Step-By-Step Recipe: Penang Prawn Noodle Soup / Hae Mee (虾面汤)

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After having studied in the UK for almost two and a half years now, I still think about hawker food back home on those cold lonely days but the cravings are usually curbed after I attempt to make some dishes from scratch (think our recent Bak Chor Mee or Kaya Puffs from a little while ago). Prawn noodles, however, was something I never put myself to – It is Hae Mee (prawn noodles in the Hokkien dialect) for goodness sake! It’s not just something that can be made out of a Prima Paste packet (well you can, but it won’t quite be the same). In my heart it has a certain artisanal quality that I never thought could be recreated at home unless highly skilled and truly desperate. Hence, when TummyTroll was put to the task of making Hae Mee for a party of 20 over people, we were elated at the prospects of eating authentic prawn noodles, but also fearful: What if our prawns were not fresh enough? What if the soup turned out to be tasteless?

Well, as we have discovered, all these worries were unfounded… Clichéd as it might seem, as long as you put in sufficient hours and effort, prawn noodles, or any other seemingly arduous dish would always turn out good, as it did here! If amateur student cooks like us can make Hae Mee from scratch, everyone else can definitely do it too! We hope that this step by step recipe would serve as a useful photo guide for all the homesick souls out there who are craving a bowl of prawn noodles! Enjoy :)

Disclaimer: If you look at other recipes online, you might realize that we seemed to have “invented” many steps or combined/omitted some. We think our prawn noodles recipe follows the Penang version more in that it has a very robust bisque-like soup (in contrast to the clear and milder versions in Singapore and elsewhere), but in the process of looking for the taste we truly enjoy we have also created our “own” version of prawn noodles! So please pardon us if it is not the 100% homely taste you are looking for. We think it is authentic, but the unique TummyTroll version ;D

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Step-By-Step Recipe: Penang Prawn Noodle Soup / Hae Mee (虾面汤) 
The soup stock serves 20-30, adjust proportions accordingly

Soup Stock:
Prawn Heads and Shells from 4.2kg of fresh Raw King Prawns
500g Dried Shrimps (Haebee), soaked overnight
2kg Pork Bones*
1kg Soya Beans, soaked overnight
20-25 Shallots, chopped finely
12-15 cloves Garlic, chopped finely
Light Soya Sauce, to taste
Dark Soya Sauce, to taste
Rock Sugar, 2-3 cubes, or to taste
Sea Salt, to taste
Chilli Powder, 2 tablespoons recommended (Sambal Chilli could be used too)
Cooking Oil, 2-3 tablespoons for frying

Noodles & Toppings:
Fresh Egg Noodles (Yellow Mee)
White Vermicelli Noodles (Beehoon)
King Prawns, Deveined
Lean Pork Loin / Pork Ribs*
Fishcake
Water Spinach (Kangkong)
Beansprouts (Taogay)
Eggs, Hard Boiled^

Garnishes:
Fried Lard Cubes
Fried Shallot Crisps
Sambal Chilli / Chilli Powder

*Pork Bones, Lean Pork Loin and Pork Ribs can all be substituted with Chicken if you want to make a halal version!
^Optional

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Step 1: Making the Soup Stock, the holy grail of all Prawn Noodles!

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Day 1: 2.00pm in the afternoon. After collecting close to 4.2kg of fresh king prawns, we got down to work straightaway and proceeded to remove all the heads and shells of the prawns. This is a tough step for the prawn shells can be very sharp and prick your hands, so wear rubber gloves if you have any. Tip: Leave the ends of the prawn tails intact as these tails are the most difficult to remove when it comes to shelling the prawns!

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After about 1 hour of hardwork… 4.2kg of prawns (this plate was only 1/3 of the total amount of prawns). Pack all these into ziploc bags or large airtight containers and into the fridge they go! Prawns and other seafood deteriorate quickly in warm air, even in the freezing cold like the UK!

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Meanwhile, garlic and shallots all chopped up finely! The usual prawn noodles recipe would require a separate chilli paste to be made, but we decided to combine the soup stock and chilli paste steps. It’s not purely to save time, but we also thought frying these together with the prawn shells later would further enhance the flavours of the soup!

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Heat cooking oil at medium high heat. Shallots go first because they have a higher burning point!

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Then the garlic… Fry until fragrant.

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Then the dried shrimps! Fry until golden brown.

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Like this. It should start to emit a nice heady garlic-shallot-dried shrimp aroma at this point!

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Prawn shells go in first! You might be wondering why there is so much preparation work to be done when many recipes just call for the shells and heads to be thrown into the soup stock directly. Pre-frying the shells imparts a robust prawn flavour to the soup and gives the soup more body! For the uninformed, prawn shells actually contain most of the flavonoids like other crustaceans. French lobster bisques are also made using the fried shells of lobsters!

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Prawn heads will go later because the prawn roe is delicate and you don’t want to overcook them!

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After frying for about a good 20-30 minutes, the shells should have reduced in size.

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And something magical would appear at the bottom of the pan…

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The beginnings of our beloved prawn stock!!! :D

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We made two versions of the soup stock, one with pork bones and one without, as we wanted to make the latter version halal! We still think pork bones is the best for making soup stock because it gives an extra meaty flavour but these soya beans are a great substitute! It also does the job of making a more “rounded” soup stock, which means that the flavours of the prawns would not be overwhelming. Chicken bones are great substitutes as well. :)

Here, we have already soaked the beans overnight and precooked them in the slow cooker at low heat for about 2 hours. Put all the fried prawn heads, shells, shallots, garlic and dried shrimp into the slow cooker. Cook on “High” for 8-16 hours. If you don’t have a slow cooker, a large stock pot would do the job as well: Simmer at low heat for 4-8 hours.

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After 16 hours in the slow cooker… It’s time to unearth these treasures!

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Chances are that we’ll end up with a huge vat of prawn heads and shells left over. What do we do with them? In the true spirit of a local food hawker (of not wasting any ingredients), we blended the prawn heads and shells into a coarse paste. This is to extract the maximum flavour from the shells! The hawkers in Penang also do this, though they tend to do it at the start of the stock making process.

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Strain multiple times until you get a fine liquid! Doesn’t look extremely appetising here but please press on, we’re getting there soon ;D

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Transfer the strained liquid from the blended shells and the remaining soup stock into a huge stock pot to simmer and season! We added rock sugar, light soya sauce, dark soya sauce, sea salt, and chilli powder. Leave soup stock to simmer and reduce to desired taste and consistency!

Step 2: Blanching of Ingredients and Toppings

We blanched and precooked all the prawns, fishcake and ribs in the soup stock in order to flavour the soup as well as retain the sweetness of the ingredients. Noodles and beehoon can be preboiled, while vegetables like beansprouts and kangkong can be blanched in another pot of boiling water or steamed.

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1506866_687907414575887_1620914385_nDo you prefer your prawns with shells?

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1512678_687907437909218_1161931028_nOr without? Personally I prefer mine with shells as they retain the bouncy texture of the prawns better, but those without make for easier eating of course!

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Some fine quality loin ribs I got from the butcher!

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Yellow noodles and beehoon! Although I would really prefer fresh kuay teow which cannot be found here :/

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Garnished with fried lard cubes, fried shallot crisps and chilli powder. Now this is the real Prawn Mee!

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Prawn Mee party – Success! :D

1533904_687908034575825_648954474_nThat’s not all yet… Of course we had to fry up these steaming hot plates of Singaporean-style Fried Prawn Noodles / Hokkien Mee after spending more than 2 days making such a great prawn stock! Stay tuned for our Hokkien Mee recipe coming up next week :) Till then, happy new year and may 2014 be a better year for all of us! :D

Posted by #phangchewfat

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2 thoughts on “Step-By-Step Recipe: Penang Prawn Noodle Soup / Hae Mee (虾面汤)

  1. Liqin says:

    Hi referring to your prawn soup recipe, wonder how much water did you put in for cooking of the pork bone soup for 4.2kg of prawn?

    • tummytroll says:

      Hmmmn, sorry to be very vague on this, because I wasn’t too sure too (I constantly topped up water if it became too thick in the pot/ but the soup in the slowcooker was at a constant level). I really think it’s as much water as your stock pot can accommodate! :) And if it turns out too thin, you can reduce it. Otherwise, if the soup is too thick, you can always dilute it again. Sorry that I can’t give more specific instructions!! Hope it helps though :)

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