Food and Drinks

Chicken laksa recipe

In her book Noodle!, MiMi Aye notes that “there seem to be as many variations… as there are stars in the sky”, thanks to the migration of the Peranakan people from China throughout the Malay archipelago. MiMi Aye, in her book Noodle! Notes that “there seems to be as much variation… as stars in the skies”, thanks to migration by the Peranakans from China to the Malay islands.

Laksa Lemak is the most popular dish in Malaysia. It’s also known as curry or Nyonya Laksa. I fell in love with it in a black-and-white bungalow, in Singapore, on a humid day. It’s rich with coconut milk, salt, and shrimp, with a sprinkle of hot chili. This dish is as delicious in summer as it is during winter.

Sylvia Tan’s noodle soup is made with dried shrimp that have been soaked—Felicity Cloake’s thumbnails.

The paste

Laksa, like any curry, is defined by its base paste. This paste is diluted and used to make the gravy. All the recipes I have tried include dried chilies, salty, fermented Shrimp paste, fresh ginger, garlic, onion, or shallot. The dried chilies also benefit from being soaked first, just like the shrimp that Sylvia Tan used in her book Singapore Heritage Food to make my first laksa. This makes it easier to mix them into the paste. Tan’s recipe is the only one that uses Candlenuts. They are named for their high oil content, giving her gravy a vibrant, nutty flavor. Macadamias are an excellent substitute for them, as they can be hard to find in the UK, perhaps because they are mildly toxic raw.

The recipes differ in the use of dried spices. Malaysian Chef Norman Musa adds sweeter aromatics like star anise, cinnamon, and coriander to Tan’s recipe and Mandy Yin’s. She is the Kuala Lumpur-born cook at my favorite Laksa restaurant, north London’s Sambalshiok. Musa adds cumin, cardamom, and black peppercorns to his paste. His laksa tastes delicious and is more complex than the other recipes, but it needs the comforting creamy notes we love in Yin. If you want a more wholesome version, this is a great option.

Norman Musa uses more sweet aromatics, such as cinnamon and star anise, as well as turmeric and coriander seeds.

Two shortcuts are possible: Mandy Lee from the website Lady and Pups recommends using curry paste that has already been mixed, saving you time and money. Olive Magazine offers a recipe for a quick laksa, made with ready-made paste and whizzed with additional garlic, ginger, and chili powder. The one I make is a little bland for us, but you can adjust it to your taste.

It’s important to fry the paste to avoid raw gravy. Yin suggests stirring it for half an hour until it gets dark. However, it dries under my care – half that time yields a decent result.

The broth

It’s easier and more appropriate to make a prawn stock by adding their shells to plain water, along with some lemongrass for freshness, and Yin’s a Making a prawn broth is more accessible and more suitable here. Add the shells of the prawns to water and then add some lemongrass to give it a fresh taste, as well as Yin’s Laksa Leaves. All can be strained before serving. If you don’t have a Southeast Asian grocer nearby, you may be able to find the leaves by asking for Vietnamese or hot mint.

Olive magazine offers a recipe that uses ready-made laksa with additional garlic, ginger, and chili powder.

The noodles

I have tried using egg noodles, vermicelli, glass noodles, and rice sticks in all the laksa recipes. Rice sticks and glass noodles are my favorites. They provide a chewier contrast to the rich coconutty soup than egg noodles or vermicelli. Use whichever noodles you like.

The toppings

Lee explains that the only mandatory toppings for the soup are tofu and prawns. “They are important because they flavor the broth,” he says. I suggest shelling and blanching the meat separately if you can’t find smaller ones. Some recipes simmer them whole, which makes them challenging and woolly. Although I think the giant prawns have little flavor, Lee’s idea to turn them into shrimp meatballs is good. They’re easy to make and taste delicious. If you’re looking for tofu, the best option is to use tofu puffs available in most Southeast Asian grocery stores. They soak up gravy like a sponge.

You can also add a variety of other ingredients to the laksa. For example, testers loved the contrast between Olive’s cucumber shaves and the blanched vegetables like beansprouts or runner beans. You can add extra protein such as Tan’s Cockles, Lee’s Chicken and her spicy Pork Sauce, or boiled eggs.

Mandy Lee strains her paste through a fine mesh sieve before diluting it with coconut water.

Drain the dried shrimp and chilies after 30 minutes of hot water. Add all other ingredients to a food processor and blend until smooth.

The shells and heads of the prawns are fried in oil after peeling them.

The meat should be set aside. Add the prawns and paste to the hot oil and stir fry until aromatic and dark – approximately 10-15 minutes. Add the laksa and lemongrass, then bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat, and let the broth simmer for 30 minutes.

Add the water, laksa, and lemongrass leaves and cook for 30 minutes.

If you are making prawns balls, place the prawns in the food processor along with the rest of the ingredients for prawns and pulse until a chunky mixture is formed (if not, leave the prawns intact and add them to the broth at the end). Then, form the mixture into eight small balls. Wet your hands to make it easier.

Form balls by blending the prawns with cornflour and fish sauce, then blitzing them together.

Pour the prawn broth through a fine mesh sieve, press out as much liquid from the stock as possible, and then return it to the pan. Stir in the coconut cream, bring back to a simmer, add the tofu balls and prawns, and cook for 15 minutes.

After straining the stock, add the coconut milk. Poach the tofu and prawns once it has simmered.

Cook the noodles per the instructions on the packet, and divide them into four bowls.

Pounding the fresh bird-eye chilies and a little coarse sea salt, make a coarse paste. Pour the broth over the noodles and taste it for seasoning. Add the prawn and tofu balls (or whole shrimp), shredded cucumber, and fresh coriander.

Serve the broth with rice noodles and top it with tofu, herbs, prawns balls, and lime.