Even though I’m from Kuala Lumpur and lived there most of my life, I very seldom ate Char Koay Teow there. I’m pretty picky about my CKT. There is a simple reason for that: my dad hails from Penang. ‘Nuff said!
Ok, I’ll elaborate for those not in the know.
I’m sure there will be some who will challenge my opinion, but I really think that, outside of Penang, there are very few good Char Koay Teows to be had. When I was living in KL, it didn’t matter that I went many months without eating CKT because I knew that a trip to visit relatives in Penang was always on the horizon. I would soon be able to get my fix.
Sister’s Char Koay Teow on McAlister Rd. in Penang
Now that I am living in California, I miss eating Char Koay Teow quite a bit. So here is my “make-do” recipe for CKT while I am far away from the really good stuff. It’s a decent recipe that I’ve added a few tweaks to so that the flavors stand out more.
Some tips that I have discovered along the way:
- Use a wok—a real wok, not one of those non-stick pans. If you must use a non-stick pan, it’ll still be ok, but won’t turn out as great.
- Use a gas stove. If you are stuck with an electric range like we are, improvise by getting a portable butane stove and cooking outside.
- Use lard. That’s right, I said it. LARD. I save pork fat trimmings in the freezer and then cube them and render them for oil when I have enough to make about a cup’s worth. I have sometimes substituted the lard by frying up some bacon and using the oil from the bacon (save the bacon bits for other applications like salads, soups, or just eating out of hand)
- Mise en place. Make sure you have all your ingredients in place before you start. Cooking Char Koay Teow is a very quick process.
- Use preserved cabbage for additional flavor. I think I got this idea from looking up a recipe for char koay kark which calls for it and I thought, hmm…why not for char koay teow also!
- Make single batches. Do not attempt to make a large batch of CKT. This dish works best when cooked individually. I never make this for a big party although I have been tempted to make this into a party activity where everyone fries their own.
- Watch your heat. If it’s too high, you can burn your dish easily. If not high enough, you won’t get that wok hei. The first attempt at cooking CKT will give you an idea of how you’re doing with the heat.
Char Koay Teow ingredients: bean sprouts, lard, shrimp, garlic, Chinese sausage, preserved cabbage, and koay teow noodles
Alright, on to the recipe:
Char Koay Teow
feeds about 6 adults
½ cup lard
1 head of garlic, minced
6 tsp preserved cabbage
½ lb of medium-large shrimp (I normally use 26-30 count and allocate about 3-4 per person)
2 chinese sausages (lup cheong), sliced thin on a bias
1.5 lbs of medium-width rice noodles, loosened. Here in San Jose, we can find them at the Asian grocery store, sold in trays, freshly made. If you really cannot find fresh noodles, I believe that dry pho noodles can be used as a substitute… but they just won’t taste as good.
6 eggs, or more if you like it more eggy
8 oz bag of bean sprouts
6 tsp Sriracha chili sauce (optional)
12 Tbsp CKT sauce (see recipe below)
(Some people like cockles in their CKT, but I don’t. Others prefer crab meat. Tell me your favorite CKT ingredient!)
Work quickly and in individual batches.
- Heat wok on high heat. When wok is very hot, add 2 Tbsp of lard. Toss in 1 Tbsp minced garlic, stir around and throw in 1 tsp preserved cabbage.
- Add 3-4 shrimp and stir it around till lightly pink. Toss in a small handful of Chinese sausage (about 6-7 slices or more).
- When shrimp is almost done, push shrimp to side of wok (where it’s less hot) and toss in a handful (about a loose cup) of noodles. Add about 2 Tbsp CKT sauce and chili sauce (up to how spicy you like it) to noodles and stir it around.
- Push noodles to side, and crack in one egg (or two). Scramble the egg a little and let it sit for half a minute untouched.
- Add a large handful of beansprouts to noodles and stir everything together. As soon as beansprouts start to wilt a little, the dish is done and it’s time to plate up!
BONUS CHAR KOAY TEOW-MAKING TIP
If you’re a kind (read: sneaky) host, pass on the plated Char Koay Teow to someone else and continue cooking. Trust me, the best plate will be the last one (the wok will get more and more seasoned as you cook and the later dishes will take on a more smoky flavor).
Here’s a video we made of the process. NOTE: This video was of the last batch being cooked, when we had barely enough koay teow noodles but a whole lot of bean sprouts!
See how quick that was? Eating it is just as quick, if not quicker.
Sauce for Char Koay Teow
5 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp thick soy sauce
1-½ Tbsp oyster sauce
¼ tsp sugar
4-5 Tbsp water
Put all ingredients into a bowl and stir until the sugar and oyster sauce has dissolved into the other liquid ingredients.