Friday, April 30, 2010

Teochew Yam Paste (芋泥)

Yam Paste (芋泥) is the quintessential Teochew dessert. Eat at any Teochew restaurant and this will most likely be the only option on the dessert page. Call it what you want - Yam Paste, Taro Pudding, Teochew Taro ... it will always be Ou Nee to me.

I made this calorie-busting, artery-clogging, heart-attack-inducing dessert with some lovely yam I bought. Yes, Teochews love their yam (among other root vegetables), as you can see here and here.

Traditionally, lard was used to give it that smooth, silky texture and unmistakable aroma. Of course, in this day and age, vegetable oil has become the de facto substitute. Good or bad? Hmmm ... I have mixed feelings about this, depending on whether I am rooting for the "health" or "taste" camp.

Anyway, Ou Nee uses only three ingredients: yam, sugar and shallot oil (but a whole lot of the latter two).

This was my first time making this, and I didn't follow any recipe. Instead, I watched a video demo (see bottom of post) and referenced it with a good dose of estimation and taste-testing.

(a very rough gauge)
- 1 yam, sliced*
* How large a yam?
To give you an estimate, the amount of my mashed yam filled up a large Chinese soup bowl.
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup oil (or lard oil), add more if you want it smoother
- 4 shallots (sliced)

Do not add any water when you are mashing up the steamed yam, even if it looks dry.

1. Steam yam slices till fork tender (about 20 mins).

2. In the meantime, fry shallots in oil till fragrant. Scoop out shallots and reserve oil.

3. Mash steamed yam. You can use the back of a cleaver (as shown in the video), or a potato masher, or like me, just the back of a fork.

4. Pour in 1 cup of sugar into the mashed yam and fold in. If you watch the video, the presenter used pair of chopsticks and pressed the sugar into the yam, all the while turning the bowl. I used a fork and it worked fine. Just keep folding and distributing the sugar into the yam, working from the outside towards the centre of the bowl. Do not add any water. Taste test, and if you want it sweeter, load up on the sugar.

5. Heat up the shallot oil again. Add the mashed yam and start stirring with a spatula. Keep stirring, and you will see the yam take on a very smooth consistency as it absorbs the oil. It helps to use a non-stick pan. When the yam ends up like a well-kneaded ball of dough, you can remove it and serve. It's amazing when it's fresh from the skillet ... each spoonful literally glides down your throat!

You can garnish the yam paste with gingko nuts or crispy shallots or with pureed pumpkin. I personally like it without anything else but for photography purposes, I added shallot crisps. Yeah, the things we do for our blogs! ;)

If you want to watch how Ou Nee is made, here's a cooking demonstration I stumbled upon ... in TEOCHEW!!! OMG, I couldn't believe my ears when I heard the cook (the lady in the yellow apron) speak in the Teochew dialect. I'm ashamed to say I only understood very little. :( Ah well, here it is!

Part 1

Part 2