The precise origins of this dish are lost in the mists of time. However, about 25 years ago I began to be more acutely aware of the cuisines of cultures further afield than those of Old Albion or our Gallic cousins across the Channel. Although not exclusively, the vim and vigour of the food of the Far East in particular commanded my attention. Specifically, the nuances of flavour and the fire of dry red chillies and other fragrant spices called me away from the student staples of tuna pasta and sausage sandwiches.
Around this time I encountered a dish based on minced beef that I thought quite the most heartening thing I had ever eaten. I fail to recall where I had it or in what company, but some years later, after yet another lost evening in the office, as I stared disconsolately at the ill-stocked fridge, these words came to me – across time and space – as if in a dream: “Malay Mince”.Will
Half-remembered flavour profiles began to inveigle their way into my alimentary consciousness. Suddenly a lost Thursday evening became an opportunity for a midnight feast: what had been the balance of textures in the dish? What the base notes of flavour? What the grace notes? I had to start simple. This, or a variation on it, is where I ended up:
- Method and ingredients:
Rice – quantity and type to taste. Get it on, get it steamed in good time, let it dry out a little while you make the mince. I use half a modest tea mug of dry basmati rice, to which is added a full mug (same mug) of cold water and, if I have it, an aromatic or two such as an end of lemon grass, some coriander stalks, a bay leaf, a star anise and (in all cases, because EVERYONE has these – three or four peppercorns). Bring the rice to a low simmer, covered, and simmer for about ten minutes or until the water is just gone. Don’t stir it, but you can check for the disappearance of the water by using a spoon to part the rice in the centre of the pan from time to time. When the water has just disappeared, make sure the pan cover is on and leave to sit, off the heat, for at least ten minutes so that the rice can steam its last and fluff up.
While all this is going on, you will need to gently sweat half a diced red onion (or whatever onion, shallot etc you have) in a little vegetable oil until translucent, turning the heat up at the end to get just a little caramelisation, at which stage you should add 100-150g or so of whatever protein you have to hand. Leftover beef, pork, chicken or lamb are all good, but I have also done this on occasion with guinea fowl, venison and soy mince. Quorn mince would probably work (although I prefer the bite of the soy mince if we’re on the vegetarian theme) but I would avoid fish. The protein should be diced as small as you can be bothered to make it.
When this, together with the onion, has been browned and begun to crisp up, then add (in this order and stirring each new addition well in):
A teaspoon of cinnamon or mixed spice powder, about 100-150g of diced vegetables. I use carrots, turnips and swede for preference and have used kohlrabi, sweetheart cabbage and french beans (I would avoid anything too strongly brassic, as the sulphurous nature of these does not enhance the dish)
After sweating these for a couple of minutes, a tablespoon of tomato purée, two tablespoons of vinegar (dark chinese rice wine vinegar if you have it, red or white wine (or cider) vinegar if not, half a glass of wine (or water if you don’t have wine to hand) and then (only if you are using soy or quorn instead of leftover meat of some kind) half a vegetable stock cube. Stir well to loosen the pan stickings into the liquid.
Simmer this until the liquid begins to reduce and the mince sauce thicken (about 5 mins). Then finally add a tablespoon of soy sauce, a good grind of pepper (white if you have it, but black is fine), two finely minced/puréed garlic cloves and again, if you have it, some roughly chopped coriander (although it works fine without). If you are a fan of spice, this is the moment to add chilli, hot sauce, or additional pepper, to taste. Continue to simmer for a few minutes to cook out the rawness of the garlic.
While this final simmer is going on, gently fry an egg such that the yoke remains runny.
Assemble with a pillow of rice, the mince liberally strewn over and then the egg triumphant, garnished with a sprinkle of sea salt and grind of pepper and (if you have it) a final few coriander leaves.”