is a family dish which she had as a child but oddly, got “lost in transition” along the way as she and her siblings grew older and my grandmother stopped cooking for no apparent reason. The first time I had it was over porridge lunch in one of the coffeeshops at Chinatown about 15-18 years back with my family, when my mother “rediscovered” this dish and related to us its story as her childhood dinner dish that just vanished over time. Since then, this simple dish made very frequent appearances over our dinner table and I’d learnt to cook it as well.

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4-5 stalks of long beans, coarsely chopped
3 eggs
1 clove of garlic, crushed and finely chopped
pinch of salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp of oil
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1) Heat wok until it begins to smoke. Add oil, followed by chopped garlic and stir-fry over low flame until fragrant.
2) Add chopped long beans and pinch of salt and pepper. Stir-fry until aromatic over medium flame.
3) Beat eggs in a bowl and pour over long beans. Swirl the wok gently ensuring that egg covers all long beans.
4) Cover the wok and reduce to low flame. Cook until the egg just begins to set.
5) Remove cover and add a small amount of oil around the perimeter of the egg.
6) Using the spatula, break the egg into 4-6 pieces, flipping each piece along the way.
7) Bring to medium-high flame to allow the bottom side to crisp.
8) Remove from heat and drizzle with a bit of dark soya sauce before serving.

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Chai dau neng is indeed a very simple dish to prepare but difficult to perfect. The key to this dish to ensure that the long beans maintain their crunch but yet removed of the “raw taste” which undercooked greens would have. Overcooking the beans would void the texture of the dish. For that extra crunch, french beans may also be used.

The fish of choice for me is either ikan batang or ikan tenggiri, two species under the common name “Spanish mackerel”, one spotted and one striped but both equally tasty! Do not overcook the fish slices as the meat would become too flaky and disintegrate into the gravy. But on the whole, they are rather “hardy” and “stew-tolerant” varieties. Stingray aka ikan pari can also be used if preferred and so can udang or sotong. If the latter two invertebrates are used, they must be added AFTER the vegetables have stewed for sometime as shrimp or squid cook fairly quickly. In the case of fish, the fish slices are added BEFORE the vegetables. Overcooked shrimp and sotong causes them to lose their succulent textures. The former becomes “powdery” while the latter aliken to chewing rubber if overcooked.

Vegetables also need to be “filed” into a queue, with brinjal going into the asam concoction first, followed by lady’s finger as the latter takes a much shorter time to cook and would lose the much sought after crunch and become soggy when cooked for too long. If the okra slices begin to disintegrate into shreds with the seeds popping out, you know you had them swimming in the kuah for too long. For me, tomatoes go in JUST BEFORE the flame is turned off while pineapple slices JUST AFTER. This is strictly a matter of personal preference as I like my tomatoes to be on the slight soft side while the pineapple retain much of their fruity qualities. Feel free to experiment and finetune to suit your tastebuds and tongue. πŸ™‚


46 responses

  1. Alan!!!
    Awesome! I am salivating as I look at the photos ;P

    February 3, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      Thanks Cathy!!! Not difficult to cook! Try it!

      February 3, 2012 at 3:51 pm

  2. Welcome back! Miss ya! Lovely dish and very tempting. I am sure this taste divine but I will go for all the vegetables instead of the fish:D

    February 3, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      haha thanks veronica! took a teeny weeny hiatus πŸ™‚

      hope all is good and well on your side. gong hei fatt choy!!!

      February 3, 2012 at 7:09 pm

  3. glad to see you posting again!

    you posted two of my favorite home-cooked dishes – i call them chai dou jian dan and asam fish hehe. i can only cook the former because i haven’t learnt how to make the latter from my mom but from what i see, your recipe (and ingredients) look very similar to what i usually have πŸ™‚ i also do the french bean substitution sometimes, although I tend to cook it such that it doesn’t have that crunchiness of french beans :X

    February 3, 2012 at 10:26 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      hi Janine, thanks for the welcome back. Took a break from blogging to venture into other endeavours but i’m glad i’m back πŸ™‚

      I like to crunch from the beans actually. Sometimes I would julienne them very very finely together with carrots, yellow onions as well as tang hoon and some shrimp or crab meat to make an impromptu egg foo yong πŸ™‚ works quite well too!

      February 4, 2012 at 10:45 pm

  4. It’s great that you included tips on which seafood and vegetables to go in first to achieve the best stew. I just had asam pedas ikan last night (the Jawa version) and concur that this is one of the best Asian method to cook fish.

    Try it with ikan parang, the rich collagen with make your kuah extra lemak! Telur kacang panjang is also one of my favorites.

    February 4, 2012 at 9:43 am

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      Yes indeed, Pickyin! I love anything with asam and chilli and this combi goes so well with seafood. Thanks for the tip with ikan parang. will try it the next time i cook asam!

      February 4, 2012 at 10:56 pm

  5. nel

    You can start your own Nonya cookbook already. The pictures are perfect!
    Next time you cook, please invite me hor…

    February 4, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      Hi Eelin! Still very very very far from it la. Compiling whatever I’d learnt and eaten along the way. πŸ™‚

      February 4, 2012 at 10:58 pm

  6. Hi Alan, hop over to my blog, I have an award for you.

    February 6, 2012 at 9:48 am

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      thanks edith!

      February 8, 2012 at 1:38 pm

  7. Oh this ikan gerang asam looks delish!
    You’re Peranakan?

    February 7, 2012 at 2:07 am

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      hi Wendy, I’m not Peranakan πŸ™‚

      February 8, 2012 at 1:40 pm

  8. I have not taken my lunch, look at these, i feel so hungry now! this is too tempting! more rice please..

    February 7, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      Thanks Sonia! Its usually more rice for me too!

      February 8, 2012 at 1:41 pm

  9. sedap dan lazat!

    February 14, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      Terima Kasih!

      February 15, 2012 at 1:33 am

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  18. Alan, my bad, I thought you didn’t add belimbing in your recipe. :)) I remembered eating brinjal and tomato inside this dish too and I love it! very excited that I’ll be cooking it later….now waiting for my daughter to finish class so I can go home to cook it! :)) thanks again.

    August 24, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      start preparing the rempah!!! LOL

      August 24, 2012 at 5:18 pm

  19. Already! I blend everything and prepared the tamarind water. Now just have to cook! Ai ya my girl lesson still has another 15 mins to go….*sian*

    August 24, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      hope you cut down on the chilli, if not she cannot tahan the heat like the sambal udang belimbing

      August 24, 2012 at 5:24 pm

      • Ehhh…..too late…rempah already prepared. Nevermind, I eat her share, lol! No worries, I already cooked something else for them…I’m a nice mummy. πŸ˜‰

        August 24, 2012 at 5:28 pm

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  26. Alan as i was looking thru your recipes i saw this ,i am going to cook this i can’t wait to try it out . Oh how i miss eating eggs with long beans . With Asam fish and the eggs like these i can forget about being on diet .

    June 17, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      haha Thanks for your lovely comments, Ruth. Our family loves long beans with eggs as well! Come to think of it, I haven’t cooked it for sometime already! Thanks for reminding! πŸ™‚

      June 19, 2013 at 8:13 am

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