Chefs are chefs. Diners are diners. That has pretty much been the world order, with no overlap between the two. But not any more, as restaurants try to turn diners into chefs with DIY meal kits that are designed to help them achieve professional level-cuisine at home, in as idiot-proof a way as possible.
Before we’re lulled into a false sense of confidence that we can actually cook as well as the pros, consider the reality is that it’s not as simple as the instructions or videos make it out to be. A few seconds too long in the microwave and that lovingly poached chicken in your meal kit will not taste any better than the takeaway roast chicken that arrives frazzled after a long ride on the back of a motorbike on the CTE. The pizza that looks so easy to roll out could easily turn into an undercooked disappointment. Never mind the accusing eyes of those who could have had a slightly cold real pizza delivery if they didn’t have to wait for you.
Still that said, if you get it right, there is much satisfaction to be had from emulating the a la minute experience at home. If you’re up to the challenge, these are worth a try:
ItaliAmò Pasta and Pizza Kits
The lure here is that you can somehow recreate the puffy, beautifully-charred edges and chewy, resilient crust of pizza from Italian restaurant Amò with its conveniently packed kit that comes with a ball of dough, tomato sauce and buffalo mozzarella cheese (S$21.40). Well, no. Because the restaurant has a fiery, specially made wood-burning pizza oven and you don’t. But you can make a decent version (and have fun with your kids) if you keep a few things in mind.
First, order a few extra balls of dough (S$7.80 for a ball, and S$3.80 for tomato sauce) to practise with because you might not get perfect results the first time. The home oven will never get hot enough to blitz the dough from every angle, so you risk an undercooked or somewhat soggy middle because of the generous amount of tomato sauce provided. (Tip: try using just half the amount of tomato sauce). But once you get the hang of it, the dough is nice and chewy, and the tomato sauce is fresh and mild, not sharp like the tomato paste-based sauces usually used. You might get better results with a pizza stone, or if you try different methods from using a frying pan to cook the base first or coating the dough with olive oil for extra crunch. But, for all that hassle, you might as well just order the real thing from Amò. So, take this as more of a fun activity and a snack. Or consider investing in a wood burning oven for your home.
That said, the pasta kit (from S$16.40) is idiot-proof, price-friendly and tastes as good as any restaurant. The truffle cream sauce pappardelle (S$18) makes enough for one large or two average-sized portions. You won’t need a lot because it’s really rich and filling. Home made pasta is dropped into boiling water for exactly four minutes, drained into a pan with some of the pasta water, mixed with the mascarpone-enriched truffle sauce and sauteed mushrooms, and heated through. That’s all it takes for the sauce to cling to perfectly al dente pasta, in less time than it takes for a delivery to come.
If you want to challenge yourself with pulling together a three-course meal, Nouri’s meal kits come with easy instructions right down to the number of minutes to microwave various components. Its weekday meal kits are priced from S$90 to $115 for two people, depending on the main course. We picked the chicken chasseur option (S$108), which gets you poached chicken breast in sauce chasseur (a brown sauce with sliced mushrooms and perfumed with tarragon), chicken confit tart, romaine salad with a lemony mustard dressing, roasted carrots and physalis trifle. When you’re ready to eat, just microwave the chicken – which is itself tricky because the recommended two minutes really depends on your microwave so monitor it very carefully – and heat up the sauce. The chicken breast has been cooked sous vide so it stays tender (although microwaving might dry out the ends a bit)and the sauce is almost too flowery for us, but perfect for fans of tarragon. The chicken confit tart (simply microwaved too) retains a crisp tender crumb crust and releases a creamy filling within which makes it a firm favourite.
Nouri’s got a veritable cupboard full of options from market bundles that combine fresh vegetables with prepared raw fish or meat dishes that you cook yourself, to fresh pasta made by artisanal maker Ben Fatto. The latter isn’t cheap with bundles for one person priced from S$60 but the pasta is back-breaking to make, especially the Ligurian prebuggiún – which are individual squiggly trofie pasta made with chestnut flour that takes 20 hours to make by hand. This pasta bundle comes with instructions for you to boil it and mix with a prepared herb pesto with a pleasant grassiness that goes well with the tender-chewy noodles that have an elegant nutty sweet finish. Save it for when you feel like a fancy treat.
(Related: Three Peranakan restauarants to order from)
Torasho Ramen and Charcoal Bar
The next time you’re peckish and thinking of reaching for a packet of instant noodles that you panic-bought in the initial CB days, stop. For just S$22, you can buy yourself three servings of DIY tonkotsu ramen from Torasho, which comes with fresh noodles, frozen soup, Japanese pork chashu and its own logo-stamped seaweed.
Considering that a normal takeaway version of the ramen costs S$12, the three set DIY combo is a steal and the results are exactly the same. It’s as easy to put together as a packet of Maggi mee. Boil the noodles for exactly 30 seconds, pour over the hot soup with the soft, fatty pork and nori, and you’re all set for your next Netflix marathon.
The soup is milky and collagen rich, and the noodles slippery and al dente. There’s a spicy version (S$26) which comes with a spice mix, and there’s cold dipping Tsukemen as well.
DIY meals are fun, but after you’re done playing, it’s better to just leave the real cooking to the professionals.
Amò, 33 Hong Kong Street.
Visit amorestaurant.sg or call 6723-7733.
Nouri, 72 Amoy Street.
Visit appetitesg.com or call 6221-4148.
Torasho Ramen & Charcoal Bar, 32 Tras Street.
Available on Chope or call 6970-5055.
This article was originally published in The Business Times.