Curry laksa is served with lime or kalamansi (a small, sour, aromatic citrus fruit), daun kesom (laksa leaves, known here as Vietnamese mint) and chilli sambal, a spicy chilli paste that is sold ready-made in jars. Fried Asian shallots are also sprinkled over as a garnish, adding nuttiness. The accompaniments are added to taste.
Fresh, flat, thin rice noodles are traditionally used. They are available in Asian food shops and simply heated in boiling water before use. Don’t refrigerate them as they become brittle. They will keep, sealed, at a low room temperature for up to two days after purchase. Sometimes mee (a thin, yellow wheat noodle) is used on its own or combined with rice vermicelli.
Many cooks make their own coconut milk by finely grating coconut, mixing it with water, straining it and collecting the liquid as they wring out the solids. This process is repeated up to five times, each time producing a milk that is slightly less rich than the former. Canned milk may be substituted, but stir it first, as the thick cream rises to the top.
The spice paste includes lemongrass, garlic, galangal, Asian red eschalots, turmeric, ground coriander, dried red chillies and sometimes paprika and cumin. Belachan, a pungent fermented shrimp paste, is essential and gives a warm, distinctive flavour. Candlenuts are pounded into the paste to add flavour and body. The spice paste is fried off in oil before the coconut milk is added.
Authentic curry laksa contains prawns and chicken (cut Asian-style, through the bone, with the skin on). The prawn shells can be used to make the stock for the broth, and the prawn meat and chicken are cooked directly in the broth. Tofu puffs (squares of deep-fried tofu) are sliced and added, as are fish balls made from finely pounded fish; both are widely available from Asian food shops. While in Australia all manner of vegetables are thrown into laksa, only bean sprouts are added in Malaysia.
Photography by John Laurie.
As seen in Feast magazine, October 2011, Issue 2.