Singapore Cooks

Miso meets cheese

Home cook Tan Chun Rong came up with his miso cream cheese salmon rice bowl while clearing his fridge of leftovers

The miso paste adds umami while the cream cheese tames the miso's saltiness, says undergraduate Tan Chun Rong (above).
The miso paste adds umami while the cream cheese tames the miso's saltiness, says undergraduate Tan Chun Rong.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Banking and finance undergraduate Tan Chun Rong, 23, is so keen on food photography that he spent $10,000 of his savings to renovate his bedroom two months ago, converting it into a food photography studio.

To make space for a rustic, $400 reclaimed teak table sourced from Indonesia, he fitted a wall-mounted foldable bed.

He says: "It can be ridiculous, the lengths I go to in order to take perfect food photos, but good photos do justice to the effort spent cooking a dish and they also bring out the best in the ingredients."

Resting on two oak shelves in the room are piles of props, from antique tableware and enamel plates to wooden boards and dried flowers. He lives in a four-room HDB flat in Sengkang with his father, 58, who works in the printing industry. His older brother, 25, lives in Thailand.

The self-confessed perfectionist spends up to five hours snapping photos of a dish and its ingredients, fussing over the food styling. He posts these photos on his year-old food blog as an archive of his cook-outs.



    180g Japanese rice

    130ml water

    2 Tbs cream cheese, room temperature

    2 Tbs miso paste

    1 Tbs white sugar

    21/2 tsp sesame oil, divided

    300g salmon fillet, sliced into 10cm-long slices

    2 Tbs olive oil

    6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

    90g shimeji mushrooms

    21/2 Tbs soya sauce

    2 stalks spring onions, finely chopped

    Salt, white pepper to taste

    Sesame seeds


    1. The night before serving: Soak the rice in enough water to cover for 40 minutes, then drain it.

    2. Add rice and water into a rice cooker. Cook it for 30 to 40 minutes. Scoop the cooked rice into a bowl and set aside in the refrigerator overnight.

    3. On the day of serving: Pre-heat the oven to 190 deg C.

    4. Mix cream cheese, miso paste, sugar and 11/2 tsp sesame oil thoroughly in a bowl. Smear the mixture evenly on the top and sides of the salmon fillets.

    5. Place the fish in the refrigerator for 15 to 30 minutes.

    6. Bake salmon for 15 to 20 minutes till it is lightly browned.

    7. In a wok over medium heat, add olive oil and chopped garlic. Saute till the garlic turns golden brown.

    8. Add cooked rice, mushrooms, soya sauce and spring onions chopped from one stalk into the wok. Add salt and white pepper to taste.

    9. When frying, use a spatula to slice through the clumps of rice and mix well with the other ingredients. Fry for two to three minutes. Add the remaining 1 tsp sesame oil and fry for five seconds for added fragrance.

    10. Place rice in a bowl. Top it with the salmon and garnish with the remaining chopped spring onions and sesame seeds.

    Serves one

The former barista, who plans to take a gap year from his studies at SIM University to pursue food photography and styling, can also cook. He enjoys experimenting with ingredients and draws inspiration from his trips to the wet market and supermarket in his neighbourhood four times a week.

He can spend up to an hour scanning through fruit, vegetables and condiments. "It is fun and exciting to play around with flavours to create interesting combinations that make you go wow," he says.

One such experimental dish he came up with is salmon fillet baked with miso paste and cream cheese.

The unlikely pairing of miso and cream cheese came when he was clearing his refrigerator of leftovers.

He says the miso paste gives an umami boost to the salmon. The cream cheese tames the miso's saltiness and adds a velvety smoothness to the juicy fish. The accompanying garlic fried rice lends a heady aroma to the dish.

Mr Tan became interested in cooking at the age of five, watching his aunt cook dishes such as meat and vegetable stir-fries.

At 15, he learnt to cook by watching cooking videos on YouTube such as those by Food Wishes and Cooking With Dog, and shows by celebrity chefs Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver.

From these shows, he picked up kitchen skills such as peeling vegetables, handling crabs and filleting fish. Learning these skills gave him the confidence to braise a whole duck for Chinese New Year celebrations when he was 16.

The braised duck was a tribute to his late mother, who died of cancer six years ago at age 49. After researching cooking websites, he tweaked his mother's recipe by substituting Chinese rice wine with sake and mirin in the marinade for a less heavy taste.

He also enjoys throwing themed dinners for his friends at his home.

Over the past year, he has been whipping up eight-course meals. For a zichar-themed dinner, he cooked hotplate tofu, cereal prawns and garlic fried rice. Another time, he made seared duck breast with blue cheese sauce, couscous with chorizo, braised beef cheek and desserts such as churros and strawberry panna cotta.

The bachelor says: "It gives me great satisfaction to see my friends enjoy my food in a great ambience."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 26, 2015, with the headline 'Miso meets cheese'. Print Edition | Subscribe