We grew up eating this never knowing the name. My auntie’s mother in law was from Penang and she taught her many years ago. My mother and I really love this although we only refer to it as “That Nyonya Dish”, but none of the family knows how to cook. Auntie makes a big batch and distribute to everybody once in a while and it is kept refrigerated and enjoyed sparingly. She showed me how to cook this and she claimed that I am the second person in the family who knows the recipe.
I did some reading and found out that most of the Penang versions are prepared without coconut milk. Our version is prepared with coconut milk and very rich, almost resembles very spicy and pungent curry dish. My auntie is a vegetarian, and she couldn’t shop for fish stomach (or perut ikan). So she omitted that particular core ingredient and substituted it with dried salted fish. I have never had pickled fish stomach before, and it is certainly not sold here. Again, very sorry for the perut ikan recipe, without the perut ikan (fish stomach).
The flavor of the dish only improves with time. The texture is soft and mushy, but you can actually taste each ingredient in every bite. The pungent smell of shrimp paste and shredded herbs are so beautiful. If you are wondering how the Chinese Straits cuisine taste like, this bowl of dish sums everything up pretty nicely. The dish is served with hot steamed rice.
The main herb ingredient is the betel leaves (or daun kadok) is not sold in the market. The betel leaves we have in our area is the narrower and longer type, also known as daun sirih. These particular leaves are round. My auntie has very keen eye, that when she is out on a tricycle riding around town, she takes notice of people’s front yard. She knows which houses grow the leaves. We went for betel leaves hunting a couple of weeks ago, snatching a bunch of them off people’s front gate and on the side walk. I decided that I am going to grow this on my front yard so she doesn’t have to pick them off people’s garden. I think it is now growing, but it would be a couple of months till I can harvest the leaves for cooking.
I can’t help but thinking how strange this is, with all the similarities of our Medan dishes with Penang, this is the one that we don’t have. I am so grateful to be able to learn this. The following step by step is done in panic, as there are so much ingredients that would go in there and so little time to do it. I have to do the washing, the cutting, the grinding, the shooting and the step-by-step shoots. I didn’t manage to get every single shot, but I will try to explain the steps that I missed.
It is important to prep all the ingredients before starting cooking. For me I would need to line up all ingredients in the order of they are used. Unfortunately this time I can’t do this. My auntie was the one doing the prepping and since she is a natural, she sees no need for doing this and still has everything right. There are several types of spices used. The spices to be ground are shallots, turmeric roots, kencur root, fresh red chilies and coriander seeds. Fresh herbs are betel leaves, ginger torch bud (bunga kantan), Vietnamese mint (also known as laksa leaves) and kaffir lime leaves. The ones not shown here are turmeric leaf and mint leaves. Spices to be used whole are galangal and lemongrass.
Seafood based ingredients are shrimp paste, fresh prawns and pickled fish stomach substitute, dried salted fish. Prep work needed for these ingredients are shell the shrimps, cut fish into cubes and soak them in cold water for 10 minutes, mash the shrimp paste into smaller pieces.
Vegetables used are long beans and young corn. Beans are to be cut into 3-4 cm length and corns are to be cut into 1 cm pieces.
We use eggplants in the dish. Cut eggplants into 3 cm length and quarter them. The other ingredients not shown is pineapple. Cut them into roughly same size as the eggplants. You can also substitute the purple eggplants with pea eggplants.
We used coconut milk from two fresh coconuts. The thick cream (about 400 cc) is kept aside for later use. The diluted milk (which you are usually given by seller) is poured into a stock pot, about 1600 cc. If you are using instant coconut milk, prepare a 500 cc of pure cream. Dilute 100 cc with 1500 cc water in a pot. Keep the rest of the cream for later use.
We blended shallots, chilies, coriander seeds, turmeric roots and kencur root in a blender individually. I made a mental note to do them all at once. It looks runnier because we added some water into the blender to make it blend smoothly.
Combine ground chili into the spice paste.
Boil prawn shells with 500 cc water for 30 minutes. Reserve the prawn stock.
Shred fresh herbs finely. These are betel leaves, mint leaves, Vietnamese mint leaves, turmeric leaf and kaffir lime leaves.
Halve the ginger torch buds and slice them thinly lengthwise.
Keep them soaked in cold water because they turn darker in no time. I really love the smell of it.
Scrape skin off galangal and bruise it with pestle to release flavor.
Use the white part of lemongrass and bruise with pestle to release flavor, again.
Heat some cooking oil in a wok. Deep-fry pieces of soaked salted fish over medium heat.
Fry them till golden brown. Remove them from wok and set aside for later use. Remove half of the cooking oil in the wok.
Add shrimp paste into hot oil. Stir-fry over medium heat.
Cook paste till the oil bubbles up.
Add spice paste into the wok.
Cook over high heat till the mixture changes color to a darker shade.
Combine lemongrass and galangal into the wok.
Lower heat and cook until galangal and lemongrass impart their flavors and the sauce thickens.
Toss in slices of ginger torch flowers and mix well. The heat is still on low at this point. You would want the ingredients to be heated and release the flavor slowly.
Add young corns into the wok.
Combine everything together and turn off heat.
Place stockpot with diluted coconut milk on the stove. Add spice mixture into the pot.
Set the heat over medium heat.
Pour shrimp stock into the pot.
Let the dish boil.
Add pineapple into the pot.
Deep-fried dried salted fish.
And chopped green herbs.
Cook over medium heat for 15 minutes.
Season the perut ikan dish with sugar.
Let cook for 15 more minutes, maintaining the same medium heat.
Lastly, add coconut milk and let simmer for 1 hour over low heat. Serve warm with steamed rice.
Perut Ikan Nyonya
For spice paste
100 g red chili
10 g fresh turmeric root
50 g coriander seeds
10 g ground chili powder
For other ingredients
30 g fresh kaemferia galanga, or kencur root
50 g shrimp paste, or belacan
3 lemongrass stalks, white part only and lightly bruised
100 g fresh galangal, skin scraped off and lightly bruised
5 ginger torch bud, or bunga kencong/bunga kantan, sliced finely
250 g young corn, cut into 1m length
1 (800 g) whole pineapple, cubed
150 g long beans, cut into 3 cm length
250 g dried salted fish, cut into smaller pieces and deep-fried till crunchy
15 g Vietnamese mint, or daun laksa, chopped finely
10 g kaffir lime leaves, chopped finely
500 g betel leaves, or daun kadok, chopped finely
1 turmeric leaf, chopped finely
50 g mint leaves, chopped finely
2 tbsp sugar
600 g eggplant, cubed
250 g prawns, shelled and reserve shell for prawn stock
500 cc coconut milk
1500 cc water. and 500 cc water for prawn stock
1/2 cup cooking oil
Boil prawn shells with 500 cc water for 30 minutes. Strain shell off and reserve the stock for later use.
Prepare spice paste by blending all ingredients in a mortar and pestle, or using electric blender. If using a blender, add 1/2 cup of water.
Heat cooking oil. Deep fry salted fish till golden brown and crunchy. Remove fish from wok and set aside for later use.
Remove half of cooking oil from the wok. Reheat the wok over medium heat.
Add shrimp paste into hot oil. Stir fry for one minute. Add spice paste into the wok and cook over medium heat for a minute.
Combine lemongrass, galangal and sliced ginger torch flowers. Combine all ingredients and cook for a couple of minutes.
Add young corn into the wok and stir-fry for a bit. Turn heat off.
Dilute 100 cc coconut milk with 1500 water in a stock pot.
Combine cooked mixture and prawn stock into the pot. Cook over medium heat and let boil, about 10-15 minutes.
Add pineapple, long beans, salted fish and sliced green herbs.
Season the dish with sugar.
Lastly, add prawns and eggplants into the pot and let boil, about 10 minutes.
Pour the remaining coconut milk into the pot and lower heat. Let simmer for an hour before serving.
Serve with steamed rice.