Mustard With Mutton

Malaysian Laksa – The Cheats Way

Laksa is a spicy curry based noodle soup that’s very popular is Malaysia and Singapore, not to mention Sydney where die-hard laksa fans are always on the lookout for the best laksa vendor. Making an authentic laksa from scratch can be a time consuming exercise and sometimes the craving for a laksa can hit you all of a sudden and for those occasions when you need laksa right now (believe me, they can become addictive) and you don’t have the time to pound your own paste or simmer the broth for hours, this “cheats” version is perfect. I’d go so far as to say that given the depth of flavour that’s achieved I’m not sure I would bother making a laksa from scratch. The key to making this laksa work is to buy the very best laksa paste you can find. The other great techniques that makes this quick version taste almost as good as one made from scratch is the initial frying of the prawn shells and heads so all that intense seafood flavour is captured in the broth; the other is the addition of dried shrimps and a few other flavour enhancers to really give a boost to the commercial laksa paste. There are two main varieties of laksa – curry laksa, which is made using coconut milk and asam laksa, which is a sour fish broth using tamarind. I prefer curry laksa as the coconut milk gives a lovely rounded richness to the broth. It’s traditional to add fish balls and tofu puffs to the laksa broth but I’m not a fan so I’ve left these out. I’ve also added chicken thigh fillets to the broth rather than using cold shredded chicken breast as a garnish, which is the more traditional way. This dish can be prepared and on the table in 30 minutes and you’ll be surprised at just how flavour packed it is.

Ingredients – Serves 4   Adapted from Food Safari

4–5 shallots, chopped
6–7 garlic cloves, chopped
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, chopped
1 red chilli (more if you want extra kick)
1 heaped tablespoon dried shrimp
1/2 cup water
12 green prawns, with shell and heads
4 chicken thigh fillets cut into bite size pieces – optional, you can just make it with prawns if you wish
80 ml vegetable oil
4 tablespoons laksa paste
1 litre best quality chicken stock
400 ml coconut milk
Fish balls – I left this out
Fried tofu puffs, cut in half – I left this out
1 teaspoon sugar
Fish sauce
Salt
1 lime, juiced, plus extra wedges to serve
Dried rice noodles – thin vermicelli noodles are the norm but I prefer slightly wider rice noodles
To Serve
Bean sprouts
Finely sliced spring onion
Finely sliced red chilli
Coriander leaves
Fried shallots

Method

Place the shallots, garlic, ginger, chilli, dried shrimp and water in a blender or food processor and blend to a smooth paste. Shell and devein the prawns. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the prawn shells and heads for a few minutes, pressing down on them with a spoon to release as much flavour as possible. Scoop out the shells and heads leaving the coloured oil. Add the blended paste to the oil and fry for 5 minutes before adding the laksa paste. Fry for a further 5 minutes, then add the chicken and stir well to coat all the pieces in the paste, and cook for another two minutes. Add the stock and bring to the boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and add the coconut milk, the fish balls, tofu (if yore using them) sugar and lime, along with fish sauce and salt to taste. Let the broth simmer for a good 15 minutes, adding the prawns in the last 5 minutes.

Whilst the broth is simmering, cook the rice noodles in a separate saucepan of boiling water, then scoop into a colander. Put some noodles in each serving bowl. Ladle over the broth, making sure there’s an even amount of chicken and prawns in each bowl, and top with bean sprouts. Scatter with spring onion, chilli, coriander and fried shallots. Add a wedge of lime to squeeze in before eating.