Singapore Cooks

Wok-braised char siew recipe from mum

Clergyman Terry Wong's debut cookbook contains more than 70 of his late mother's recipes

Family recipes are usually kept secret, but Anglican clergyman Terry Wong, 53, and his family have no problem sharing their heirloom recipes.

His late mother, Madam Ruby Ung, was a versatile cook and she shared recipes with her friends, relatives and neighbours.

As she spoke little English, she enlisted a friend to type out her recipes in English, made copies of the recipe sheets and distributed them. She even included her contact number so that people could call if they had any questions.

Some of her popular recipes were ones for Penang prawn noodles, assam laksa, bean paste chilli crab and sambal udang.

Mr Wong, who is the vicar of St Andrew's Cathedral, says: "She was such a generous, bubbly and easygoing person and was so eager to help others."


For her wok-cooked char siew recipe, Mr Terry Wong’s mother braised strips of pork belly in a wok instead of grilling the meat in the oven. PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

He is now continuing his late mother's legacy with his debut cookbook, Mum's Classics Revived, which has more than 70 of her recipes.

Published by Landmark Books, the 251-page book, which was launched last month, is an extension of his cooking blog, The Food Canon (www.foodcanon.com). Canon refers both to his full-time job as a senior member of the clergy and the camera brand, which reflects his interest in food photography.

He started the blog in 2011, four years after Madam Ung died from brain cancer at age 72. He missed her and her cooking and wanted to document his cooking journey using her recipes.

"I started to cook in earnest," Mr Wong, the youngest of four children, says. "It helped me express my grief. Each time I blogged about one of her recipes, memories of her are relived."

Armed with a folder of recipe sheets, he spent five years testing and fine-tuning the recipes. The Singaporean, who was born in Malaysia, travelled back to his hometown of Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, to look up his mother's friends so that he could understand her recipes better and learn other old-school dishes such as chai kueh (vegetable dumplings).

One of the first recipes that he put on his blog was wok-cooked char siew. Instead of grilling the meat in the oven, his mum braised strips of pork belly in a wok.

This "Malaysian-style braise", he says, is a more convenient way of caramelising the meat.

Instead of marinating the meat overnight and basting it in the oven, the flavours of the soya sauce-based marinade go into the pork through a long braise in the wok.

Mr Wong says in jest: "This dish requires a lot of faith to cook, as it looks like a braised dish up till the last five minutes of the cooking process."

That is when the heat is turned up to sear the meat, yielding lightly charred edges.

Over the years, he has experimented with the recipe by adding mirin, miso and pineapple jam to the marinade.

As his mother ran a zi char restaurant in Petaling Jaya, he says he "grew up in a world of food", as he often helped out at the restaurant, and family gatherings revolved around her "party dishes", including mee rebus and Hakka yong tau foo.

His father, who was a fruit and vegetable vendor, died in 1985.

He recalls: "My mum and relatives had a cooking community. They cooked for the fun of it and gathered to chat and gossip while cooking."

Madam Ung also cooked regularly for church gatherings for up to 100 people during her trips here as she shuttled between Petaling Jaya and Singapore.

Building camaraderie through food inspired him to start a cooking interest group, Food Ministry, in his previous church, St James' Church in Leedon Road, seven years ago. The practice continues in St Andrew's Cathedral, where 10 members take turns to cook for church events. On average, he cooks at least once a month for the congregation and once a week for his family.

His wife Jennifer, 49, is a family physician and they have two daughters, Sarah, 21, a medical undergraduate; and Deborah, 20, an architecture undergraduate.

Mr Wong believes that food is the best way to connect people.

"Through cooking, we can learn about people's cultures and life stories and it gives you a sense of home."

• Mum’s Classics Revived is available at major bookstores at $49.90. Proceeds from the book sold at Cathedral Cafe in St Andrew’s Cathedral go towards City Community Services. It is set up by the cathedral and supports underprivileged pupils.

Watch Mr Terry Wong cook char siew in a wok. Go to str.sg/4Ac8cook

For more Singapore Cooks recipes, go to http://str.sg/4MbR.


WOK-COOKED CHAR SIEW

INGREDIENTS

2 tsp salt

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp thick dark soya sauce

1 tsp white pepper

1 tsp five-spice powder

1 Tbs white sugar

2 tsp hoisin sauce

4 Tbs honey

1 Tbs Chinese rice wine (hua tiao jiu)

1kg pork belly, skin removed and cut into 15cm by 3cm pieces, about 2cm thick

2 Tbs vegetable oil

240ml water

METHOD


PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

1. Place salt, sesame oil, thick dark soya sauce, white pepper, five-spice powder, sugar, hoisin sauce, 2 Tbs honey and Chinese rice wine into a mixing bowl and mix well.

2. Coat pork belly strips evenly with marinade in the mixing bowl. Set aside.

3. Set a wok over medium heat and heat the vegetable oil. Add pork belly strips, one at a time, into the wok. Pour in remaining marinade and the water.

4. After five to 10 minutes, when the marinade is bubbling, turn the heat down to low and let the pork braise for another 40 minutes. Using a pair of tongs, flip the meat every 10 minutes. Add 100ml of water if the gravy becomes too dry. Do not cover the wok so that it is easier to monitor the amount of gravy in it.

5. Insert a fork into the meat. If the fork goes through easily, the meat is cooked. Push the meat to the sides of the wok and scoop the thickened gravy into a bowl. Set aside.

6. Turn the heat up to medium and sear the pork pieces for two to three minutes until charred edges form on parts of the meat. Using a pair of tongs, transfer the pork onto a tray.

7. Brush the remaining 2 Tbs honey on both sides of each piece of pork. Let cool for 10 minutes before slicing. Serve with the gravy.

Serves eight

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 11, 2016, with the headline 'Tribute to mum'. Print Edition | Subscribe