A little known fact about my local tastebud inclinations is that I have always loved me a good Kam Heong dish. Like Malaysian Butter Sauce, Kam Heong is also a sauce unique to Malaysia, an explosive amalgamation of ingredients from Indian, Malay and Chinese culinary styles.
Directly translated from a Cantonese as ‘Golden and Aromatic’, this sauce is a chunky, amalgamation of lemongrass, candlenuts, curry powder, curry leaves and bird’s eye chili. Seriously, whoever first came up with this combination deserves a Nobel Prize. It was a must-order whenever the family headed out for a weekend dinner ‘tai chow’ style at the neighborhood coffee shop. (This style typically has elements of red tablecloth, Chinese-style dishes cooked in a large wok with a large fire and in an excessively casual presentation served with fluffy white rice, and everyone’s cutlery being given in a large bowl filled with boiling hot water for sanitation’s sake.)
For Kam Heong, the most common meat it is cooked with is chicken and local clams. The thing that makes traditional Kam Heong not vegan is the dried shrimp that lends a chewiness and umami element to this dry-style sauce. I’ve replaced shrimp with simple textured soy protein (TSP), also known as textured vegetable protein (TSP). You can easily find this via online shopping channels. It’s better to choose a chunky variety, the one typically used to make vegan bolognese. If only have access to the smaller pebble-type of textured soy protein, this would work too, but you may have to be careful about burning it during the cooking texture because of its smaller surface area.
The one thing you may notice is that this is a dry sauce. I feel that the dryness varies from restaurant to restaurant. I’ve made it drier than what one may expect so that it keeps better in the fridge if you’re storing it. Mine has lasted close to a month! You can use it right away after cooking it, and add splashes of water or diluted cornstarch slurry as you go along if you would like to get a little bit of gravy going on. You can do the same when you take it straight out of the fridge.
All the photos here show what it looks like without including bird’s eye chili, because I personally don’t take so much spicy food. But to be honest, it is quite a standout component of this sauce, so I’d definitely encourage you to put the chili in if the both of you have a good history together.
You can cook it as a stir fry with your favourite mushroom, vegetable or beans. And if you’re up for adding this sauce to firm tofu, I’ve also added a great method of preparing tofu so that it soaks up the sauce much better than normal tofu.
Freezing it not once but TWICE before cooking results in a spongier, ‘meatier’ tofu that some people say reminds them of the mouthfeel of chicken. I personally don’t detect this chickenness at all, but I do agree that it has a LOT of bite and is a fun way to add extra texture to your meal.
I hope you enjoy this complexly tasteful sauce and tofu combo together with your loved ones. My Mum approves of it, and I hope yours does too!
Kam Heong Sauce
With its exciting combination of textures and flavours, this uniquely Malaysian sauce will create unforgettable stir-fries.
- 12 cm lemongrass stalk
- 1 cm ginger stem
- 1/2 medium sized red onion (about 75g)
- 5-6 cloves garlic
- 8-9 candelnuts
- 2-3 birds eye chili (optional)
- 1/4 cup Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)
- 1/4 cup curry leaves, loosely packed
- 2 tbsp curry powder
- 1/3 cup cooking oil
- SAUCE SLURRY:
- 1 tsp arrowroot powder
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tsp dark soy sauce
- Step 1 Boil candlenuts in a small pot of water for 10 minutes. Drain and leave to cool for 10 minutes.
- Step 2 As you wait for the candlenuts to boil, finely slice and dice lemongrass, ginger, onion, garlic and bird’s eye chili.
- Step 3 Place all these ingredients into a mini food processor or food chopper, add candlenuts, and blend until it it becomes a well-combined mixture.
- Step 4 Heat up oil in a frying pan until very hot.
- Step 5 Very quickly drop the curry leaves and step back! The leaves will fry and crackle, and oil will spatter. Use an oil spatter guard to protect yourself if you have one. Once the splattering subsides and the leaves start to turn transclucent, remove leaves from pan and leave aside. They need only a few seconds in the pan to cook.
- Step 6 With the same oil in the pan, now put in the Textured Vegetable Protein and cook for 20-30 seconds. The oil will foam up
- Step 7 this is normal.
- Step 8 Turn off heat. Remove TVP from pan and transfer to a plate lined with a serviette or disposable kitchen towel to remove excess oil.
- Step 9 For the remaining oil in the pan, filter it by carefully pouring it through a metal sieve into a small bowl, return oil to the pan, and heat up again.
- Step 10 Add in the blended mixture and cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the ends of onion and garlic start to brown slightly.
- Step 11 Toss in curry powder, stir in and fry mixture for 20-30 seconds.
- Step 12 Stir in slurry sauce until it becomes it thickens and a chunky paste Is created. Turn off heat promptly.
- Step 13 Stir in leaves and TVP until well combined.
- Step 14 Allow to cool and transfer to a far to store in the fridge, or use immediately in Kam Heong Tofu ‘Chicken’ Recipe.
Kam Heong Tofu 'Chicken'
This ingenious way of preparing tofu adds extra sponginess, texture and bite, and readily soaks up the complex flavours of Kam Heong Sauce.
- 400g block/s firm tofu
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
- 1 batch of Kam Heong Sauce
- A few sprigs of spring onion (Optional)
- 1 large red chili (Optional)
- Step 1 Remove tofu from its original packaging, transfer to an airtight plastic container and freeze in the fridge overnight.
- Step 2 The following day, remove tofu from freezer, and allow to fully thaw on kitchen counter or a warm, sunny place. The larger your tofu blocks, the longer it will take to thaw.
- Step 3 Press tofu firmly against a large, sturdy chopping board, and hold both over kitchen sink. With your palm, gently press out as much liquid as possible from tofu, allowing water to drip into sink.
- Step 4 Return tofu to plastic container and freeze again overnight.
- Step 5 The following day, repeat thawing and pressing steps. Now either store tofu in fridge until cooking time, or use immediately.
- Step 6 If using immediately, heat oil up in a shallow pan.
- Step 7 Dice tofu into bite-sized pieces, and finely dice optional spring onion and red chili.
- Step 8 Fry tofu for 2-8 minutes, depending on how crispy you would like it to be. The shorter you fry it for, the more the tofu is able to absorb the sauce. Frying for longer creates firmer, drier mouthfeel.
- Step 9 Stir in Kam Heong Sauce. Add in splashes of water or cornstarch slurry if you wish to make it more ‘saucy’.
- Step 10 Turn off heat, transfer to serving plate, sprinkle with spring onion and chili and serve immediately with freshly cooked rice.