This is clearly a Chinese dish Filipinos have adopted as their own. I consulted 20 Filipino cookbooks and found only four with kikiam recipes, plus there were several more on-line. Approaching recipes this way is extremely interesting, for it higlights very common ingredients (ground pork) and all the various other variations, shortcuts, creative substitutions, etc. I always try to look for the “base” recipe, whatever that might be, and flavor it up from there. “Base” sometimes refers to basic, but often, also what makes historical sense or contextual harmony. I was a bit perturbed by the variations I read, some with no wrapper, some with caul fat, most with soybean wrappers. Some said shrimp, others cuttlefish, economical versions probably call for fish balls or other processed fish cakes, and one even whittled it down to just flavored shrimp powder. But I suppose whatever ingredients used, and however it is prepared, if it tastes good, then why not?
For my first attempt, I decided to be more true to the Chinese origins. So I placed the following ingredients into a large bowl: 600 grams minced pork, 300 grams peeled, deveined and minced white shrimp, 100 grams finely diced carrots, 100 grams finely chopped red onion, 20 grams minced garlic, 20 grams of chopped green onions or chives, 100 grams worth of reconstituted dried chinese mushrooms, diced (soaked in hot water, drained, stems removed and diced finely), 100 grams of water chestnuts diced, 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, 2 teaspoons of kosher salt, 3/4 teaspoon or up to 1 teaspoon of five spice powder and 1/2 teaspoon of freshly cracked black pepper. Mix thoroughly. Prepare a slurry of cornstarch and water (say 2 Tablespoons of corn starch and 1 Tablespoon of water) to act as glue for sealing up the kikiam.
Place approximately 90-100 grams worth of the filling on the curved end (or one end) of the soybean wrapper (tau’pe) and roll it up as you would a lumpia or spring roll. You should end up with roughly 16 rolls.
Fold the ends inwards and roll and seal with the cornstarch slurry.
The rolls should be more or less uniform in length and girth. Some folks like their rolls wider or thicker. Others like them long and thin. Let’s not go there. :)
Now for a controversial step. Most folks are in a hurry, and almost everyone on-line says just go ahead and fry these up in some nice oil. STOP RIGHT THERE. I think an essential step is to steam the rolls first. It ensures that the flavors meld well, that the meat is cooked through, and that the wrapper is moistened. That is important to the texture of the final product, in my opinion.
Steam for 15-20 minutes and let these cool. You can now wrap some up and freeze them to be thawed and fried another day. So if you make a double batch, you could have several meals under your belt.
Just to show you the difference between straight frying and steam then frying, take a good look at the two kikiam at the back of the photo above… yup, you got it, fried straight away, without the steaming step. The skins get a very dark brown by the time the meat is properly cooked. If you had a thicker roll the problem would be exacerbated. And the flavors of the stuffed meat are a little less appealing. The four kikiam in the front of the photo were steamed first. Oh, and we fried in lard. Extra flavor step. :)
The results? I thought they were very good for a first attempt. The filling was flavorful, the variety of good ingredients therein apparent to the naked eye, and to the palate. I think only the water chestnuts could easily have been replaced with say singkamas or even finely minced ubod if one liked. The five spice was there, but not overwhelming. The skin was crisp chewy in a funky kind of way. If you know to expect it, it seems right on, if you aren’t prepared, some might find it a bit disconcerting. Served with a sweet/spicy sauce, this made for a very satisfying lunch. Do you make your own kikiam? Buy it? Or just order it when you are out? I am curious what readers think… Thanks!