Saturday, 22 October 2011

Malaysian Nyonya Penang Laksa - Rice noodles in a spicy broth

Malaysian Nyonya Penang Laksa
Blachan and Tamarind Pureé

Waking up to ground frost is no fun! It hints the arrival of winter. It is at times like this I always turn to some old comforts to cheer myself up. It is precisely this thought that inspired me to cook one of my favourite dishes when I was growing up.
Penang Laksa, also known as Assam Laksa is a rice noodle soup dish comes from the Malaysian island of Penang. The soup is made with fresh mackerel, tamarind and ginger or galangal. The fish is poached and then flaked and added back into the soup to thicken it.. Like most noodle soup dishes in southeast asia, this is then accompanied with lots of fresh garnishes such as mint, pineapple cubes, thinly sliced red onions, He-Ko, a thick sweet prawn paste, chillies and lime. All these add to the distinctive flavour, a kind of sweet and sour taste which is just perfect for weather like this.
The original recipe is very close to my heart but is quite tricky to recreate as it contains lots of asian ingredients which might be hard to tracked down. So I have simplified it but this is just as good. All quantities are pure estimation as this is a recipe that's been passed down through generations and like any good old recipe, no exact quantities were given.

(09/02/14: A more up-to-date recipe can be found here)


For the soup:
4 small or 2 medium sized mackerel, gutted and rinsed
1.2 litres / 2 pint water
1 onion, peeled and sliced
1 celery
1 fresh ginger or galangal , 1in / 2.5cm, bruised
salt and freshly ground pepper

5 large red chillies
1/2in / 1cm square piece or 1 tbsp *Blachan/shrimp paste
1 large onions peeled and chopped
A tbsp sunflower oil

2 tbsp of tamarind pureé
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp sugar

225g/ 8oz thick rice noodles or rice vermicelli
2 large chillies, seeded and sliced into rings
1 red onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cucumber, soft core removed and cut into matchsticks
1 lime, cut into quarters
A handful of fresh mint
110g/ 4 oz pineapples cubes
*Blachan/shrimp paste – A pungent flavouring, normally sold as crumbly beige to brown or black cakes or squares. It is often sold under its Malay name belachan (pronounced "blachan" or its Indonesian name trassi

Fill a pan with the water and add the mackerels, onion, celery, bruised ginger or galangal into the pan. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove the fish and flake the flesh off the bones and then add the fish bones back into the pan and simmer for at least 1 hour. Strain and reserve the stock.
Toast the piece of blachan either on a dry hot pan or on a skewer over a gas flame until it dries on the outside and gives off a strong smell. In a mortar and pestle, pound the chillies, blachan and onions into a paste or alternatively, blitz in a food processor.
In a deep pan, fry the mixture in the oil over medium heat for several minutes to bring out the flavour. Add the tamarind, turmeric and sugar and leave to cook for about 10 minutes. Add the fish stock and adjust the seasoning. 
Prepare the noodles. Bring a pot of water to the boil and cook the noodle for 4-5 minutes depending on the instructions on the packet. Drain in a colander.
To serve, bring the soup stock to the boil and add the reserved fish flakes. Tip the noodles into individual bowl. Top with the chillies, red onion ,cucumber, pineapple, lime and a few sprigs of mint. Spoon over some piping hot soup and serves while hot.

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