Life has been awfully hectic for the past couple of weeks. With the long Muslim New Year holiday drawing near, we rushed to complete outstanding orders and ongoing projects ready for deadline and inspections. I have never had such a long holiday in my entire adult life, it has always been work, work and more work, as I used to operate a big bakery and we adopt the KFC and Mc Donald’s culture, we open 365 days a year, as long as people still need to be fed.
This is a great holiday, with not much to do outside kitchen work. My sister and her family are home for the break. With two little children, two dogs and my parents and brother, there are endless dishes to be done, from the moment one’s eyes open till they are ready to close. I was very close to labeling our drinking glasses. And serving food in disposable plates. But it was an amazing week. Rarely we have people in the house, and my parents are just thrilled with the grandchildren running around the house.
The obsession with Penang cuisine continues in this blog. The close proximity of the city to Penang has resulted in some dishes heavily influenced by the beautiful cuisine of Penang. We have laksa asam too. Not very similar, but close enough.
Spices are grounded and cooked with fish stock. Ginger torch buds (bunga kencong / bunga kantan) are one of the main ingredients, as well daun laksa (Vietnamese mint) and shrimp paste. The whole thing is slowly simmered and served with white udon-like fat noodles. The condiments are sliced chilies, shallots, pineapples, fish flakes and mint leaves. And we have a secret ingredient too. Read on, please.
Spices to be grounded are chili, shallot and turmeric.
Blend them till fine in an electric blender, or mortar and pestle.
Soak tamarind pulp in warm water and set aside.
Cut up shrimp paste into small pieces.
The noodles are white and udon-like. The texture is not as chewy as udon. I soak them in cold water for a couple of minutes and slowly work my way through the noodles to avoid breaking the strains. Discard the water and drain the excess. The noodles are blanched quickly with boiling water before serving.
Boil water in a big stock pot. Add ginger into the water.
We used this white small fish. I would use fish fillet next time. When whole fish is used, it needs to be gutted and scaled and cleaned. Laksa fish is usually mackerel or kembung. We couldn’t find any of those in the market that day. So we substituted the fish with the white fish. I don’t know what it is called, but the meat is soft and white. It is a great texture, compared to dry mackerel.
When water starts boiling, add fish. Cook for a couple of minutes.
Remove the fish from pot. Set aside and let cool for later use.
Add spice paste into the pot.
Bring to boil again.
Halve ginger torch bud lengthwise.
Add them into the pot and let boil again, about 5 minutes.
Add chili powder.
Add shrimp paste into the pot.
Give it a bit of stir, and cook for 10 minutes
Place a big strainer in a big pot or container. Pour the content of the whole pot into the strainer. This would strain away all the coarse spices.
Return the soup into the first pot.
Add back the ginger torch buds into the soup.
And here’s the secret ingredient that would really give the laksa a nice touch. A can of sardines in tomato sauce.
Peel off any visible bones and mash the sardines with a fork.
Add sardines into the pot. Let cook over high heat for another five minutes.
When the fish is cool enough to handle, start to peel off the fish meat off the bones. I was struggling picking off bones.
This is one of a few pieces of fish that’s decent enough to be plated.
Squish the tamarind pulp to get as much juice as possible.
Pour the extract into the pot and discard of the leftover pulp. Let boil again and cook for a couple of minutes.
Add the daun laksa (vietnamese mint) .
Season with sugar. Taste and season with more salt if necessary. Let simmer over very low heat for another 10-15 minutes.
Prepare all the condiments before plating. Slice the cucumbers, shallots and chilies. Pick some mint leaves (basil is shown in the picture). Prepare some cut pineapples.
To serve, place some blanched noodles in a medium-sized bowl. Pour soup on top of noodles, enough to cover the noodles. Arrange condiments on the bowl, such as fish meat, mint, cucumber, shallots, chili and pineapple. Enjoy.
For spice paste
10 g fresh turmeric root, peeled
100 g red chilies
100 g shallots
2000 cc water
50 g ginger, peeled and lightly bruised
750 g fish, gold scad, mackerel or sardines, fillet or whole
2 ginger torch buds, halved lengthwise
1/2 tbsp ground chili
30 g shrimp paste
3 tbsp salt
6 tbsp sugar
10 g daun kesom, or laksa leaves
50 g tamarind pulp, let soaked in 1 cup hot water
1 kg laksa noodle
50 g shallots, sliced finely
20 g red chilies, sliced diagonally
2 (300 g) cucumbers, halved and seeded, sliced finely
30 g mint leaves
300 g pineapple, cubed
Grind turmeric, chilies and shallots in blender to fine paste.
Boil water and ginger in a big stockpot.
Add spice paste into boiling water.
Add fish into the pot and cook for 2 minutes. Remove the fish from the soup. Let cool.
Add ginger torch buds, ground chili, shrimp paste, salt and sugar. Cook for 15-20 minutes.
Prepare a strainer in another pot. Pour soup into the strainer and get rid off spices.
Pour the clear soup back into stock pot. Add ginger torch buds back into the soup.
Add laksa leaves.
Use your fingers to lightly mashed tamarind pulp to get as much extract out of it as possible. Pour the extract into the soup.
Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
To serve, place one serving of noodles in a bowl. Pour hot laksa soup on top of noodles. Arrange shallots, chilies, cucumber, mint leaves, pineapple and fish meat on the bowl.