Munchie Mania: Sausage Rolls

When I was a little girl, I was quite the snacker (who am I kidding, I’m still a snacker!). Although potato chips and Planters Cheez Curls were readily available, I went for more “local” snack items like Chickadees and Twisties, or perhaps chili-coated tapioca crisps.

As a tween, I realized I required heftier munchies to sustain me throughout the day and that’s when I turned to curry puffs, fried fishballs on a stick, and my all-time favorite, sausage rolls.

one missing

Sausage rolls may sound like a strange snack to grow up eating in Singapore but it’s no doubt a colonial legacy. In fact, when we lived in England for a couple of years, sausage rolls and Devon cream teas were both staples in my diet, much to the detriment of my waistline. Sausage rolls used to be sold at just about every school canteen and roadside snack bar. Sadly, on a recent trip to Singapore I couldn’t spot them anywhere.

A few years ago, I picked up the “Singapore Heritage Food” cookbook and was excited to find a recipe for sausage rolls in there. However, the resulting product was not up to par with my taste memory—or perhaps nostalgia just made it murky.

Thankfully, my mother came to my rescue. Mum is good like that. Since we’ve moved to the U.S., she’s managed to recreate just about every childhood favorite (I’m talking about dishes that we used to go out to eat) from mee siam to chili crab. And every dish has been just as tasty, or even tastier.

One day, after I lamented about the disappointing sausage roll recipe, she decided to experiment and came up with a winner. Unlike the many sausage roll recipes I’ve seen, she uses nutmeg (it’s an Indonesian-Dutch thing) and lots of sugar to satisfy our Javanese taste buds I assume. Plus, she cuts them into smaller two-bite pieces so one is less likely to overindulge, a sensible precaution since it’s hard to stop at one. You have been warned, they are mighty greasy!

I don’t recall what my childhood sausage rolls taste like anymore. Nor does it matter as Mum’s version makes my family and I very happy–perfect for whenever we have an attack of the munchies. Amazing how fickle those taste buds can be!

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Mum’s Sausage Rolls

close up

Pork and puff pastry—I can’t imagine a more sublime marriage. My mum uses the Pepperidge Farm brand of frozen puff pastry but for some reason puff pastry isn’t always stocked at the neighborhood grocery store. I ended up buying Dufour brand at Whole Foods and that set me back a pretty penny–$10 for 14 ounces! Granted it’s made with real butter but still … That’s definitely an incentive to make my own puff pastry next time. If you have a good recipe let me know.

Makes: 20 pieces
Time: 20 minutes, plus cooking time

2 slices white or whole wheat bread, torn into small pieces
1/3 cup (2 percent or whole) milk
1 pound ground pork or chicken
3 to 4 teaspoons sugar (my family likes it sweet so add less if you prefer)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon white or black pepper
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I use freshly grated, and feel free to substitute with a different spice, say sage)
1 (14 to 17 ounce) package puff pastry, thawed completely
Flour, for dusting
1 egg, lightly beaten, and diluted with a tablespoon or two water
Black or white sesame seeds for sprinkling, optional

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.

Soak the bread in the milk. Combine the ground pork with the sugar, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a medium bowl.

Sprinkle some flour on your work surface and unfold the puff pastry, rolling out if necessary. Cut into half to form two rectangles measuring 8 x 24-inches.

Add the soaked bread to the pork mixture and mix with your hands.

Divide the pork mixture into half and shape a mound of meat (like a mountain range) along the horizontal of each puff pastry rectangle, leaving an inch or so on either side.

meat on dough

Brush the long edges of each rectangle with the egg, then fold the sides up and pinch together to seal.

wrapping dough

Turn the rolls over so that the seams are on the bottom. Brush generously with the egg, then sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Cut crosswise into 1-1/2 inch pieces.

sprinkle sesame seeds

Arrange the rolls on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.

cut into pieces

Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for 10 more minutes, or until golden brown. (If using a different brand, adjust temperature and time according to package directions.) Remove to a cooling rack and leave to rest for a few minutes but devour while still warm!

Note: You can freeze the sausage rolls to keep them fresh for a later date. Just reheat them in an oven at 325 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes or in a toaster oven. I find this a good strategy as gobbling too many too quickly (and you will!) may be hazardous for your health.

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This post is part of the monthly Let’s Lunch Twitter blogger potluck. This  month we pay tribute to “The Marijuana Chronicles,” an anthology that  features Cheryl Tan’s short story. For more Let’s Lunch “Munchies” posts, follow #LetsLunch on Twitter or visit my fellow bloggers below:

Annabelle‘s Scallion Pancakes at Glass of Fancy

Anne Marie‘s Pepper-Stuffed Tater Tot, Fried Pickle, Cheese Whiz and Garlic Bread Burger at Sandwich Surprise

Cheryl‘s Spam Fries with Key Lime Mayo at A Tiger in the Kitchen

Emma‘s Homemade Pizza Rolls at Dreaming of Pots and Pans

Grace‘s Fry Sauce, with an Asian Twist at HapaMama

Linda‘s Sam Sifton’s Trinidadian Chinese Five Spice Chicken at Spice Box Travels

Lisa‘s No-Time-To-Wait Nachos at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Vivian‘s Spam Bacon & Kim Chi Sandwich at Vivian Pei

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Recording recipes … behind the scenes

When I first started working on my cookbook, I really didn’t know what to expect.

I was lucky enough to have a brief chat with Grace Young at the 2007 IACP conference in Chicago. The author of two family-based cookbooks, Grace gave me a behind-the-scenes overview of cooking with grandmas and aunties. Be prepared, was her number one advice.

And so I am.

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Some tools of the trade

Every time I pay a visit to someone’s kitchen, my bag is packed with the following arsenal:
-Measuring cups
-Measuring spoons
-Stopwatch
-Camera
-Notebook and pen
(I decided against a tape recorder though)

As you can imagine, it’s not easy juggling so much gear. I often feel like a character straight out of a Merry Melodies cartoon (though if I had to choose, I’d like to be the smart and feisty Road Runner … beep beep). Yes, it’s been comical–having to stop cooks at every step of the way to measure out the salt (2 teaspoons), the sesame oil (1 tablespoon), or the galangal (1-inch equals how many tablespoons minced??) And it’s not even funny anymore how many times I’ve had to fish packages out of the trash can to note down how many pounds of pork went into the soup.

Don’t forget that in between all this activity I’m taking photos (wait, hold that spatula in mid-air so I can capture your stir-fry motion!), and writing down notes (slice carrot on the diagonal not straight across), and timing (garlic is fragrant, add chicken to wok, start stopwatch now).

Everyone I’ve cooked with has been so very patient and they never fail to humor me. For this, I am very thankful.

Despite the flurry of activity that goes on when I’m out “in the field,” I feel that it’s actually the easiest and most accurate way to record recipes. And I get to taste the–always yummy–results immediately.

That being said, let’s turn to my other route for gathering recipes. Friends and strangers alike have been very generous in sending me their family recipes. Some have been easy-to-follow, requiring minimal tweaks here and there, yet others have been quite amusing. Take this list of ingredients my friend Luwei emailed me for her mom’s bakso goreng (crispy fried meatballs) recipe:

Bakso Goreng
==========

(Luwei’s comments are in parentheses)
Ingredients:
– 1kg minced pork
– 0.5kg minced prawn (you can halve the prawns and add 0.25kg fish as well, which is my mom’s friend’s recipe, but my mom sticks with prawn only)
– 2.5oz cornstarch (this is the iffy part–not sure how they figured that out since they don’t measure!)
– 8 eggs (another iffy part–seems like a lot of eggs to me, but my mom seems quite comfortable with that number)
– fish sauce
– salt
– sugar
– optional: green onion and rehydrated dried cuttlefish, diced (for crunch, but I don’t like it, and my mom doesn’t use it)

Recipes like these are priceless :).

No measurements, or iffy measurements–I don’t know which is better. But therein lies the beauty of homecooking: everything’s fluid, a dish is perfect when your taste buds say it is, and ingredients vary according to what’s available in the fridge.

And of course, it’s my job to translate and test recipes to make it easy for even the most novice of cooks to follow. All it takes is patience, patience to add the salt teaspoon by teaspoon, or water 1/4 cup at a time, tasting every step of the way; and a keen eye for observation–hmm … does the mixture look too dry or too mushy?

Et voila, here it is, the bakso goreng recipe after a makeover.

Bakso Goreng or Crispy Fried Meatballs

Bakso goreng is originally a Chinese dish and was modified by Hakka immigrants to Indonesia. Halal versions use chicken or beef instead of pork. Instead of shrimp, try substituting with fish paste. The same mixture can also be used to stuff peppers, eggplant, or tofu, which can then be either steamed or fried. This variant is called Yong Tau Foo in Singapore and Malaysia. Bakso goreng is delicious eaten with rice and a side dish of vegetables for a meal, or as party poppers (appetizers you can easily pop in your mouth 🙂).


Time: 45 minutes
Makes: about 35 meatballs

2 pounds minced pork
1 pound shrimp, peeled and minced
2 eggs
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup green onions cut into thin ‘O’s (about 2 stalks)
2 cups canola oil

In a large bowl, gently mix all ingredients together using your hands. The resulting mixture will be moist and lumps well into balls.

In a 14-inch wok or skillet, heat oil over high heat until it registers 350F on a thermometer. Fry a small piece of pork mixture and taste to make sure it’s salty enough.

Shape pork mixture into golf balls (about one-inch in diameter). Grab a handful of the mixture and squeeze it out of the hole at the top of your fist. Scoop each meatball with an oiled tablespoon and drop it carefully into the oil. Make 6 to 8 meatballs per batch; do not crowd the wok. Deep-fry meatballs until golden brown and crispy, about 4 to 5 minutes.

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Lift meatballs from oil using a slotted spoon or wire mesh strainer, and drain on paper towels. Remove any debris from oil and continue frying meatballs in batches until done.

Serve with chili sauce and/or rice. 

Lo bak by any other name is still pork braised in soy sauce

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Star anise or aniseed, adds an unmistakable flavor to this popular Chinese pork dish

One rainy Seattle morning, I had the pleasure of meeting up with not one, but two, grandmas! My friend Byron Au Yong arranged for me to meet his grandma, Ty Hee Tak, and his aunt Merla who is married to his first uncle Te See.

Merla, who lives in New Hampshire, was in town to celebrate Hee Tak’s “100th” birthday on October 1, 2007. I was told that Hee Tak was born in Anhai, Fujian province, China, in 1909. So I was more than a little confused since according to my calculations and the Gregorian calendar (i.e. the Western calendar), she was only 98 years old. Merla kindly explained. “She turned 99 by the Chinese calendar but you don’t want to celebrate 99 years (bad luck?) so you celebrate 100.” Ah, I get it … I think.

Nevertheless, it was a momentous occasion and the festivities were attended by Hee Tak’s three sons, three daughters, 22 grandkids and 17-1/2 great grandkids (one was on the way) who came from near and far.

The matriarch of the Au Yong family has lived a long and somewhat tumultuous life. Hee Tak migrated to the Visaya region in Southern Philippines when she was young (she can’t remember when) where she eventually became a Chinese teacher. Her late husband, Auyong Shu, was the principal of a Chinese school. When the Japanese occupied the Philippines during World War II, they managed to avoid persecution (the Japanese despised both the Chinese and the educated class) by escaping to the mountains. When the war was over, they decided not to teach anymore (as it still is now, teaching was a low paid and underappreciated profession) and started a business selling fabrics instead. In 1981, Hee Tak moved to the U.S. to join her children.

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Merla See 

Merla’s story starts in the Philippines. She was born in the Philippines in 1934 to Chinese parents who migrated from Fujian in the 1920s. On September 21, 1972, then President Marcos declared martial law over the entire country. With the rising tide of violence and lawlessness, thousands of Filipinos fled the country, Merla and her family among them.

Like Hee Tak who couldn’t even boil water when she got married, Merla admits she didn’t learn how to cook until later in life. “I looked at cookbooks and that’s how I learned.” Even then, she cooked very simple dishes. Thankfully her children and husband were “not too choosy,” she says. “I just cooked up a big pot. (With) four boys and a girl, just as long as there’s meat they liked it!”

Despite having lived in the Philippines for many years, both Hee Tak and Merla cooked mainly Chinese cuisine. And when asked what’s their favorite dish to cook for family, both women said “lo bak,” which is pork braised in soy sauce (also known as red cooked pork), not to be mistaken with  “lor bak go” which is radish/turnip cake. According to Merla, the words “lo” and “bak” signify water and meat coming together. [Update: A Cantonese friend recently told me that “lou” means “to braise” … makes sense, eh? This same friend also uses a combo of sweet and salty soy sauce in her family recipe.]

Merla points out that the famous Filipino dish, adobo, is a variation on this Chinese meat and soy sauce dish. And not surprisingly, Adobo is one dish Merla does make. With the addition of vinegar, a more distinct flavor comes out, she explains.

Soy sauce braised pork (a.k.a. lo bak,  le dao yu,  dao yu bak, etc.)

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Every Chinese family has their own version of (and so it seems, a different name for) this dish. Merla used to make it with “san zhen bak,” three layered pork, which we call pork belly. But over the years, health concerns came to the forefront and she now prefers to use leaner cuts of meat. Instead of salty soy sauce, my mom used to add Indonesian sweet soy sauce and hard boiled eggs to the mix. My point is, let your creative juices flow, substitute beef, chicken or other cuts of pork, as well as vegetables.  

 

Active time: 15 minutes

Makes: 6-8 servings

 

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon sugar

1-1/2 pounds pork butt, cut into 1-inch cubes

1/2″ ginger root, peeled and sliced into thin coins

3/4 cup chicken stock

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon Chinese wine or sherry

2 whole star anise (optional)

2 bay leaves (optional)

White pepper to taste

 

In a medium pot, heat oil over medium heat for about a minute (you want it hot but not smoking)and add sugar. Stir until sugar melts and brown globules form. Add pork and ginger and stir fry until no longer pink, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour or until meat is very tender. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot over rice.