ROASTING poultry and meats to a nice golden colour seems to be the biggest challenge, even for top chefs. Many suggest 25 minutes for chicken and 45 minutes for duck. But what temperature should the oven be, so that the skin is crispy and the meat tender and succulent? As for pork, I don't have a clue at all. Any suggestions?
Wong Yew Kuan
Chicken is easy: roast it on a rack in a roasting tin at 190 deg C, starting off breast-side down and turning it breast-up after 25 minutes. There's no need to truss or tie the bird. When the juices run clear after you pierce the thigh, it's done.
The same goes for duck, but set the oven at 200 deg C and pour a little water into the roasting tin. Some chefs like to poach a duck before roasting it briefly just to brown the skin. This method helps to melt more fat and ensures the meat is fully cooked all through.
Most red meats roast well at a constant 200 deg C to 250 deg C. Don't get hung up about cooking times, which will vary from cut to cut and oven to oven.
Instead, invest in a meat thermometer, which can be bought inexpensively from baking and chef supply stores. Insert it into the joint of meat, without letting it touch any bone, to find out the meat's internal temperature, which will help you gauge doneness.
Pork is done at an internal temperature of 71 deg C, though many chefs regard this as overkill and settle for somewhere around 65 deg C. The meat is still safe to eat and remains juicy. For beef and lamb, 71 deg C is medium-rare. Veal is medium-rare at around 57 deg C.
All roasted meat should stand for at least 15 minutes outside the oven before serving so that the juices can redistribute and muscle fibres can relax. The meat actually continues cooking slowly during this time.
There are so many types of rice available in the supermarket. What kind of rice do you recommend for making a good Cantonese style congee, and a simple fried rice?
Jennifer Kee Bee Kuan
Cantonese congee is distinguished by a smooth, velvety texture. You can achieve this by making creative additions to a foundation of regular jasmine rice. For instance, add a bit of broken rice, whose fragmented grains release more starch than whole grains, thereby thickening the congee. Or you can add a small amount of glutinous rice.
Calrose rice tends to yield a thick and sticky rather than creamy and flowing texture - if you like this, by all means try it. Whatever blend of rice types you choose, the amount of water should be nine to 10 times the amount of rice, measuring by volume. Stir frequently during the long, slow cooking to help smoothen out the congee. Some cooks stir a slurry of rice flour dissolved in a little cold water into the congee for extra smoothness.
For frying, you need long-grain rice with grains that cook up fluffy and separate. Choose a good jasmine rice or American rice. Basmati will do in a pinch, though its slender grains are a little too delicate for fried rice. However, brown basmati, or any other long-grain brown rice, will work wonderfully.
Rice destined for frying must be washed well then cooked in carefully measured water so that it doesn't get soggy. Spread the fluffed-up cooked rice on a tray to cool completely before frying. Always fry rice over fairly high heat, stirring and tossing vigorously. All these measures discourage clumping.
During a holiday in Bali a few years ago, a local sambal was served as a regular accompaniment to our meals. Although it looked very much like our Nonya sambal, it tasted very different. There was a hint of tomatoes and chilli, and it was not as strongly spiced. I fell in love with its flavours but unfortunately have not been able to recreate it. Would you be able to help?
A Balinese sambal tomat, unlike our local sambal belacan, is pounded after being fully cooked. It is so delicious I confess to eating big spoonfuls of it all by itself.
First, peel and thinly slice six shallots and three cloves of garlic. Deseed and chop up seven to eight big red chillies and two medium-sized ripe tomatoes into small bits; peel the tomatoes first if you like. Heat three tablespoons vegetable oil in a wok over medium-high heat. Add shallots and garlic and fry, stirring constantly, until they turn pale gold after about two minutes.
Throw in the chillies and three-quarter teaspoon crumbled belacan and fry for another minute, until chillies are limp and belacan smells toasted. Add tomatoes and a pinch of palm sugar (gula melaka) and fry for one to two minutes more until tomatoes are pulpy and a little of their moisture has evaporated.
Let cool completely, then grind to a coarse paste with a pestle and mortar or in a food processor. Season with salt and lime juice to taste. Turn up the heat by leaving the chilli seeds in, or add some chilli padi. Always use the ripest, most flavourful tomatoes you can find.