BONDING OVER SOUP PREPARATION
For television host-actor Ben Yeo, bonding with his family over reunion dinner starts not at the dining table, but in the kitchen.
One of his fondest childhood memories of Chinese New Year is helping his mother prepare the ingredients for shark's fin soup with chicken, crab meat and mushrooms, one of his family's reunion dinner classics.
He and his three siblings were in charge of shredding boiled chicken meat and peeling crab meat from shells, while his mother cooked other festive dishes, such as braised sea cucumber and mushrooms, steamed fish and stir-fried leeks.
Yeo, 38, says: "It was very tedious work, but it was fun, like playing with play dough."
After years of observing his mother make the shark's fin soup, the culinary arts graduate from hospitality institute Shatec came up with his own version when he started his own family seven years ago. He has two sons, aged eight and five, with his wife, Ms Claudia Cheong, 38, who helps run Big Big Heart, a domestic abuse shelter started by Yeo.
He also runs Western restaurant Tenderfresh Classic, which has four outlets including in Our Tampines Hub and Cheong Chin Nam Road.
His soup recipe omits shark's fin for conservation reasons and also because he says "it doesn't add much taste".
Another modification is replacing tang hoon (glass noodles) with Japanese vermicelli. "Unlike tang hoon, Japanese vermicelli does not become too soggy when cooked and has a firmer and more chewy bite, like that of konnyaku (Japanese jelly)," he says.
He also adds enoki mushrooms as they are a family favourite.
To reduce preparation time, he uses frozen crab leg meat, but insists on shredding chicken meat by hand instead of slicing it.
"Hand-shredded meat is finer and doesn't fall apart easily. And the meat is more tender," he says. "It reminds me of my childhood."
He wants his children to learn how to prepare this dish. "They are old enough to start helping out in the kitchen and this also gives them a sense of what their grandmother used to cook."
Besides the soup, Yeo, who hosts Little Life Hacks, an info-education series on Channel 8 on Sundays at 10am, also prepares a steamboat meal for his family with ingredients such as abalone, fish and sliced pork belly.
Other than feeding his family, another Chinese New Year tradition he observes is to buy them a new set of clothes "from head to toe, from inside to outside".
He says: "The practice helps to spice up Chinese New Year or else it will become just another holiday."
BEN YEO'S CHICKEN, CRAB AND MUSHROOM SOUP
- 250g chicken breast, skin removed
- 1.8 to 2 litres water
- 100g Japanese vermicelli, soaked in water
- 400g store-bought crab leg meat
- 50g corn starch
- 50ml hot water
- 2 litres store-bought chicken stock
- 200g enoki mushrooms, chop off roots and discard 10 pieces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stem removed and julienned
- 3 pieces black fungus, soaked in hot water and julienned
- Egg whites from three eggs, beaten
- White pepper and vinegar to taste
1. In a pot set over high heat, add chicken breast and 800ml to 1 litre water, or enough to cover the meat. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes until the water comes to a boil.
2. Drain and rinse chicken with tap water to bring meat to room temperature.
3. Use hands to shred meat into thin strands. Set aside.
4. In a bowl, soak Japanese vermicelli for 10 to 15 minutes in water before cutting them into three equal parts with a pair of scissors. Set aside.
5. In a clean pot set over high heat, add crab leg meat and about 500ml of water. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.
6. Dissolve 50g corn starch in 50ml of hot water. Set aside.
7. In a clean pot set over high meat, add 2 litres of chicken stock and 500ml of water. Bring the mixture to a boil.
8. Add enoki mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, cooked crab leg meat, shredded chicken and black fungus into the mixture at high heat. Mix contents well.
9. While stirring the soup in the pot, pour corn starch solution gradually to thicken it. To check the consistency, take a scoop of the soup and watch how it flows back into the pot. It should not be too thin or starchy. Let it cook for five minutes till the mixture bubbles.
10. While stirring the soup, pour in egg white gradually from a bowl and let it cook for one to two minutes.
11. Turn heat off, scoop soup into a bowl and add white pepper and vinegar to taste.
Serves 10 to 12
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.