Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Dried Marinated Salted Lampam

I am always interested in experimenting with new ways of processing food.  Recently, we were doing a minor fish harvest, more to see the reception to our fish and to reduce the population in the fish ponds.  With the natural setting of the pond, the fish have been reproducing and for the overall betterment of the fishes in the pond, it was necessary to reduce the population.  During this exercise, we managed to harvest about 100 lampan with many more left in the pond.  This fish has been flourishing in the pond and to reduce competition for space, this fish was harvested along with the red tilapia.

Lampan is a fish that is very susceptible to the oxygen content in the water as well as to the quality of the water.  This fish is my gauge for the oxygen content.  Should the oxygen content be low, they are the first to react and will be at the water surface.  They can die within one day if the oxygen content is low.  If the water quality is low, they will also be the first to die.  By comparison, the keli or the haruan is very hardy and can survive in low quality water and mud.  Apart from the fish pellet, they love eating the water grass and plants so when I was cleaning the fish, I noticed a lot of "green" in their "stomach".  With the natural setting of the fish pond, this has helped them to flourish and breed.

We sold some of the Lampam at the Sunday market and the remaining I decided to process into dried salted fish.  This fish has many small bones and as with many fish that has a lot of bones, it taste great but eating them could be challenge.  Previously, I had turned them into dried salted fish and when fried till crispy, is very tasty.  This time around, I decided to do a variation of it - you could almost say a gourmet version.  The fish has a lot of fat, like many of the trout family (salmon is one fish that is from the trout family along with rainbow trout and many others) hence when it is fried, it doesn’t become hard but is more malleable.  You will also see the fat turn into oil, staying on the surface of the fish.   It also has a lot of scales, which I prefer to remove as I like to eat them without the scales and it also speeds up the drying time.

With the abundance of herbs to create a marinade, I decided to use lemon grass (serai) and kaffir lime leaves (daun limau perut) along with coarse salt to create the marinade.  The lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves were pounded in a mortar pestle to release the juices and aroma.  Alternatively, you can also blend but this would mean adding water to the ingredients before you can blend it and this can cause the salt to dissolve faster and seep into the fish faster than the lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves, making it more salty and less aromatic.  I like my fish to taste of salt but not overly salty which would necessitate the dried fish to be soaked to remove some of the salt before cooking but which would also cause for the herbal taste to leak out.

The fish is marinated overnight, best to keep it in the refrigerator, and all excess salt and the herbal mix is removed before it is set to dry in the sun.  Depending on weather conditions, it can take 2-3 days to dry.  This is one way to preserve fish without the need for chemical additives or preservatives.  For long storage, it is best to store it in your fridge or chiller.

I enjoy having this fish fried to a crisp and eating it with ulam and sambal belacan  (chillies and shrimp paste mix)  along with rice.  Sometimes, I even eat it on its own or with a salad accompaniment.  The taste of the lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves gives it a great taste twist.  Because it is crispy, you can just munch on it without worrying about the bones sticking to your throat.  You just chew them down.
So, next time you want to have dried salted fish, make some and use the abundance of herbs and natural seasoning that we have in Malaysia and create your own gourmet version of salted dried fish.


Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Bananas - Pisang Rotan (Lidi)

Another interesting banana that is not often found is the pisang lidi or rotan.  It has a distinctive shape compared with other bananas and you can easily identify it.  It is more elongated and slim almost like fingers.  The skin is a milky-yellow color and relatively thin.  This banana is normally eaten uncooked and has a sweet and light taste to it.  This particular banana is rarely found now so I am happy that we have it at the farm as part of my collection of banana plants.  At our Sunday morning market, when we have it available, it is sold very quickly - apparently a favorite with the afficionados.

At the farm, the plant grow to about 7m (approximately 20ft) and in comparison to other banana plants has a rather skinny pseudostem and is green beneath the dried brown upper layer.  The leaves tend to grow upright and only angles when it is about to die-off hence making it look tall and slim.  The upper side of the leaf is a dark green with a groove in the leave stem.  The underside of the leaf is a lighter green with a light green leaf stem. 
This plant produces multiple baby plants and it is best to keep it to 3-4 per group to ensure a higher and better quality yield.
The inflorescence is rather bitter hence is not consumed.  It takes approximately 2 months from when the inflorescence appears to the fruit maturing and ripening.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Taking freshness and health to special events

Recently, I had the opportunity to provide two items to the menu at a friend's event: fresh ulam (Malaysian version of salad) and misai kucing tea.  For this special event, I wanted to be sure that the ulam tray we provided was different and offered as many varieties as possible - both to provide for choices as well as introducing different ulam that people are not familar and at times, not easy to find. 
In order to serve approximately 800 guests, preparation for this started over 1 month before the event in ensuring that we would have enough produce so care and maintenance to the plants was essential. This would be the first time that we would be doing something like this and I wanted it to be the best that we can do and especially so since it was for a good friend.
 For the event itself, we started doing the harvesting 2 days for ulam that would be blanched and one day before for items that would be served fresh, all in the spirit of fresh from the farm to your dining table.
We prepared 10 trays for this event.  Since the food theme was traditional kampung food, I decided that the way we presented the ulam should be different instead of just regular steel tray or ceramic plates, hence we constructed a bamboo and wood tray.  Each tray consisted of fresh ulam raja, silom, lumai, pucuk jambu, bunga betik, bunga kantan, bunga misai kucing, bebuas, pucuk kadok, ruku, selasih putih, pucuk salam and blanched jantung pisang, pucuk paku, terung bulat, terung telunjuk and 2 kinds of pucuk ubi kayu. 
I spent my time at the event mostly ensuring that the trays we replaced as needed and also to chat with the guests over what was in the tray.  It was gratifying to hear the comments from the guests: "I have never seen such a variety of ulam served at a kenduri, this is great", "I love this ulam but haven't been able to have it since it is difficult to find" and "Look at how fresh the ulam is".
The other item that we provided was the Misai Kucing Tea concentrate which was mixed with hot water on site in a drink dispenser container so that the guests can just fill their cups and drink.  As to properly prepare enough tea to serve many guests takes time, it was necessary to produce the concentrate for ease,  This was also well received and the comments that I obtained was very positive.  One comment that made me feel good is: "This tea taste great, is not bitter and doesn't taste like misai kucing tea.  It tastes like chrysanthemum tea.".  Comments like this validate my efforts in producing my tea, ensuring that it is pure misai kucing and using only the leaves and flowers with the soft flower stem.  As a note, once you have prepared the concentrate, you can store it in your refrigerator and add hot or cold water before serving your tea.  You can also add ice, a great alternative to regular iced tea.
So, if you would like to have similar items served at your events, please contact us :)

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Kampung Chicken Project

During the last couple of months, I have had several requests for village chicken or ayam kampung.  I have a small number by comparison to the poultry producers so I was not able to cater to the requests.  The chickens that I have are also producing a good number of eggs so over the Ramadan and Syawal period, I decided to leave the chicken eggs and see how many will hatch as well as learning more about the natural cycle of the chickens.  Hence, Project Ayam Kampung was born with the goal to produce ayam kampung and telor ayam kampung.

During this period over 100 eggs were produced and we left them for the hens to hatch them.  It takes about 3-4 weeks of incubation before they are hatched.  We have identified which eggs are being "hatched" and their mother hens.

Many have suggested that I should buy more chicks to add to the population.  However, being rather careful with introduction of new chicks or chickens of which I have no idea as to their health and not wanting to introduce the risk of illness to my stock, I prefer to stick to letting my hens produce the next generation.

The eggs have begun to hatch and we are starting to collect the new eggs now to provide a better picture of how many eggs will be hatch from the primary batch.  Apart from letting the chickens scrounge for food, they are also feed crushed corn, broken rice and also grated coconut,  I have noticed that weekly feeding of the grated coconut has increased the egg production.  I guess there is some truth behind the advise given by some old-timers that feeding the chickens with grated coconut can increase the egg production.  Someday, I will have to delve into the whys.

It is very satisfying and calming to watch the mother hen herd its chicks as they scrounge the ground for insects and new grass for food.   Another reason why I opt for natural farming, I want to reduce the introduction of harmful chemicals to our system.  With the egss hatching, it is also good timing as we are in the period of maintenance of the farm so the weeding and tilling of the ground is underway.  This uncovers many food source for them and with the soil already loosened, it makes it easy for them to scratch the ground and for me, it also serves a secondary purpose of breaking the soil.  They also add more natural fertilizer to my soil.  There are so many things to consider at the farm, balancing the growth cycle of the various produce, timing of tasks to maximize the benefits and inter-dependency of activities.  I have to keep track of all this and everything is a project that requires tasks and timelines - another useful usage of the legacy of my corporate days.

The progress of this chicks are being monitored.  With many new chicks, I frequently scan the sky during the day for the eagles that have made this area their hunting ground.  Alhamdulillah, so far the chicks have remained safe,

The next step is the trick of balancing eggs for sale versus producing chickens.  I love the eggs and there is a definite difference in looks and taste.  The egg yolk is a golden yellow and has less egg white compared to the regular store-bought chicken eggs.  SubhanAllah, I now eat farm-produced chicken eggs.  With the chiller at the farm, the eggs are stored there but it usually is stored for more than 3-4 days before being consumed.  After all, what is the purpose of producing fresh produce if it is stored for long periods?

My dad is not one who gushes over things so when he who says it is the best chicken egg that he has tasted, it is the best compliment that I have received.  I try to send a few each week and feel very happy that I can provide this for them, a small gesture to all the love, caring and support that they have showered me over my life.