Feeling the cold? MasterChef winner Diana Chan has the perfect pick-me-up with her laksa that will transport you to the tropical heat of Penang.
NOTHING BEATS A WARM
bowl of laksa on a cold winter’s day. The type of laksa is dependent upon the soup base used in its recipe: either rich and savoury coconut-milk curry laksa, fresh and sour assam, or a combination of the two. Every state in Malaysia claims to have the best version, but my favourites are assam laksa and laksa Johor.
Laksa Johor is, for me, very different to all the laksas found in Malaysia. It’s not as soupy, but rather more of a thick gravy consistency, and uses spaghetti noodles.
Assam laksa, also known as Penang laksa, is a sour fish-and-tamarind-based soup. ‘Assam’ is the Malay word for any ingredient that makes a dish taste sour (eg, tamarind), and laksas typically use assam keping – dried slices of sour mangosteen. The main ingredients in assam laksa include shredded mackerel and finely sliced vegetables such as cucumber, onion, red chilli, pineapple, lettuce, mint, Vietnamese mint and ginger flower. Assam laksa is normally served with thick rice noodles and topped off with hae ko, a thick, sweet shrimp paste.
This dish is quintessentially Penang, an island off the northwest of Peninsular Malaysia. It’s usually sold by street vendors and most Penangites enjoy a bowl for lunch or dinner. I think assam laksa would give curry laksa a run for its money, but both are delicious.
Soak dried chillies in a bowl of water for 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Soak tamarind pulp in a heatproof bowl with 2 cups (500ml) boiling water for 20 minutes to soften. Strain, reserving liquid and discarding seeds.
Bring 8 cups (2L) water to the boil in a saucepan. Add mackerel and boil for 14 minutes or until cooked through. Transfer fish to a bowl and set aside to cool. Strain fish stock into a clean saucepan, stir through Vietnamese mint, cover and set aside until needed. Coarsely shred mackerel and set aside. For the spice paste, place drained soaked chillies and all paste ingredients in a food processor and whiz to a paste.
Heat oil in a wok over high heat. Add paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 6-8 minutes or until darkened slightly. Return stock to boil, add paste, tamarind liquid, sugar and fish sauce, and simmer.
Divide noodles and laksa among serving bowls. Top with mackerel, onion, chilli, pineapple, baby cucumber, mint and extra Vietnamese mint.