Agak-Agak, Chukop Rasa - A cookbook review by Catherine Lim
Agak-Agak et al by Gavin Koh is more than a cookbook, it is a “memoir” of his “Mama”, his maternal grandmother.
The kitchen is the hearth that holds the memory, and food is the love that nourishes it.
And the flavours are further enhanced in the pastel coloured illustrations by Qin Yi, that bookmark the recipes, adding to the charm so evident in the cover.
We decided the best way to review this cookbook is to test one recipe. Gavin suggested I try his grandma’s “rempah-less” rendang with an option to add a rempah if one wishes. I took that option. I was warned that without a slow cooker, one is supposed to stand watch and stir constantly over simmering heat, an exercise which can take up to more than two hours.
Preparation for the rempah
The cut was shin, but it was supposed to be shin on the bone so there is marrow to enrich the cut. That option only appears to be available at Tekka Market when I was marketing. And the market was closed at that time.
After an hour of occasional stirring, it looked like the liquid was not rendering into gravy. It didn’t help that I forgot to add coconut milk before I covered the meat with just water. I took some of the liquid out and supplemented with some coconut cream. I finally tested the texture of the rendang at the 90-minute mark, agak-agak. And was surprised to find the meat had become tender, not dissolved- in-your mouth, tender, but enough to equal the Malay version where a firmer rendang is preferred.
Ready to serve !
My guests all enjoyed the taste, found it more than fulsome in rendang flavour, but not melt in the mouth tender, as Gavin also likes it.
I will certainly make it again, and try it rempah-less, as Gavin recommends. Instead of shin, I will use brisket, plate or chuck as the helpful cow in pages 68 and 69 recommends.
I had also used a cooking hack for a more robust burst flavour at end, but that’s my family’s’ secret.
Agak-agak means to estimate, chukop rasa, means just enough flavour, Gavin has done more than agak-agak, he has measured out the recipe down to the size of the galangal ( lengkuas), “3 cm”.
And that is what it takes to make the recipe precisely just as his Mamas’ would have cooked it.
Agak-Agak Chukop Rasa: Stories from my Peranakan Childhood