I live in a city about 25 minutes flight away from Penang. And who doesn’t love Penang? It is a foodie heaven. It has the best street food in South East Asia. It has combination of regional dishes, fused into one style, Penang style. It is the home of Rasa Malaysia. Prawn noodle (or also known as ‘hae mee’) is not widely known in our area as it is in Malaysia and Singapore.
Many years ago, my auntie had been selling this in a school cafeteria and my mother is really fond of it. She is the only one in our family who cooks the dish. She was taught by someone she knows a long time ago and has been tweaking here and there since then. There wasn’t any googling activity going on then. I am sure it is not the authentic version of Penang prawn noodle, but it is pretty kicking. Sweet and spicy, with pungent smell of shrimp paste. My auntie is amazing. She has all these little tricks that is perfectly simple and plain common sense but always miss me by an inch.
Her (or now I can safely claim as mine) prawn noodle is egg noodle with prawn-flavored spicy soup, served with water spinach, prawns, chicken and egg. The special spicy sauce is made by shallots, shrimp paste and freshly ground chili. And sugar. It is the most vibrant bowl of noodle soup I have in a while.
Dried anchovies are one of the main ingredients for the prawn stock. The real version would be using a lot of shrimp heads for boiling the stock. We only bought half a kilo of prawns, so we cheated slightly by adding dried anchovies to flavor the stock. Give these a quick rinse under cold water and drain. Do not soak, as soaking will dilute the pungent flavor, which is the whole point of using anchovies.
Get a bunch of medium sized prawns. Trim head and feet off them. Don’t throw them away though. Those would be use for the stock as well.
Get some chicken. A couple of pieces should be enough. Real Penang style would be using pork ribs.
Cut water spinach into equal pieces. You don’t really need to subcategorize stalks and leaves that way. My auntie just does that to get into my head.
She actually made this from scratch. She went to the market to buy fresh chilies. Then she sun-dried them for a couple of days. And ground the dried chili. Look at the vibrant color. Is she great or is she great? And no, you can’t have her.
Some fresh egg noodles from the market. Give them a quick rinse over running cold water to get rid of excess oil.
Garnishes would be chopped spring onion for the nice green specks – which no one really cares about but it has to be there nevertheless. And some fried shallots. See the plastic bag? I cheated and bought a bag from the market. I didn’t make my own. There you go.
Also, hard boil some eggs. I forgot to take shots of the eggs.
Combine shallots and shrimp paste in a mortar and grind to fine paste.
Add ground chili powder.
All mixed well? Alright then.
Heat some oil in a wok. Add chili paste.
Cook over medium heat, stirring continuously. Let the spices cooked nicely and the oil merged with spices.
When the spice is fragrant and turn a shade darker, add sugar. Cook a bit longer till the sugar slightly caramelized
Remove from heat and store in a clean bowl or container for later use. See how the oil has turned into chili oil? This paste can keep for a long time if refrigerated.
Fill a medium sized stockpot with water and toss ginger into the water. Let boil.
Add prawn shells (head and feet). The water is slightly reddish because I rinsed the mortar using a bit of hot water and pour the leftover into the pot. The spring onion is not really supposed to be in there too. It was a bit too wilted to be chopped, so I threw it in there too.
Let boil for a bit and strain the shells off the stock.
When the stock is cleaned off prawn shells, add dried anchovies into the stock. The dried anchovies are to be washed with cold water and drained in advance.
Add half of the spice paste into the water.
Season with sugar and salt.
Let the stock boil. Again. Over medium heat.
Take prawns out of stock. Peel off shells. Set shelled prawns aside. Get rid of the shells for real this time. It seems like a serious pain and messed up steps to do this, don’t you think so? Why don’t we just peel shells off prior to cooking? Well, the reason is that boiling shelled prawns would cause the prawns to shrink into really small coils of striped meat. That is not sightly. By boiling them with skin on, the prawns would stay roughly the same size, so that when they are arranged on the bowl, they are as pretty as wax-made fake noodles models on Japanese noodle shops.
Take the chicken out after 30 min to an hour. Let cool and shred the chicken meat. Get rid off the skin.
Turn heat to low. Quickly blanched water spinach in stock.
Do this to all of the spinach and set aside.
Arrange everything in a serving bowl. To assemble, place egg noodles in the middle of the bowl. Arrange water spinach right on top. Then a couple of boiled prawns and shredded chicken side by side. Pour stock on top of everything. Place half of boiled egg on the side. Sprinkle spring onions on top and top with shallot flakes. Serve with more chili paste.
Prawn Noodle, Hae Mee
100 g shallots
50 g shrimp paste, belacan
25 g ground chili
1 cup cooking oil
3 tbsp sugar, plus 2 tbsp for stock
3-5 litre water
25 g fresh ginger, halved and bruised lightly
500 g prawn, with shells on and remove the head and feet for stock
300 g chicken, drumsticks or breast
50 g dried anchovies, soaked and drained
2 tbsp salt
300 g water spinach, or kangkung
50 g spring onions, chopped finely
50 g fried shallot flakes
1 kg egg noodles, blanched
Grind shallots, shrimp paste and ground chili to fine paste using mortar and pestle.
Heat cooking oil in a wok. Stir-fry chili paste till fragrant over medium heat, about 3 minutes.
Add sugar and cook for 2 minutes till sugar melted and slightly caramelized.
Remove from heat and set aside for later use.
Boil water in a medium stockpot. Add prawn heads and ginger into the boiling water.
Let boil again over high heat.
Strain prawn shells off the water.
Add soaked dried anchovies into the stock. Add half of chili paste into the water as well, about 3-4 tbsp.
Season with salt and sugar. Let boil again.
Add prawns and chicken meat into the boiling water.
Cook for about 5 minutes and remove prawns from water.
Let cool and shell the prawns completely.
The stock should be cooking for another 30 minutes with chicken and anchovies still in the pot, simmering.
Turn off heat and take the chicken out of the stock. Shred chicken meat into bite sizes.
Strain stock and get rid off anchovies.
Blanch water spinach using stock if desired, or just hot water. If you are blanching using stock, turn heat back on.
Assemble noodles, water spinach, prawn, chicken in a serving bowl. Pour stock into the bowl. Sprinkle chopped spring onions and fried shallot flakes. Serve with half of boiled egg and some chili paste for dipping sauce.