Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Penang Assam Laksa

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? :-)

Assam Laksa
(Serves 6)


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 candlenuts
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)
Mint leaves
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


Zoe said...

Your Assam Laksa is so professional cooked!

I always want to cook my own Assam Laksa and now I know where to look for a perfect recipe if I need to cook this.

Mel said...

Wow, the mentioned of Assam laksa already makes one mouthwatering not to say to get a peep look at your photos! Being you such a good cook, I am sure your assam laksa sure taste superb!!

WendyinKK said...

The part I hate most is flaking the fish flesh after boiling. Using mackerel is still ok, but when I use smaller fishes like kembung or selar... I want to diiiiiieeee, hahahaha!
Can bukak kedai in Aussie oredi leh, so many Malaysians there and a bowl of assam laksa is rare find, surely long queue.

Fern @ To Food With Love said...

@Zoe: Thank you!
@Mel: It would have been perfect if I had added bunga kantan.
@Wendy: Yes, the mackerel was pretty easy to flake. Thanks for warning me not to use smaller fish! I wonder if those who have not tried assam laksa before will like it...

Unknown said...

Your Asam Laksa do look authentic and attract me to give it a try .. too bad i am not in Australia. !!

Wong, BestPenangFood.com

mycookinghut said...

Looks absolutely delicious! I could have some now!

Sonia ~ Nasi Lemak Lover said...

i still say the same thing, go and open a stall, sure good business..use mackarel sound so easy to flaking the fish flesh, but taste wise ok if compare with ikan kembung?

Fern @ To Food With Love said...

@Sonia: It tastes ok, although ikan kembung would have more flavour I think

Nami | Just One Cookbook said...

Again, I've never tried this dish before, but I've seen and heard about this dish a lot. Yours look amazingly delicious. It's such a pity that there are no Malaysian or Singaporean restaurants around here. I need to visit Malaysia and Singapore one day...