When her cafe serving local food was struggling to attract customers, Madam Jenny Peck turned her business around by learning Western-style food such as paprika chicken.
The 66-year-old, who opened her now-defunct Pecky's Cafe at Biopolis in February 2010, ran it profitably for three years before closing it in 2013 as she found it too physically tiring to continue.
An avid home cook with a varied cooking repertoire, Madam Peck still prepares paprika chicken at least once a year.
"It is a significant dish for me as it is not only the first Western dish I learnt to cook, but it also made a difference to my cafe business then," says Madam Peck, who regularly cooks for family and friends.
She started her cafe selling food such as fried mee siam and home-style dishes such as spicy sotong and prawn omelette, but faced stiff competition from nearby food outlets.
Her elder sister, who picked up Western cooking when she got married and moved to Zurich, suggested Madam Peck serve Western food instead.
Madam Peck recalls: "It was a bold decision for me as I was unfamiliar with Western food. But with overheads to pay and a lack of customers, I had to take action."
Her sister flew to Singapore and stayed for two months, teaching Madam Peck to cook paprika chicken, spaghetti bolognese, Swiss rosti, potato souffle, mashed potato and salads.
Madam Peck, who has no formal culinary training, says: "It was an intensive period of learning for me. I had to learn my sister's recipes, get the techniques right and adapt the recipes for cooking in larger quantities for my business."
Her efforts paid off as she attracted new customers and her business broke even within six months of her changing the menu.
Paprika chicken turned out to be one of the best-selling items. At her cafe, she served it in sandwiches and with spiced basmati rice.
To ensure the chicken meat is well-marinated, Madam Peck's tip is to add the ingredients of the marinade one at a time, rubbing each one into the meat.
Even after retiring from her food business, Madam Peck has not stopped learning new recipes and revisiting old ones. In August, encouraged by her family, she started selling her homemade muruku online at munching-mites.myshopify.com.
She learnt to make muruku, an Indian snack, from an aunt in the 1970s. Since then, she has tweaked the recipe, coming up with her own healthier version.
Instead of frying the curry leaves and dried chillies, she bakes them so that her muruku mix is less oily. She intends to come up with more varieties of muruku mixes.
She says: "It takes effort and time to test recipes and get results that people like. But I enjoy the process as there is always more to learn and it gives me satisfaction when I see people enjoying what I cook for them."
PAPRIKA CHICKEN WITH SPICED BASMATI RICE
- 8 boneless chicken thighs (1.2kg)
- 10g butter
- 3 tsp sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground white pepper
- 2 Tbs Knorr Aromat seasoning powder
- 1 Tbs cornflour
- 5 Tbs ground paprika (20g)
- 8 garlic cloves (50g), minced
- 60g ginger, minced
- 4 Tbs olive oil
1. Wash the boneless chicken thighs and pat dry. Take a heat-proof oven tray and lightly grease it with the butter. Place the chicken pieces, skin side down, in one layer, on the tray.
2. Add the sugar, salt and pepper, rubbing them into the chicken meat. Next, add the Aromat seasoning powder and rub it into the chicken meat. Add the cornflour and rub it in. Add the ground paprika and rub it in.
Now, add the minced garlic and rub it into the chicken meat.
3. Take the minced ginger and squeeze the juice over the chicken meat. Discard the ginger pulp.
4. Add the olive oil and mix well.
5. Turn each piece of chicken and arrange it skin side up. Cover the tray with plastic wrap. Place the tray in the fridge and allow the meat to marinate for two hours. Remove the chicken from the fridge 10 minutes before cooking.
6. Preheat the oven to 225 deg C for 10 minutes. Lower the heat to 200 deg C and place the tray of chicken meat in the oven on the middle rack. Bake for 45 minutes until the chicken thighs are cooked through.
7. Serve with rice on the side.
Makes four servings
INGREDIENTS FOR THE SPICED BASMATI RICE
- 3 rice cups of uncooked basmati rice (400g)
- 550ml water
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 6 cloves
- 50g butter
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 15g ginger, minced
- ¾ tsp ground turmeric
- 2 tsp Knorr Aromat seasoning powder
- 3 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
- 40g raisins
- 50g cashew nuts
1. Rinse the rice until the water runs clear. Place the rice in a bowl and fill with enough water to cover it. Soak the rice for 30 minutes. Discard the water. In the inner pot of a rice cooker, place the rice and add 550ml of water.
2. Add the cinnamon sticks and cloves. Switch on the rice cooker and leave it on until the rice is cooked. This should take about 20 minutes.
3. In a clean pan, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and minced ginger and stir-fry for 30 seconds until fragrant.
4. Add the rice, turmeric powder and Aromat seasoning powder. Stir-fry for one minute.
5. Add the extra-virgin olive oil and stir-fry for 30 seconds.
6. Switch off the heat and transfer the rice into a serving dish. Garnish with the raisins and cashew nuts.
Makes four servings
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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