It took me this long to finally attempt making Assam Laksa, and if mum says it's easy to prepare, she's quite right there. Just steam (or boil) the fish, add the blended ingredients to the stock and simmer before adding the flaked fish. Then serve with noodles and garnishing. Sounds easy doesn't it? In fact, I think I took more time preparing all the ingredients then the actual process of cooking it (man, those shallots sure took forever to peel, and they brought buckets of tears to my eyes).
In Sydney, mention laksa to anyone and his or her eyes will light up. But if you say "Assam Laksa", chances are you'll be met with a quizzical look. It's not a dish commonly found in Malaysian restaurants around Sydney, perhaps because it's an acquired taste for the local palate, with its sour and spicy tamarind-based fish gravy served with a dollop of black prawn paste (used in Chinese rojak). There is no coconut milk in it, and the flavours in the soup come from heaps of shallots, laksa leaves (or Vietnamese mint - see picture below), lemongrass, lots of chillies, turmeric and mackerel. Mackerel is an oily fish with strong flavours, and when added to the rich stock gives it a complex and intense flavour.
Notice the thick, round and white noodles used in this dish? That's what you have to use. Not vermicelli, not kuay teow, not egg noodles. And then, there are the garnishes (just as important as all the other ingredients I mentioned!): cucumber for texture and its cooling properties; chillies for extra heat; mint for its sweet and fresh taste; red onions for sweetness and flavour; juicy pineapple pieces are refreshing; and most importantly, the Malaysian prawn paste ("petis udang") which gives this dish its authenticity.
I invited EL and KL to try out my assam laksa, and KL, being a Penangite, gave it a thumbs up (not literally though since he had a pair of chopsticks in one hand and a spoon in the other). That will do it for me. I've passed the taste-test with flying colours and I'm certainly going to make this again soon, perhaps for our next party? :-)
1kg (2 pounds) thick round laksa noodles (or substitute with thick round tapioca starch noodles)
1.2kg ( 2 1/2 pounds) mackerel, cleaned
2.5 litres (10 cups) water
1/2 tsp salt
14 stalks Vietnamese mint (a.k.a. polygonum or laksa leaves)
2-3 stalks lemongrass, white part only, smashed
4 pieces dried tamarind skin
4-6 tbsp dried tamarind, soaked in 1 cup hot water and strained (repeat a few times)
3 tbsp sugar (or to taste)
Pinch of Ajinomoto
Blended together finely:
20 cloves of shallots
6 cloves garlic
1 inch galangal
1 inch fresh turmeric (or 3/4 tsp ground turmeric)
6-8 (large) fresh long red chillies
5-8 dried (long) red chillies, seeded and soaked in warm water to soften (use more if the chillies are small)
4-5 bird's eye chillies (optional, for extra heat)
1 tbsp roasted belacan (shrimp paste)
4 red chillies, sliced
1/2 pineapple, diced
1 cucumber, shredded
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
2 torch ginger flower bud, thinly sliced (optional)
5-6 tbsp black prawn paste (hae-ko), to serve
Bring the water to the boil. Add the fish and salt, bring to a boil again and let it simmer for 15 minutes until fish is just cooked. Don't overcook it. Remove the fish and reserve the stock. Flake the fish and set aside.
Add the Vietnamese mint, lemongrass and dried tamarind skin into the stock. Add the blended ingredients. Bring to a boil and let it simmer for 30 minutes. Add the strained tamarind pulp/juice, sugar, salt and ajinomoto. Bring to a boil. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary More tamarind pulp can be added if you prefer it more sour. Put the flaked fish in the into the stock and bring to a gentle simmer on low heat until ready to serve.
Blanch or cook the noodles in boiling water. Drain and place in individual serving bowls. Ladle the hot gravy onto the noodles. Sprinkle with garnishings. Stir in a little prawn paste into the gravy and enjoy!
|Mmmm....smells and tastes so good!|
|Mackerel, ready to be flaked|