"This is my all-time favourite Malaysian dish. Whenever I go back to Kuala Lumpur, my first thought as the plane hits the tarmac is to make a bee line for the closest assam laksa I can get my hands on." Christina Leow, Poh & Co. Season 2
Unlike the more well-known coconut-milk based curry laksa, the base broth is made from fish, tamarind and torch ginger flower, resulting in a lovely, sour, fragrant soup, served with chewy, translucent noodles and garnished with the lively flavours of fresh pineapple, cucumber, red onion, torch ginger and shrimp molasses.
- 1.5 kg snapper, trevally or mullet, cleaned, scaled and head removed
- 4 cups dried whitebait
- 5 litres water
- 2 torch ginger flowers, crushed (see Note)
- 10 sprigs of Vietnamese mint (laksa leaf), leaves picked
- 15 dried tamarind slices
- 2–3 tsp sugar, or to taste
- 500 ml (2 cups) tamarind juice
- 500 g thin dried rice noodles, soaked in cold water
- 20 dried long red chillies, seeds removed, roughly chopped
- 30 g shrimp paste
- 300 g red Asian shallots, roughly chopped
- 25 g galangal, thinly sliced
- 4 sticks lemongrass, white part only
- 25 g fresh turmeric root, thinly sliced
- 6 fresh long red chillies, sliced
- 5 tbsp shrimp molasses
- 2 tbsp hot water
- ½ pineapple, core discarded, flesh cut into matchsticks
- 1 Lebanese cucumber, peeled, seeds discarded, cut into matchsticks
- 6–7 small red Asian shallots, thinly sliced lengthways
- 1 torch ginger flower, sliced as thinly as possible
- 1 cup mint leaves
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Place the dried whitebait and water in a large saucepan and bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes or until reduced to 4 litres. Strain through a fine sieve over a large saucepan, discarding the dried whitebait. Set aside.
To make the rempah, place the dried chilli in a small saucepan of boiling water, boil for 1 minute, then set aside for 15 minutes. Drain, reserving the water, then roughly chop and remove the seeds.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180˚C.
Wrap the shrimp paste in foil, place on a baking tray and roast for 15 minutes.
Blend the shallot, galangal, lemongrass, turmeric and fresh chilli in a food processor or blender until a paste forms, adding the reserved chilli soaking water if necessary to form a paste. Add the belacan and soaked dried chilli and blend until a smooth paste forms.
Place the stock over medium heat, then add the torch ginger flowers, Vietnamese mint and rempah paste and stir well and bring to the boil over high heat. Place the dried tamarind in a bowl, cover with water, then drain and add to the laksa. Add the sugar and season with salt to taste. Bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat to medium, cover and simmer for 30–45 minutes.
Meanwhile, steam the fish in a steamer basket over a saucepan of simmering water for 20–25 minutes or until cooked. Discard the skin and bones and flake the flesh into large pieces.
Just before serving, add the fish to the laksa. Cook the rice noodles in a large saucepan of boiling water until just tender. Drain and divide among bowls. Remove the torch ginger flowers from the laksa, then spoon the laksa broth and flaked fish over each serve of noodles. Mix the shrimp molasses with the hot water.
Sprinkle a small amount of each garnish over each bowl and drizzle a teaspoonful of the shrimp molasses over the top. Serve immediately.
- Torch ginger flower is both ornamental and edible; the bud is commonly used in Malaysian cuisine and can be found frozen at Asian grocers. If you can't get a hold of these, add a little extra Vietnamese mint and a thumb-sized knob of ginger.
Photography, styling and food preparation by china squirrel.
Poh & Co. 2 Thursdays at 8.30pm on SBS.
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