Boeuf Carbonnade a la Flamande (Flemish Beef & Beer Stew)

This is a sweet and mildly tangy Flemish beef casserole stewed with Belgian abbey-styled beer. Use a dark Trappist ale like Leffe Radieuse, Ommegang Abbey Ale or Chimay Blue for a luscious caramel-ly finish.

The stew derives its sweetness from copious lashings of onions, sweated and caramelised with a touch of sugar, and its sour tang from a dollop of wholegrain mustard and tomato paste.If you don't have mustard and/or tomato paste, you can substitute either with each, or apple cider vinegar.

Like all stews, this can be prepped well beforehand, and reheated when needed.

Ingredients (feeds 5-6 pax):
1 kg beef chuck, cut into 1" cubes
1 1/2 large onion (or 2 medium-sized onions), diced to 1cm squares
3 large cloves garlic, minced
400 gm white button mushrooms, sliced thickly
2 large carrots, diced to 3/4" cubes
1 bundle fresh thyme (about 10-15 sprigs), tied together with butcher's string
1 bay leaf
1 bottle beer, about 330ml (after scouring the supermarts, I could only find Chimay Blue at Marketplace)
1 cup beef stock
1 cup chicken stock
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp tomato paste
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
3 tbsp bacon-chicken fat oil
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

1) Sear beef till browned and caramelised on all sides, salting liberally, in 2 tbsp of bacon-flavoured oil. 

2) Be careful not to overcrowd the pan, so do it in batches. Set aside and reserve in stewing pot.

3) Using the same browning pan, add another tbsp of bacon-chicken fat to melt, and sweat onions and garlic till soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes on medium-high heat.

4) Add carrots, and fry for about 3 minutes.

5) Add mushrooms and sweat till water released is almost evaporated.

6) Transfer the mixture to the stewing pot with the browned beef. Add beer, and reduce a little, about 3 minutes on medium-high heat.

7) Add thyme bundle, sugar, tomato paste, wholegrain mustard, and stir through. Add beef and chicken stock to cover just the top of the entire stew.

8) Bring to a boil and lower to simmer for at least 3 hours for a soft but still firm texture. 4 hours simmering time if you prefer a meltingly soft consistency. If prepping in advance, simmer for 2 hours, and pop into the fridge for use up to a week. Reheat, on low fire, for 2 hours.

9) Salt to taste before serving, and mill fresh pepper for a subtle heat.


MK Restaurants

MK Restaurants in Bangkok are as ubiquitous as its 7-11 convenience stores. Just about every mall has a branch of this beloved steamboat chain. Being as hugely successful as they are in Thailand, I was curious to see how MK Restaurants would fare in Singapore.

Perhaps being situated in the same mall as the arguably best steamboat in town, Hai Di Lao, isn't the most brilliant of ideas. But it does get the patronage of a few trickle-down diners who are turned off by the inordinately-long waiting period at Hai Di Lao. 

But such trickle-down diners will be most disappointed. I found MK Restaurants' steamboat middling at best, and mostly clunky.

To make the most of your steamboat experience, my take is to order the Tom Yum base ($4.90) instead of the chicken one; it's very robust, and while richly sour and spicy, it reeked of an instant paste packet, and tended towards the cloying, especially at the end.

The Mushroom Platter ($20) was seriously overpriced. It would have been a lot more competitive at half its pricetag.

The Shrimp Balls ($5.50) may have looked uninspired but these were quite delightful in succulence. 

The Sliced Chicken ($4) was fair, and stayed tender through an extended boiling.

The Sliced Pork ($4.20) was fresh enough, but I wasn't too impressed that these were served completely frozen and stuck together.

The Fried Tofu ($2) were a little dried out and tough, but got soft enough after stewing in the broth.

The Japanese Silken Tofu ($2), clean and clear, was a nice contrast to the heavy spice of the soup.

MK's 2 signature sauces, a piquant cilantro spiked green-hued one, and its mildly sweeter counterpart.Not particularly impressive.

We also added a bundle of Glass Noodles ($2) and a couple of Eggs ($0.50 per egg) to chunk up the soup.

MK Restaurants
313 Orchard Road
313 Somerset B3-30
Tel: 6884 9224
Open daily from 10am to 10pm


Oosters Belgian Brasserie

Along with KazBar, Oosters Belgian Brasserie is a stalwart of the China Square/Far East Square/Capital Square food street. Belgian food has never really been my thing, as I'm no fan of mussels, waffles or beer (it's liquid carbs!), and the aforementioned 3 things are like the trifecta of Belgian cuisine. But we were a little peckish, and in need of light sustenance, so we popped in for a small bite.

The Waffles ($10.50) with vanilla ice-cream were pedestrian, and reminded me of their frozen counterparts, and the strawberry syrup tasted like it came straight out of a freshly-popped can.

The lackluster Barramundi ($10), served in a kitschy martini glass, reeked of its fishy origins.

Best thing here is their happy hour deals; I particularly enjoyed their 1-4-1 South African Cabernet Sauvignon promo ($12). But if you're a purist beer drinker, I'd recommend the very drinkable Pater L Blonde ($12 per pint).

Oosters Belgian Brasserie
25 Church Street #01-04
Capital Square 3
Tel: 6438 3210
Open weekdays from 12noon to 12midnight; Saturdays from 5.30pm to 12midnight;
Closed on Sundays
Website: www.oosters.com.sg


Hai Di Lao, 313 Somerset

The Hubs had been hankering to try Hai Di Lao ever since I raved about it when my colleagues brought me to the Clarke Quay outlet. But his half-Korean heritage means that he's not one to wait in line for anything. Even if there are freebie snacks and mani-pedi services to reward the patient. So we've taken to popping by the insanely crowded steamboat specialist for midnight suppers.

That's one way to beat the crazy-long waiting times at Hai Di Lao: dining at the most inopportune times, i.e. weekday afternoons, or any day after 12 midnight. Incidentally, afternoons from 12 noon up to 5pm is also the time allowed for reservations.

Price-wise, Hai Di Lao is a little on the upmarket end of steamboat restaurants, but as the saying, "you pay peanuts, you get monkeys" goes, uncompromising quality must be paid for. A sound logic to me...besides, I'd much rather pay top dollar for freshness than to find a rat in my food at a cheap(er) place.

The 313 Somerset branch is notably more sleek, albeit a tad utilitarian in design, than its Clarke Quay counterpart. Ask for the semi-circular booths. It's very New York-esque. Also, this branch feels much airier, by virtue of its significantly higher ceilings.

The Sichuan Spicy & Tomato Split Pot Soup Bases ($18) comprises 2 must-try flavours here. The Tomato, which Izzy was raving about, lived up to the hype. The chicken stock base was kicked up a notch with the sweet tang of tomatoes, but was light and watery enough to refrain from being too heavy or minestrone-like. The Sichuan Spicy, spiked with lashings of peppercorns, dried chillis, cloves and garlic, was tampered with thick fat leeks for a well-balanced broth that the spice-loving Hubs took to like fish to water.

These 2 flavours, in comparison to Tanyoto's versions, were a good 2 notches better. The Hubs didn't like Tanyoto's tomato soup one bit, but loved Hai Di Lao's rendition. Its delicate, savoury flavours (by virtue of its chicken stock base), and thin texture complemented just about every other ingredient dunked into it. 

The Seafood and Mushroom Split Pot Soup Bases ($18) were both sweetened by red dates and wolfberries. The mushroom soup was earthy and wholesome, but I didn't think it made the must-try list. You can replicate its earthy flavours by ordering the mushroom platter and dunking the whole shebang into any other soup base. The seafood stock, enlivened by mussels, prawns and clams for an umami sweetness, rounded off my top-3 of soup bases at Hai Di Lao. 

An absolute must-order, the Assorted Mashed Meatballs ($11 for half portion) is a mix of the handmade mashed shrimp paste, cuttlefish cake with spinach paste, handmade beef cake and handmade cuttlefish cake. Your assigned waitress/er will help you free-form the balls into the soup.

A variation of that is the Assortment of Meat Balls and Mashed Meat ($11 for half portion), with handmade mashed shrimp paste, cuttlefish cake with spinach paste, beef ball and fishball. I don't know how they made these so incredibly bouncy and juicy.

The Fishballs ($4 for half portion), a completely plebian ingredient, I know, but I liked it anyway!

The Black Pork ($8 for half portion) is the only pork worth ordering. Its exquisite marbling is sufficiently decadent to skip the (more sinful) pork belly.

The Sliced Chicken ($6 for half portion) was fresh, delicate and succulent.

A better option is the Cumin Chicken ($6 for half portion), which was an unexpected discovery. You wouldn't think to season chicken with cumin, but the combination of this with the tomato soup base was absolutely brilliant! It tastes like shashouka but given an Oriental twist with steamboat.

The Mushroom Platter ($9 for half portion) is perfect for the indecisive mushroom-lovers. You get a little bit of the beech, oyster, shitake, king oyster, shitake and enoki varietals.

We particularly like Shitake Mushrooms ($3 for half portion) so we got extras of that.

The must-try seafood, Cod Fillet ($7 for half portion) is flaky, swimmingly fresh and be careful to fish it out quickly. It cooks in under 10 seconds in boiling hot stock. You can see it curling up as soon as it touches the soup.

Another must-order is the Crispy Fish Skin ($4 for half portion). My favourite way to eat this is to dunk the crispy critter into the soup to steep in its flavours. It'll soften a little, but it'll retain a bit of a lovely crunch still if you ladle it out quickly.

The Deep-Fried Tofu ($3 for half portion) makes for a wonderful sponge for mopping up all the delicious broth.

The Fried Tofu Skin ($3 for half portion) is another wonderful soaking agent; it unravels into a silky ribbon when dunked into the boiling broth, mopping up the delicious soup in the process. 

The Fresh Tofu ($3 for half portion) makes an excellent pairing with any of the soup bases with its clear clean flavour and baby-bottom smooth texture. Just be careful when dredging it out, it breaks apart easily.

Another regular of my steamboat orders, the Quail's Eggs ($3 for half portion) was perfectly soft-boiled, so make sure you get it out as soon as it heats through. It'll be hard-boiled otherwise.

I like Lettuce ($3 for half portion) because it stays crunchy and provides a refreshing counter-balance to the soup bases.

Complimentary Before-Meal Watermelon was instrumental in dousing the fire in our bellies.

Complimentary After-Meal Fruits

Hai Di Lao
313 Orchard Road
313 Somerset #04-23
Tel: 6835 7337
Open daily from 10am to 4am
Website: www.haidilao.com/sg/


Pan-Fried Potato Meat Patties

This is a childhood snack that I used to love munching on while watching the telly, so I set out to recreate it. If I may be so bold to say so, it tastes just like Saturday morning cartoons!

Ingredients (makes 80 4cm-wide x 1cm-thick patties):
5 large potatoes, peeled
2 shallots, minced finely
300 gm minced pork belly
1 cup plain flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup flavoured oil (I used a bacon rendering-infused chicken fat for maximum oomph)
2 tbsp salt

4 tbsp light soy
1 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp flour
Dash of pepper

1) Boil potatoes in salted water until soft throughout, about 10 minutes.

2) In the meantime, saute shallots in 2 tbsp flavoured oil until fragrant, about 1 minute.

3) Add minced pork and fry till cooked through, breaking it up in the process, about 3 minutes.

4) Drain and mash potatoes.

5) Add minced pork and stir through.

6) Add seasoning and whip evenly.

7) Place in an assembly line, the plain flour on a wide plate, followed by the eggs in a bowl, and lastly, the breadcrumbs in a wide plate. Roll 1 tbsp-heapful of potato mixture into a ball, coat it in a thin layer of flour, then a quick dip in the egg, and flatten slightly in the breadcrumbs. Saute in pre-heated pan with 3 tbsp flavoured oil until golden brown, about 2 minutes each side.

8) Drain on paper towels before serving.

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