If it wasn’t for her son’s autism, Stephanie Siow would probably never have become a food entrepreneur.
His condition meant Siow had to give up full-time work so she could care for him. Needing a new income stream to support the family, the 48-year-old decided to start a home business, and she launched Stephanie Siow’s Artisanal Sausages last year.
But it wasn’t just about making extra money. Siow wanted to teach her 17-year-old son life and work skills so that he could eventually become financially independent.
Initially, she started him on baking, but he was uncomfortable with the heat from the ovens.
“Then I thought differently – perhaps I could teach him how to work with raw food or cold ingredients instead, ones that don’t require cooking or heat,” she says.
She’d always loved homemade sausages, but this need gave Siow the impetus to begin experimenting more seriously with different recipes.
Siow doesn’t have formal culinary experience or training but enjoys studying videos and reading books to hone her skills and palate. Learning through observation, Siow picked up knowledge from other home cooks as well as established chefs.
“I enjoy watching cooking shows and learning from watching other chefs,” she says. “I also like reading and trying new recipes.”
She added knife skills, flavour pairing and even the importance of using homegrown and well-sourced ingredients to her growing bank of culinary knowledge.
Real food for real people
While the techniques might be learned, the recipes are her own creation. She develops new recipes quickly, she says, but then spends a lot of time testing them and getting feedback, which helps to improve the product.
At the moment, Siow is focusing on pork sausages, using fresh cuts of pork shoulder meat from a trusted supplier located near her home. Her bestselling flavours are lemongrass and chilli, and garlic and pepper.
Motivated by the family’s love of Korean barbeque, she’s also working on a Korean spicy sausage, one of the main ingredients of which is gochujang or red pepper paste.
Siow also puts great focus on food preparation. “I take the time to clean and prepare the ingredients properly. Sometimes it can take up to a whole day.”
Her artisanal sausages contain no fillers, such as starch or flour, and no MSG, preservatives or nitrates.
The sausages are made purely of pork and pork fat flavoured with lemongrass, garlic, salt, pepper or chilli, and kaffir lime leaf.
Where possible she sources some of the ingredients from her garden, such as lemongrass and lime leaf.
“The taste is a lot nicer,” she says. “And if I run out then my neighbours help me out.”
She’s working on tests to create sausages with a pineapple filling but expects it will take some time as the acidity from the fruit can cause the casing to burst when they’re cooked.
“But I am open to feedback, I am looking to include lamb, chicken or beef, for my future offerings.”
In a month, Siow generally sells her entire supply each month – about 50 packets of 500 grams each, priced at RM34 to RM36 (about S$11) per packet. The vacuum-packed sausages are delivered to pick up points for collection.
Business is growing, in part thanks to marketing on social media. Siow plans to add more pick up points and is looking for a delivery partner to help with transportation. “Even my freezer space needs to be expanded to cope with demand.”
Her tip for cooking the sausages is to boil them on low or medium heat for five minutes, then turn off the heat. Cover your pot and let the sausage cook on their own. “That way you don’t lose the flavour of the meat.”
Photo by Stephanie Siow – Rose wine lap cheong
Siow’s ability to match flavours come through observing other cook but also from working with therapists to manage her son’s eating habits. Her son was a picky eater – for example, he would only eat certain brands of white bread. “His senses are heightened so when he tastes something it could be more intense for him than for us.”
She tends to cook his food through steaming and tries to use as few stimulants as possible.
Siow’s persistence appears to be paying off. Today, her teenage son is helping her in the kitchen and even tasting some of the sausages.
“But I won’t push him [to learn the skill yet]. I need to do it slowly.”
She says his understanding of food types and tastes is also improving, and that gives her the motivation to grow her business with and for him.
If you would like to know more Stephanie Siow’s homemade sausages, you can read more on her Facebook page here.