There is a place on Russell Street (I know many of you know it),wedged unpromisingly between the porn shop and the disposals. It’s called Nam Loong and, on an analysis of cost to gastronomic return it is hands down my favourite Chinese restaurant. Pete introduced me to it when we first met nearly 18 years ago now, and he was introduced to it by his biological father who had been going there for god knows how many decades since he moved to Australia from Malaysia. It is cramped and badly decorated. The service is comfortingly woeful (marginally less so when we go with the Chinese relatives) and it did once make the front page of The Age for heinous crimes against kitchen hygiene. Mind you, if you brave the trip to the toilets you will witness woks so fearsomely hot and fast that you will realise that no bacteria could ever survive them.
We used to go there when Pete was working as a projectionist at a City cinema. We went there when we were both working for a law firm. I went there with a colleague, fresh from excavating at the Old Melbourne Gaol and covered in filth. Nam Loong at one time fed our working lives and there were many delights to choose from which used to give you great change from 10 dollars. They make my favourite char sui bau and the best Singapore noodles. They can provide you with a plate of roast duck on rice for the kind of change you can find in your couch. But the dish that I find it almost impossible to go past is the Salted Chicken. This is a gently poached white cooked chicken with a spring onion and ginger sauce. Its a standard Chinese classic with many minor variations however I have cobbled together a recipe which replicates the Nam Loong Salted Chicken experience at home.
If you eat regularly at my house you will have had salted chicken. If you are invited for a meal at short notice there is a 50/50 chance it will be salted chicken. If you want to call me and invite yourself over for a salted chicken you can almost bet I’ll say yes. It is one of my kitchen standards. It is ridiculously simple to make but you must,must,must follow 2 rules:
- DO NOT boil the chicken. Do not even think about boiling the chicken.If you do boil the chicken give yourself a good spanking and abandon the salted chicken and use the poor bird for something else. For those uninitiated in the process of poaching a whole chicken, do not let your fear of the method get the better of you. It wants to cook by basically sitting in a hot bath and you need to let it.
- DO NOT use a blender to make the sauce. This gives it an unpleasantly mucousy texture. Use the method described below. If you do not have a mortar and pestle, you simply put the sauce ingredients in a jar and mix by shaking.
- 1 free range /good quality chicken
- 2 spring onions for the stock
- 4 slices of fresh ginger for the stock
- tsp salt for the stock
- sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons very finely chopped spring onions for the sauce
- 1.5 tbsp grated ginger for the sauce
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil for the sauce
- 1.5 teaspoons salt for the sauce
Rinse and dry the chicken and place in a stock pot with cold water to cover. Add the two spring onions, 4 slices of ginger and salt. Bring almost up to the boil but do not let the water get so hot that the bubbles do anything more than just barely break the surface of the water. Simmer very gently like this for 10 minutes then put a lid on the pot and turn off the heat. Leave for 45 minutes and then very gently put the chicken in a bath of iced water for a minute or so (until the water starts to warm up). This does nice things to the fat under the skin. Remove the chicken and gently brush with sesame oil. Put in the fridge while you make the sauce.
To make the sauce, pound the spring onions and the ginger together with the salt with a mortar and pestle and then add the oil and mix to a paste. To serve, chop the chicken chinese style and arrange on a plate with the sauce in a separate dish on the side for dipping. Eat with rice.