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Big taste of shrimp

Sunday, March 21, 2010

From the Shoe comic strip
(Perfesser Cosmo Fishhawk is at local diner Roz's Roost, talking to Roz.) 

Perfesser: Did you know the simple act of eating burns calories?
Roz: You live in a world of perpetual hope, don't you?

(Don't we all? To view the strip, click here.)

Prawn on prawn action. Fresh and preserved ones marry, and the diner is the one who ends up with a big belly!
I don't know if big prawns eat little prawns in nature but in the fried rice dish pictured above, small fries rule – and it's all down to cincalok. 

Cincalok are krill or tiny shrimp ­­– the same kind used to make belacan ­­– fermented whole in brine. It's a speciality of Malacca, and is used mostly as a condiment combined with fresh chillies or in a sambal and served with fried fish, or used as a sauce for stir-frying­­ – chicken, fried rice and omelettes are some of the dishes that incorporate cincalok.

If wine grapes benefit from noble rot, then krill in cincalok undergo a controlled rot that leaves them salty, flavoursome and with a pungency that is not for timid noses! The taste and aroma are glorious to those used to it though and it adds another level of flavour to dishes that cannot be achieved with common seasonings alone. 

Don't let their size fool you; these babies pack a punch
While cincalok is Malay in origin, it is now used in other cuisines as well. The Peranakan (Straits-born Chinese) are famous for their stir-fried belly pork with cincalok, and you can get Hainanese beef noodles with a cincalok sambal on the side.

Some people prefer to rinse off cincalok before using it as they find it too salty, but if you are, as my mother calls me, a salty mama, then having it at full strength won't be a problem. The simple fried rice recipe that follows takes most kinds of vegetables and the prawns can be substituted with chicken; only the cincalok has to stay.

Serves 3-4

200g medium-sized prawns
100g snow peas, fibrous strings removed
1 small carrot, halved lengthways and thinly sliced on the diagonal
2 cups cooked rice, preferably day-old
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon cincalok
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon soya sauce
Vegetable oil for frying
2 stalks spring onion, chopped

To serve: Sliced bird's eye chillies mixed with a little soya sauce.
  • Shell (but keep the tails on, if desired) and devein the prawns. Season them with a sprinkling of salt and pepper and set aside for 10 minutes.
  • Heat a little oil in a wok over high heat and fry the prawns until golden brown. Add garlic, snow peas and carrots and stir-fry for a minute.
  • Stir in cincalok and about 2 tablespoons of water. Turn down heat to medium and add rice. Stir-fry for a few minutes until all the grains are well coated and the water is absorbed. Add spring onion and mix well. Taste and adjust saltiness with soya sauce if necessary. Serve with the bird's eye chilli condiment.

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