Fifth-generation Nyonya Pearly Kee has made it her life’s mission to champion the Peranakan cuisine of her native Penang. In her second cookbook, Pearly Kee’s Nyonya Pantry, she profiles childhood favorites including this highly aromatic tamarind-based curry, made with preserved fish stomach (perut ikan) and a host of fresh herbs and spices. Kee remembers curing perut ikan in the family kitchen while growing up. “We’d place lots of rock salt in a glass jar, add the cleaned fish stomach and roe, and leave it to ferment for at least one month.” For the future chef and her siblings, it was a much-anticipated meal. “The first ones back from school would dig out all the perut ikan. If you came home late, you’d only eat the leaves!” While the mildly spicy dish is served at some restaurants in Penang, Kee insists that it’s best when made at home. To get a taste of it, join a class at her cooking school in the leafy George Town neighborhood of Pulau Tikus, where she teaches classic Malaysian cuisine using fresh produce from the nearby wet market and herbs plucked straight from her garden.
LEMAK PERUT IKAN
For the spice paste
4 red chillies
8 dried red chillies
1cm fresh turmeric
2 stalks lemongrass
15g galangal (lengkuas)
15g shrimp paste (belacan)
For the stock
30g tamarind mixed with 1 litre water
For ingredients A
4 long beans, cut into 3cm lengths
1/4 pineapple, cut into 1cm cubes
1 small aubergine, cut into 3cm lengths
100g medium-sized prawns, shelled
100ml coconut cream
For ingredients B
5-6 tbsp perut ikan (preserved fish stomach), soaked in water to remove excess salt, cut into large pieces
2 red chillies, deseeded, cut into triangles
30g pea aubergines, cut into pieces
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
For the herbs
30 wild pepper leaves
10 kaffir lime leaves
5 sprigs laksa leaves
5 sand ginger leaves
1 turmeric leaf
5 sprigs Thai basil leaves
5 sprigs mint leaves
For the garnish
1 torch ginger flower, finely sliced
Grind the spice paste ingredients till fine.
Squeeze the soaked tamarind in the water, until the water turns a creamy brown. Remove the pith and set the water aside.
Add the spice paste and tamarind water to a pot, bring to a rolling boil and stir well, lower heat and allow to simmer for 20 minutes. Add in ingredients A to the pot, and cook for 6 minutes. Add in ingredients B, seasoning and herbs and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Garnish with sliced torch ginger flower and serve.
To join the daily classes at Kee’s Penang Homecooking School, call 60/16-437-4380 or visit this website.
This article originally appeared in the December 2016/January 2017 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Lemak Perut Ikan”).