Passed on to him by a Hainanese sailor he met when he was a young man, Uncle Tham’s curry puffs are a hugely popular snack in Singapore. All handmade and bursting with flavour, they perfectly represent the melting pot that is Singaporean cuisine. The chicken can be substituted with sardines, or a vegetable. Destination Flavour Singapore
- 400 ml rice bran oil, for frying
- 1 kg just-cooked peeled potato, cut into 1 cm cubes
- 7 large eggs
- 2 large chicken breasts
- ground turmeric, for dusting
- salt, to taste
- 10 g candle nuts
- 20 g dried chillies, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes, then drained
- 7 long fresh red chillies
- 8 red bird’s eye chillies
- 30 g fresh galangal, peeled
- 20 g lemongrass, pale ends only
- 40 g onion
- 10 g fresh turmeric, peeled
- 30 g fresh ginger, peeled
- 600 g (4 cups) plain flour, sifted
- ½ tsp salt
- 230 g butter, room temperature, chopped
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 200 ml chilled water, approximately
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Resting time 30 minutes
Chilling time 30 minutes
To make the curry paste, blend all the ingredients in a food processor until a paste forms. Heat 2 tablespoons of rice bran oil in a large wok over low heat. Add the paste and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours or until most of the moisture has evaporated and you have a thick, fragrant paste. Once the paste is ready, add the cooked cubed potato pieces and carefully stir through, making sure each piece of potato is coated. Turn off the heat and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, cook the eggs in boiling water for 7 minutes, then drain, refresh in cold water and set aside to cool. Peel the eggs and cut each into 6 wedges.
Cut each chicken breasts into 20 small bite-size pieces. Place in a bowl, then dust with ground turmeric, season with salt and toss to coat. Heat a drizzle rice bran oil in a wok over medium-high heat and cook the chicken, in batches for 1-2 minutes or until just cooked through. Drain and set aside. Wipe the wok clean
To make the pastry, place the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Using fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until you achieve a fine crumble. Gradually add the egg, then the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, gathering and squeezing the mixture to form a dough. Divide into four discs, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
While the pastry is still cooling, divide the dough into 35-40 balls, weighing 30 grams each. Lightly dust a work surface with a little flour and roll out the pastry balls until 3 mm-thick. Use a 10 cm cutter to stamp out even rounds. Place on baking paper-lined trays, with baking paper between each layer, then cover the tray in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to assemble.
Working with only a few pieces of pastry out of the fridge at a time, place a disc of pastry in the palm of your hand. Add one tablespoon of the potato curry mixture to the middle, then top with a piece of chicken and a piece of egg. Fold the dough in half and hand twist along the ends to crimp and seal well. Place on a baking paper-lined tray and refrigerate until you are ready to start frying.
To fry, heat the oil in the wok over a medium heat. To test if the oil is ready, drop in a crumb of pastry and if it floats to the top and sizzles immediately, then the oil is ready. Fry the puffs in batches of five or six for about 20 minutes or until golden. If the puffs are browning too quickly, reduce the temperature to low, then increase again towards the end of cooking to help crispen the pastry. Drain in a colander lined with paper towel. Best served warm or room temperature.
• Make sure the oil isn’t too hot when frying the puffs, or the pastry will brown too quickly before it has time to become crisp. If necessary, adjust the temperature of the oil during cooking.
• The uncooked curry puffs freeze well and can be fried straight from the freezer.
Image by Adam Liaw.