Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Fried Mee Siam (Vermicelli) with Crispy Shrimp

It was a bright and sunny Sunday morning. I was riding in the car when this song started playing on the radio:
Whatever I said, whatever I did I didn't mean it,
I just want you back for good,
(Want you back, want you back, want you back for good...)
Does that sound familiar? Well, Take That! Listening to the song evoked memories from my 21st birthday which I celebrated with my college friends. I still have photos from that day, when I had my first go at ice-skating and ended up with cuts and grazes from constantly breaking my fall with my bare hands. A couple of my friends had brought a guitar along and made a notable attempt to serenade me with "Back For Good", which is why hearing the song again made me feel quite nostalgic.

Like music, food can sometimes trigger feelings of nostalgia too. Back in my childhood days, before my cousins and I grew up and went our separate ways, we used to come together during festivities and celebrations, like Chinese New Year, birthday parties or just family get-togethers. The "women" in my family are great cooks, and they each have their "specialty" dishes. One of my aunts makes the most delicious fried mee siam (Malaysian-style spicy fried vermicelli) and I would always look forward to it during these family events. Now, whenever I see this dish, I would look back and reminisce about the wonderful times we had back then, eating together and enjoying good food.
How could I possibly not learn how to cook mee siam, one of my all-time favourite Malaysian dishes (amongst many others)? In fact, it was one of the first few dishes I learnt to cook when I moved into my own apartment and had full unlimited no-holds-barred access to the kitchen. Ah.... Now, that reminds me of the time I was renting a room and my vegetarian landlady kicked up a big fuss when the braised pork belly dish I was cooking simply engulfed her entire apartment in a whirlwind of porky and garlicky smells. Her instant reaction was to run to the balcony where she almost screamed her head off. It was quite a funny sight though, and rather unexpected. That was probably the last time I cooked in her kitchen.
Anyway, this Fried Mee Siam has been my go-to dish whenever I have guests over for lunch, or as my contribution to potluck lunches or dinners. It's simple, yet so tasty especially with the refreshing tang and acidity from the lime/lemon. The crispy shrimps (or school prawns) are lovely too, though you may omit them if you wish to keep it simple. I like to use Wai Wai brand of vermicelli noodles for this, as their superfine and silky texture allows the flavours to be better absorbed. It's quite a popular brand, and should be available at most supermarkets. Please find the recipe after the jump.
Fried Mee Siam (Vermicelli) with Crispy Shrimp
200g school prawns (tiny shrimp) with head and tail on, washed and feelers trimmed
Vegetable oil
2 cups chicken/beef stock
1/2 tbsp chicken stock powder
2 tbsp fish sauce
3-4 tbsp sugar
1-2 tbsp dried tamarind pulp, mixed with 1/4 cup hot water  until softened, then strain the pulp
1/4 tsp pepper
500g Wai Wai brand vermicelli noodles, soaked in water for 5 minutes until softened
Blend finely:
5 cloves garlic
3 large onions
20 dried chillies, deseeded and soaked in warm water
1/2 cup dried prawns
1 packet bean sprouts (about 200g / 7oz)
1 bunch garlic chives (about 150g / 5oz), cut into 2 inch lengths
4 eggs, beaten, seasoned with salt and pepper, fried into a thin omelette and finely shredded
2-3 limes or lemon wedges
Crispy fried shallots
Coriander leaves
Crispy fried shrimp
1. Pat dry the shrimp with a paper towel. Sprinkle with a little salt. Heat up 1/2 cup vegetable oil in a wok and slowly deep-fry the shrimp for 5 minutes until crispy. Remove and drain on kitchen paper. Leave the oil in the wok.
2. Heat up the same oil in the wok. Fry the blended ingredients for 4-5 minutes. Add stock, chicken stock powder, fish sauce, sugar, pepper and tamarind liquid. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Add the vermicelli and mix until well combined. Toss for 2-3 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed and noodles are almost dry. Add bean sprouts and chives and mix them into the noodles. Transfer to a serving plate and top with garnish. Squeeze over some lime/lemon juice before serving.