Penang Hokkien Mee
(Malaysian spicy shrimp and pork noodle soup)
Hokkien mee is actually the name for three different noodle dishes found in Southeast Asia. This recipe is for Penang Hokkien mee (槟城福建虾面) as it is enjoyed in Malaysia's modern, urban and diverse Penang state on the country's northwest coast. In Penang, Hokkien mee is a steaming bowl of noodles and rich shrimp broth, studded with sliced pork, shrimp, vegetables and chiles.
Penang Hokkien mee is classic southeast Asian fast food, typically cooked and sold by vendors in street stalls. The secret to a great bowl is in the broth. Save up shrimp shells in your freezer until you have enough to give this great noodle dish the flavor it deserves.
Other versions of Hokkien mee are found in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital city. In Singapore, the noodles and shrimp are stir-fried. Hokkien mee in Kuala Lumpur is also fried, but uses fatter noodles and dark soy sauce to give the dish a characteristic deep, ruddy color.
All three dishes have Chinese origins. "Hokkien" is a word indicating the Chinese province of Fujian, where the dish originated. "Mee" means noodles. It is also known as Hokkien har mee, har being the word for "shrimp."
For the Broth
- Water -- 10 cups
- Pork bones -- 3 pounds
- Shrimp shells -- 1/2 pound
For the Chile Paste
- Dried chile peppers, seeds and stems removed -- 20 to 30
- Shallots, chopped -- 6 to 8
- Garlic, chopped -- 5 or 6 cloves
- Water -- 1/4 cup
- Sugar -- 1 tablespoon
- Salt -- 2 teaspoons
For the Soup
- Oil -- 3 tablespoons
- Pork butt -- 1 pound
- Fish sauce -- 2 to 3 tablespoons
- Salt -- to season
- Shrimp, peeled, deveined -- 1 pound
- Spinach or water spinach leaves -- 1/2 pound
- Bean sprouts -- 1/2 pound
- Yellow wheat (chow mein) noodles -- 1 pound
- Rice vermicelli noodles -- 1 pound
- Hard-boiled eggs, quartered -- 4
- Crispy fried shallots -- 1/2 cup
- Limes, quartered -- 2
- Put the water, pork bones and shrimp shells in a large pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer gently for 2 to 3 hours. Skim off any scum that may float to the surface.
- Prepare the chile paste while the broth is simmering. Soak the seeded and destemmed peppers in warm water for about 10 minutes. Drain the chiles and add them to a blender or food processor along with the remaining chile paste ingredients. Process until the mixture forms a smooth paste. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
- Remove the broth from heat, strain through a fine sieve and discard the solids. Add water if necessary to make about 8 cups.
- Heat the oil in a wok or large pot over medium-high flame. Add the chili paste and stir fry until it gives off its fragrance and begins to caramelize, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the broth and the pork butt and season with fish sauce and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about an hour, or until the pork is tender.
- While the pork is simmering, place equal portions of spinach and bean sprouts into the bottom of four serving bowls. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the yellow noodles and cook according to package instructions. Strain from the boiling water and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Portion into the serving bowls over the vegetables. Remove the boiling water from the flame and stir in the rice noodles. Soak for about 5 minutes, then drain and rinse with cold water. Portion the rice noodles equally into the serving bowls.
- Add the shrimp to the simmering soup broth and cook until done, about 5 minutes. Remove the shrimp and portion equally over the noodles in the bowls. Remove the pork and slice into thin strips. Portion equally in the bowls. Ladle hot broth over the noodles to just barely cover them.
- Garnish each serving with a hard-boiled egg and a generous sprinkling of crispy fried shallots. Serve immediately. Diners squeeze in some lime juice to their taste.
Hokkien Mee Variations
- Shrimp Broth: Many recipes called for first sauteing the shrimp shells before adding water. This brings out their natural ruddy red color. It's not necessary though. If you don't have a large quantity of shrimp shells, you can substitute some chopped, dried shrimp for a portion of the shells. But the flavor of the broth won't be as deep and fresh. Some recipes call for adding a little chunk of rock sugar to the broth for a touch of sweetness. If you don't have rock sugar, just add about 1 tablespoon of regular sugar.
- Chile Paste: Use 1 medium red onion, chopped, instead of the shallots, if you like.
- Other Meats and Seafood: Try bite-sized chicken pieces, pork ribs, sliced fishcake, fish balls or squid cut into rounds.
- Other Garnishes: Chopped scallions, chile sambal, soy sauce, sliced fresh chiles.