I had the pleasure of dining at one of Sydney's most popular Roti Canai establishments on Friday. Mamak specialises in Malaysian cuisine, in particular its famed roti canai, which are freshly made on the spot and served on a silver-coloured platter with two curries. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that it was my "inaugural" visit to Mamak, since almost everyone I know has been there at least once. I didn't set any expectations for this place, and was pleasantly surprised by how authentic (both in flavour and heat from the chillies) the food was. One dish I just had to try was the Sambal Sotong - stir-fried brown cuttlefish in fiery (indeed!) sambal sauce. I grew up enjoying nasi lemak, lontong and roti canai served with sambal sotong and it's one of my favourite Malaysian dishes! Typically, it uses dried brown cuttlefish which is soaked in alkaline water to rehydrate, tenderise and give it a springy texture when cooked.
In Malaysia, we use the term "sotong" loosely, regardless of whether they are cuttlefish, squid or calamari. In a different context, namely Singlish, "sotong" can also refer to a person who is "blur like sotong". Anyway, I picked up a book from the library today - Sydney Seafood School Cookbook - and learnt a new word: Cephalopods. It comes from the Greek word, meaning "head-feet", which sums up the appearance of squid, cuttlefish and octopuses. Squids have long cylindrical heads and a thin, translucent feather-shaped internal shell, called a quill. Cuttlefish is similar to squid, but have a broader, thicker head, shorter arms and a thick, calcified internal shell. Octopuses are different in that they have round heads instead of cylindrical, and lack the two longer tentacles, side fins and internal shells that the other two species have. Calamari (flashbacks of Kellie Pickler in her Southern drawl) is just the Italian word for squid, though it also refers to another species of squid.
So, I wanted to make these crispy deep-fried squid tossed in salted duck's egg yolk and curry leaves. During my recent trip to Malaysia, I tried these at a local restaurant and it was absolutely heavenly! The smells were so amazing, I could have sworn I was on a high for a while. Back in Sydney, I searched high and low for squid that was just the right size, in order to replicate this at home. Most of the seafood shops sell large squids and octopuses. I finally found frozen ones from the Asian supermarket which were the perfect size! Surprisingly, they turned out tender and crispy after deep-frying. The salted egg yolk sauce, which lightly coats the squid, was fabulously melt-on-your-tongue and leaves a lingering umami taste that is totally addictive. Mmm....craving satisfied. Mission complete.
Salted Egg Yolk Squid
300g squid, cleaned and cut into bite-sized segments
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
1/2 tsp chicken stock powder
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
Batter (combine in a bowl to form a smooth paste):
2 tbsp self-raising flour
3 tbsp water
1 tsp oil
Flour coating (mix together in a bowl):
4 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp potato starch (or substitute with corn flour)
1 tbsp rice flour
1 tsp curry powder (optional)
1/4 tsp salt
Yolks from 3 salted duck's eggs*, steamed for 5 minutes and mashed with a fork
1/2 tbsp oil
1 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3-4 bird's eye chillies, thinly sliced
2 sprigs curry leaves
1/2 tsp chicken stock powder
Salt, sugar and pepper to taste
1 tbsp milk (optional)
* You can find salted (preserved) duck's eggs from major Asian supermarkets. They are made by soaking ducks' eggs in brine or packing them in damp, salted charcoal. The ones I bought were wrapped in plastic and vacuum packed. See picture below.
Combine squid with marinade and mix well. Set aside for 10 minutes.
Heat up oil for deep-frying. Dip squid pieces in the batter, remove and toss it in the flour coating mixture until evenly coated all over. Deep-fry for 1-2 minutes until golden brown and crispy. Remove and transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper. Set aside.
In a clean wok, heat up oil and butter, then add garlic, chillies and curry leaves. Fry for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Stir in the mashed egg yolk and chicken stock powder, and swirl it around the wok with a ladle until it turns foamy. Add milk and bring to a boil. Season with salt, sugar and pepper.
Add the squid and briskly toss in the sauce until evenly coated. Dish out immediately and serve hot with steamed white rice.