Saturday, July 18, 2015

Laksa Lemak / Nyonya Laksa

Seafood-rich and creamy coconut milk curry-like gravy with a lingering spice kick, enjoy together with noodles and the rest of the fresh ingredients. Ahh... That's the bowl of warm, gently spicy comfort noodles I want now. If you are celebrating Singapore SG50, cook this! Make Laksa Party!


For those who stayed in Singapore or visited Singapore before, I'm sure you love Singapore Laksa, or Laksa Lemak, or also known as Nyonya Laksa, which is a popular Peranakan dish. The Peranakans are ethnic Chinese who settled in the British Straits Settlement back in the olden days.

However, as most recipes go, several variations of Laksa's were tweaked to their individual liking and can be found in different parts of hawker centres and food courts in Singapore. Although there's arguments says that Katong Laksa serves the best and iconic Singapore Laksa. They are good, but I personally feels that it could be better. I shall leave it to you to do the judgement. I shall focus more on this recipe.

This is Alan's recipe, produces thick and flavorful gravy, not as watery as what you expect at the store-bought kind. This recipe is absolutely good to host a Laksa Party at home. It feeds about 6 to 8 adults. This dish includes plenty of Southeast Asian combinations. Dried shrimps, fish cakes, cockles, coconut milk, daun kesom, chillies, lots of spices and everything nice.

Before everything else, as I was told, Rempah (also known as spices) is the soul of a good bowl of Laksa Lemak. Rempahs can be prepared way in advance, even a week ahead or so. Whenever you want to have so good bowl of soul food, you have your rempah's ready in the freezer!

So, for the first, let's begin with preparing the Rempah.

Ingredients (for Generic Rempah)
  • 70g Red Chillies, remove seeds
  • 10 Dried Chillies, soaked in hot water until soft, remove seeds
  • 5 Candlenut / buah keras
  • 110g Shallots, peeled, sliced
  • 25g Garlic, peeled
  • 20g Ginger, sliced
  • 10g Turmeric Root, sliced
  • 10g Galangal, sliced
  • 4 Stalks Lemon Grass, only slice lower 1/3 whitish portion
  • 5 Bird's eye chillies / cili padi (Optional)
Method (for Generic Rempah)
  1. Chop and blend or pound all spice ingredients together into a fine paste. (See Photo)
  2. Heat up generous amount of cooking oil over medium low heat, gently saute blended spices until fragrant. The spices should darken considerably, starts to glisten as the oil begins to separate from the paste. We identified it as pecah minyak stage for our rempah cooking. 
  3. When generic rempah is cooked, leave it completely cooled, air-tight and store it in the fridge for tomorrow use. Or if you are using it much later, do keep it in the freezer. 
Bird's eye chilli / cili padi is absolutely optional. I prefer to be more fiery. So, I added some of them in the rempah mixture. 

Second..... the Prawn Stock. You need some fresh prawns from the market for ideal result.

Ingredients (for Prawn Stock)
  • 1kg Fresh Prawns
  • 1 tbsp Cooking Oil
  • 500ml + 1000ml Water
Method (for Prawn Stock)
  1. To prepare the prawns - 1st, snip off the thorn on the prawn head. 2nd, snip off the eyes. 3rd, remove those dirts inside the prawn heads. 4th, remove the shells and deveinned. 
  2. Keep half amount of the peeled prawns meat well, wrapped, in a fridge for next time use. I'm using it for other dishes. While another half of the peeled prawns, blanch it under 500ml of boiled water until the prawn is just cooked. Keep both cooked prawns and boiled water for later.  
  3. In another stove, a pan heated with a tbsp of cooking oil, add in prawn heads and prawn shells. Pan fry under medium heat until they turned color and the prawns aroma is all over your kitchen. Keep an eye on it, do not burn it. 
  4. Pour 500ml of boiled water that you used to blanch prawns, and additional 1000ml water. Turn it to medium high heat, let it boil. Lower down the heat and let it simmer for 15mins.
  5. Transfer the prawn stock together with the prawn head and shells into the blender. Blits till fine, carefully strained, like making bisque. And prawn stock is ready to use.
Things to take note. Snipping away the prawn eyes and remove dirts inside the prawn head is VERY IMPORTANT. Prawn eyes and dirts are bitter. If you are going to blitz those prawn shells and heads for prawn stocks, you must remove them from the prawns. Otherwise, your whole pot of prawn stock will have bitter aftertaste. My mom used to own a prawn noodles stall when I was very young. This tips is her great advice. I would't wanna take the risk. I will listen to her.

Thirdly... the Laksa Gravy. You can only do this when your generic rempah and prawn stock is ready for use.

Ingredients (for Laksa Gravy)
  • 400g Generic Rempah (as above)
  • 1.5 tbsp Coriander Seeds / ketumbar
  • 100g Dried Shrimps
  • 1 tbsp Toasted Belacan Powder
  • 800ml Fresh Coconut Milk
  • 1500ml Prawn Stock (as above)
  • 6 sprig Daun Kesom / laksa leaves
  • 3 tbsp Sugar, adjust to taste
  • 2 tsp Salt, adjust to taste
  • 2 tbsp Cooking Oil
  • 16 Fish Balls
  • 10pcs Tau Pok, snipped into strips
Method (for Laksa Gravy)
  1. On a small pan, start off with dry-frying the coriander seeds until they are aromatic before milling them into fine powder. The recipe ask for 1 tbsp coriander seed, but I used 1.5 tbsp instead. Sift the milled coriander powder as we only need those fine coriander powder for the gravy. Coarse coriander seeds that doesn't pass through the sieve, and this explains why I use 1.5 tbsp instead, because some will be discarded. 
  2. Dried shrimps needs to be washed and soaked for awhile before grinding them finely into floss using a food processor. 
  3. With a big pan, heat up some oil, add in generic rempah, coriander seeds, dried shrimps, and toasted belacan powder. Fry till fragrant.
  4. Add in prawn stocks and bring to a boil. And followed by coconut milk to create the base. Add more water if needed as you have to build your own preferred gravy consistency. 
  5. Add in daun kesom to the gravy. This gives another level of dimension to the laksa gravy. Add in salt and sugar at this point of time. Give it a taste. Make sure you adjust to the saltiness and sweetness to your individual liking.
  6. Strips of tau pok are then added to soak up all that wonderful richness from the broth. Also, you can add in fish balls at this time to allow it to simmer together. Do this on medium heat for a few minutes and then switch off fire. Do not cover the pot with lid.

Lastly, prepare the rest of the condiments and assembling.

Ingredients (for Condiments and Noodles)
  • 800g to 1kg Rice Vermicelli
  • 500g Cooked Prawns (prepared as above)
  • 300g Bean Sprout
  • 3pcs Large Flat Fish Cakes
  • 4 Hard Boiled Eggs, assuming one portion of laksa only need half eggs
  • 500g Fresh Blood Cockles (weight with shell on)
  • 2 to 4 sprigs Daun Kesom, julienned
Please buy the freshest blood cockles from the market on the same day. Bring home and remove from the shells on your own. Try not to buy those that's sold in bags that shells had been removed for your convenience.

For those who wants some special sambal chilli to go along, as shown on the picture, here's my recipe that I've created on the spot just before the Laksa Party begins.

Special Sambal Chilli (Optional)
  • 70g Generic Rempah
  • 20g Dried Shrimps, washed, soaked, flossed
  • 50g Shallots
  • 3 tsp Sugar
  • some shallot oil
In a pan, put everything together, sautee until fragrant. And now, with everything is ready, the Laksa Party begins....

To Serve
  1. Blanch one portion of rice vermicelli as well as beansprout over a pot of hot boiling water. Drain the water thoroughly before pouring the noodles onto the bowl.
  2. Ladle some hot Laksa gravy onto the noodles. Arrange some fish cakes, hard boiled eggs, blanched cockles on top. Add more laksa gravy over the ingredients if you prefer. 
  3. Garnish with julienned daun kesum, and serve along with some sambal cili immediately. 

The recipe is complicated as it uses alot of ingredients. But I assure you that you will be able to make this a success if you follow my recipe, and let me walk you through the proper preparation of every element. I have to thank Alan for his detailed recipe for sure. He gave me so much insight to this noodle dish.

As an optional idea, you can cut up the noodles, so that the whole dish can be slurped up with a soup spoon, without the need for chopsticks. It's up to individual's preference.

The laksa gravy is thick. I like it that way. This way, the noodles are well binded together with the laksa gravy when eating.

Now that I've tested the recipe, and proven that it works! I would encourage you to do the same, re-invent it to suit your astoundingly acute palate.

You want a bowl right now?

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. I definitely will recreate this recipe again and again.