Ngoh Hiang (五香 / Lor Bak): Ngoh Hiang is a favourite dish especially among the Hokkiens, Teochews and Peranakans, so its no wonder that each dialect group has a slightly different way of preparing this dish. Penang has its own version too, and they call it ‘Lor Bak’.
There are as many versions of Ngoh Hiang as there are dialect groups in Singapore. Given that it is a favourite dish especially among the Hokkiens, Teochews and the Peranakans, its no wonder that each dialect group has a slightly different way of preparing this dish.
I recently found out that Penang has its own version too, and they call it “Lor Bak”. A friend told us that there was a particular famous stall selling “Lor Bak” which we had to try. So we went round hunting for a stall selling braised pork in dark soya sauce. Little did we know that it was actually Penang-style Ngoh Hiang with a thick strip of meat wrapped in bean curd skin instead using minced meat and deep fried!
Making Ngoh Hiang in the Early Days (Pre- Electrical Appliances!)
My eldest cousin (Da Biao Jie) who is now in her eighties makes what I think is the best Ngoh Hiang in the world. When I was growing it, we only got to eat her Ngoh Hiang when there was a home wedding or birthday parties. So whenever there was a special celebration in the family, all the cousins would be in great anticipation of the special home cooked food, and especially the long awaited Ngoh Hiang that my Da Biao Jie would prepare for the celebration.
In those days, we do not have the luxury of any electrical appliances. My Da Biao Jie would painstaking cut literally kilos and kilos of meat into very fine strips. Cutting the meat alone would take her hours to prepare – it is not easy to cut those slabs of meat because the cut of meat used, 五花肉 (Wu Hua Rou), is more fatty, so the meat is slippery to handle and tends to wobble.
As I am writing this recipe, I suddenly have a strong craving for some home-made Ngoh Hiang now. I think it is time for me to pay my Da Biao Jie a visit, and hopefully she will invite me to stay for dinner!
Ngoh Hiang Recipe
Ngoh Hiang is very common nowadays but in the past we really looked forward to eating it during special occasions like weddings or birthday parties.
INGREDIENTS (serves 7-8)
- Minced pork (wu hua rou), 1 kg
- Prawns, 500-600 gm
- Shallots, 10-12.
- Water Chestnuts, 20
- Cream crackers (unsalted, optional), 10)
- 5 Spice Powder, 2 1/2 tsp
- Fine Salt,1 1/2 tsp
- Light Soya Sauce, 2 tsp
- Cornflour, 1 TBsp
- Egg, 2; 1 1/2 (for the stuffing), the remaining for use as sealant for the bean curd sheet
- Sesame Oil, 1 TBsp
- Cooking Oil, 1 Tbsp
- Pepper, A Dash
- Bean Curd Sheet, 1
- Spring Onion, 2-3 stalks
- Oil for deep frying, 2 bowls
PREPARATION (45 mins)
- Mince the meat with a chopper but make sure not to over mince otherwise it will become too powdery.
- Deshell and devein the prawns and cut each prawn into 2 or 3 pieces. See my video demonstration on how to clean and devein prawns.
- Wash the chestnut with a brush to remove the mud, and remove the skin with a peeler and cut into small cubes.
- Peel the carrot and cut into small cubes.
- Wash the spring onions and cut into small pieces.
- Put the cream crackers into a plastic bag and coarsely crush it.
- Peel the shallots and cut into slices.
- Crack the egg and lightly beat it, setting aside half a beaten egg as sealant.
- Use a clean, damp cloth to gently wipe the bean curd skin on both sides to get rid of the salt coating.
- Cut the bean sheet into 16 equal squares. Since the bean sheets are usually square, the easiest way is to fold the bean sheets into half, and then half again to get 4 equal sized strips. Then cut along the fold. Next, fold each strip into half and then half again, and then cut along the fold. That should give you about 16 square pieces of equal size.
- In a large mixing bowl, add all the ingredients and mix until well incorporated.
- Add in all the seasonings and mix well until it becomes sticky.
- Use a spoon and scoop about 2-3 TBsp of the meat mixture on the square bean curd skin leaving about 1 cm perimeter along the skin.
- Dip a clean index into the beaten egg sealant, and glaze the perimeter of the beancurd skin. Then roll it up. Make sure both ends and the edge of the skin are properly and firmly sealed. Or you can use the back of the spoon which has the starch mixture from the filling to glaze the perimeters of the roll to seal it, which is what I usually do.
- Place the rolls on an oiled tray making sure there is a gap between each roll otherwise they will stick to each other after steaming.
COOKING METHOD (35 mins)
- Put water in the wok and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Place the tray onto the rack to steam for about 15 mins.
- Let it cool completely before removing the rolls from the tray otherwise the rolls break.
- In a wok, heat the oil over medium fire. You need to control the temperature otherwise the roll (especially the skin) will brown too quickly and get burnt.
- Slowly put one roll in first to test the temperature and fry until golden brown. Then continue with the rest of the rolls.
- Slice the roll diagonally into bite size. Best served hot with sweet sauce and chilli sauce .
- The meat must not be too lean. It must have some fat layers in between otherwise it will be too dry and dehydrated after cooking. For that reason, Wu Hua Rou is a good cut of meat to use.
- Be careful not to overmince the meat,overminced otherwise the roll will turn out mushy and there won’t be much substance in the roll.
- Do not crush or smash the water chestnut. Just cut it into small cube to retain its juices and crunchiness.
- Similarly the prawns must not be cut too small. You can cut into 2 or 3 pieces for medium size prawns. It is best to buy ‘Swa Loh’ ( Swa Low Hei in Teochew) from the market. These prawns are ugly looking with a very rough and sandy shell but they are very sweet and crunchy. Their heads once exposed to the air will turn black in color – its normal, not spoilt! This is probably the ugly prawn which does not look fresh that people will buy. But actually most restuarants use Swa Loh prawns to make Dim Sum.
- Remember to wipe the bean curd sheet with a damp cloth otherwise it will be extremely salty. Bean curd skin is usually coated with salt to extend its shelf life.
- You need to leave about 1 cm perimeter along the edges of the sheet when spreading the fillings so that you can seal it with either the egg wash or the starch mixture from the filling.
- As you are folding the skin over the fillings, make sure you use your finger to press the fillings firmly and tightly against the bean curd sheet, so that the air pockets that are trapped into between the filling and the sheet will be pushed out. At the same time, make sure you also press on both ends of the sheet with your index fingers to push out the air as well. Any trapped air bubbles inside the roll will expand during steaming, bursting the skin, and out will come all the fillings. That will be disastrous!
- On the other hand, you also cannot roll it so tightly that the filling becomes too compacted and hard. Don’t worry about this. You need to practise a few times before you can perfect the Ngoh Hiang rolling skill. I have failed many times when I was doing it for the 1st few attempts. It depends on the pressure you applies. The more you practise , the better your ‘feel’ will be.
- Do not wrap the filling with the skin more than 2 times, otherwise you will be eating a lot of the skin and it may be too salty. Once you master the skill, you will be able to roll it with one single layer of skin.
- You can also make a shorter roll by cutting the beancurd sheet to the right width first maybe 10-12cm wide and leave the length uncut. Place the filling on the skin nearer to you, lift up the skin and roll it once over and cut off form the length. Dip your index fingers in the egg and and glaze it on the edge and both ends and seal it ensuring there is no leakage. This method does not require cutting after frying. Each one will have a complete roll having both ends crisps and crunchy.
- The cream crackers added to it to make the ngoh hiang more crunchy and to add bulk to the filling.
- Any extra filling can be deep fried as meat patties by coating it with cornflour before deep frying it.
- The steamed Ngor Hiang can be freezed for later use. Storing it required some skills. Place the roll into a tupperware spaced apart without the rolls touch each other, especially the end parts. Place a clean plastic sheet over the first layer before stacking the next layer on top of it. In this way, you can take out the exact numbers of roll you want to cook for the day without having to pull them apart thus breaking them.
- Do not remove the steaming hot rolls from the tray immediately. It will break. Wait till it’s cooled completely.
- Alternatively, you can also deep fry the rolls without steaming. But you need to control the temperature of the oil even more carefully. If the oil is too hot, the skin will get burnt but the filling will still not be cooked through. If the oil is not hot enough when you put the roll in, it will absorb too much oil making it very greasy.
- When the Ngor Hiang is turning slightly golden, turn the heat higher for the first few seconds to purge out the excess oil from it.
- After frying, place the ngor hiang on the kitchen tower to absorb the excess oil.
- This is the brand of sweet sauce we use. There are many kinds of sweet sauce in the market, so it’s easy to get confused. For example, there is the thick slightly sweet very dark soya sauce used for chicken rice. And there is another kind of sweet sauce (Sweet Flour Sauce, Buddha brand) used for popiah and hei zho, which is lighter brown, less viscous and sweeter than the sauce for Ngoh Hiang. For Ngoh Hiang, just look out for this Tai Hua brand of sweet sauce.