“You will find the best char kway teow in Penang sold by hawkers behind their woks atop hellishly hot flames, usually made stronger by a large industrial fan and a powerful extractor hood above them. I find this method of frying one portion at a time results in a decent version of the dish. I can adjust the seasonings to my liking and also leave the noodles untouched in the wok for just a tad too long in order to achieve the charred flavour that I crave in this dish. ”
Cook the dried rice sticks according to the instructions on the packet. Drain through a fine strainer and run cold water over them to cool thoroughly (don’t miss out this step otherwise the noodles will continue cooking and then clump up in your wok later). If using fresh ho fun rice noodles, loosen the noodles so that they are in individual strands rather than one massive lump. Microwaving fresh ho fun, straight after you’ve taken them out of the packet, for 30–60 seconds (60 seconds if they are fridge-cold), loosens them perfectly.
Mix the seasoning in a bowl so it’s ready to throw into the wok later in one fell swoop.
Place a wok over a high heat until it is smoking. To achieve any sort of wok hei, you MUST fry only one portion at a time. As always, frying rice or noodles is much easier in a wok (yes, it is possible to do so in a frying pan but spillage is unavoidable).
Add the oil, garlic and half of the Chinese chives. Stir-fry for a few seconds until the chives have charred a bit.
Add the noodles and seasoning. Stir-fry for several minutes until the noodles are charred and have picked up some smokiness from the wok.
Now add the prawns and stir-fry for 1 minute. Make space towards the side of the wok, crack in an egg, stir to mix and cook for a few seconds.
Finally, add the beansprouts along with the remainder of the Chinese chives and the sambal tumis or simple chilli sauce. Stir-fry for 30 seconds and serve hot.
Start by cooking the sambal – it can even be cooked the day before and keeps well refrigerated for up to two weeks. Soak the dried red chillies or chilli flakes in more than enough water to cover them, using water that has just boiled. Leave for 15 minutes then drain.
Blitz the onion, garlic, chillies and rehydrated dried chillies until the consistency of a smooth paste is achieved.
Heat the oil in a wok or large saucepan over a medium heat. Stir-fry the onion mixture and lemongrass for 10 minutes, stirring often. Make sure your windows are open as the chillies will start to smoke!
Add the dark brown sugar, tamarind and shrimp paste. Continue stir-frying for another 5 minutes until fragrant and the oil separates. Remove the lemongrass and it is ready for use.
SIMPLE CHILLI SAUCE
Add all the ingredients to a medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Switch off the heat and leave for 1 hour.
Bring to the boil again and simmer over a medium heat for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and use a hand blender to blend into a sauce.
You can substitute the prawns (shrimp) with slices of fishcakes, squid rings or chicken breast. To make this recipe vegan, use finely sliced fried firm tofu or tofu puffs and simply leave out the egg.