In Singapore, curry puffs – fried pies filled with meat, seafood or vegetables – are sold at fast-food shops, bakeries and kopitiam (a traditional coffee shop). In Hong Kong, you have to cook them yourself. They’re not difficult to make and, if you like, you can double the batch and freeze the excess so you have them on hand for whenever you have a craving.
SARDINE CURRY PUFFS
If you have a tortilla press (not, admittedly, the most common kitchen implement in Hong Kong), then use it to press the dough into circles. It works in the same way as the small press used to make dumpling wrappers, but it has a greater diameter. Without a tortilla press, you’ll have to roll the dough into circles, using a rolling pin that’s about 1.5cm in diameter.
I tested this recipe several times, trying various types of curry powder and brands of canned sardines. It is essential to use a good, well-balanced curry powder so that no single spice dominates. For the sardines, don’t bother buying the expensive ones from France or Spain, because once the fish is mixed with the other ingredients, you can’t tell the difference in quality. Sardine cans come in different sizes, depending on the brand. For this recipe, the total weight of sardines, including the sauce, should be about 400 grams. It’s fine if it’s a little more; the filling will just be slightly more pungent.
For the dough:
550 grams plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for pressing or rolling the dough
400 grams unsalted butter, chilled
5 grams fine sea salt
10 grams granulated sugar
About 250ml ice water
For the filling:
2 large potatoes, about 500 grams (use the smooth-skinned local variety)
25ml cooking oil
1 large onion, about 350 grams
3-4 garlic cloves
2 yellow or green banana chillies, about 16cm long
4-6 red bird’s-eye chillies
1 tbsp curry powder, or to taste
¾ tsp chilli powder, or to taste
About 400 grams canned sardines in tomato sauce
Oil, for frying
Make the dough. Cut the butter into 1.5cm chunks. Put the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the chunks of butter and process until the fat is the size of small peas. Transfer the ingredients to a large mixing bowl. Add 225ml of ice water and mix it in with your fingertips to form a rough, shaggy mass. If the mixture seems dry, drizzle in more ice water and mix to form a cohesive dough. Knead the dough briefly, then divide it into two pieces, shape them into rectangles and wrap with cling film. Refrigerate the dough for at least two hours.
Make the filling. Peel the potatoes, cut them into 5mm dice, then put them into a pan of salted water. Bring to the boil over a medium flame, then lower the heat and simmer until the potatoes are just tender. Drain in a colander, but do not rinse.
Finely chop the onion and garlic. Pour 25ml of cooking oil into a skillet and heat over a medium flame. Add the onion, garlic and a sprinkling of salt, then lower the flame and cook, stirring often, until the onion is soft and translucent (about 10 minutes). Quarter the banana chillies lengthwise then slice them very thinly. Cut the bird’s-eye chillies in half lengthwise and use a small spoon to scrape out as many seeds as possible. Very thinly slice the chillies. Add the banana and bird’s-eye chillies to the skillet, and mix in the curry powder and chilli powder. Stir constantly for about a minute, then push the ingredients to the sides of the pan.
Add the sardines and all the sauce in the can. Use a wooden spoon to mash the sardines in the skillet, breaking the fish into small flakes, then mix them with the other ingredients. Taste a little of the mixture and add more curry powder, chilli powder and/or salt, if needed. Add the potatoes then cook the ingredients over a low flame, stirring often, until the mixture is thick and moist, but with no excess liquid. Taste again and add more salt, if needed. Cool to room temperature.
Divide the sardine-potato filling into portions that weigh about 40 grams each (it’s fine if the portions are a little more or less, but they should be even so the finished curry puffs are of a consistent size). Lay the filling in mounds on a platter. Cut the dough into 45-gram pieces, making as many as there are portions of filling. Refrigerate half the dough portions. Any excess dough can be wrapped and refrigerated, then used for pies or tarts.
Line a baking tray with parchment paper. If you don’t have a tortilla press, roll a piece of dough into a 14cm circle on a lightly floured work surface. If you’re using a tortilla press, cut off the top of a one-quart ziplock bag, then slit open the two sides, so the bag is attached only at the bottom. Put some flour in a small bowl. Roll a piece of dough into a ball between the palms of your hands then coat it in the flour and place it on one side of the ziplock bag. Fold the other side of the bag over the dough ball, then press it in the tortilla press to make a 14cm circle. Remove the dough circle from the ziplock bag.
However you’ve shaped the dough, put a portion of the sardine-potato mixture on the dough circle and fold over the sides to form a half-circle that encloses the filling. Press the edges together so they adhere firmly and place the curry puff on the baking tray. When you’ve shaped half of the curry puffs, put them in the fridge so they have time to firm up. Finish shaping the other curry puffs with the remaining portions of dough and filling, placing them on another tray lined with parchment paper. Take the first tray of curry puffs from the fridge (they should be cold by now) and refrigerate the second tray. Decoratively pleat the edges of the curry puffs on the first tray – this makes them look pretty while also ensuring the filling won’t ooze out. When the second tray of puffs is cold, pleat the edges of those. Chill the curry puffs until you’re ready to fry them.
Pour oil into a skillet to the depth of about 4cm. Heat the oil to 170 degrees Celsius. Fry the curry puffs in batches, turning them over several times so they brown evenly, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain the temperature. The puffs take about five minutes to cook. Drain on paper towels. Makes 20 to 24 curry puffs.
Fresh curry puffs are good hot, warm or at room temperature. Frozen ones can be heated straight out of the freezer: put them on a tray into an oven that’s been preheated to 180 degrees. Heat them for 20 minutes then serve.