This blog post was supposed to be uploaded a long time ago… but with the slow Internet, it had to wait. It’s a bit weird, timeline-wise, but still valid. Have fun!
It’s been a few days of no posts but I have been well and truly busy. In fact, as I was lamenting to my friends who called on Xmas Eve, I was still working on a proposal for a client right up till midnight on the eve. But never mind that – I took complete rest on Christmas Day and yes, today too. Boxing Day is for relaxation I suppose, and anyway, one is still recuperating from the after-effects of feasting!
I started the Xmas weekend all worked up for feasting – well, Vern and I had a lovely, cosy lunch at 32, The Mansion on Saturday (thanks Vern!). She even got me a souvenir from Australia – bless her soul. This wise old gal just turned 18 (how I envy that age where one is young and carefree about life – but then again, Vern is nothing like the average youth one meets).
Christmas Day was fun because I did not go near the laptop at all – and I watched lots of TV. Actually it was two whole hours of Channel 11 on Astro of sexy old Nigella Lawson and lisping boy Jamie Oliver. They both put me in the mood for celebrating as they were going on and on about food for Christmas; from Alaska Bombe to pork roasts, from simple sushi to pizza. And in between, I was busy cooking Sarawak laksa for a small dinner party I was (ahem) having. It was something I had been meaning to do for a long time now.
Cooking Sarawak laksa isn’t difficult – it’s just tedious!
I took photos to document the cooking process so that those of you who want to try it out for yourself, please do.
The most important ingredient is the Sarawak laksa paste. Now this part is a bit tricky because you have to beg, borrow or steal. You just can’t find it here in Penang (anyone who can get Sarawak laksa paste here, please give a shout out.) I can get it easily because it comes from my client who manufactures this laksa paste for export and for use in her shop in Kuching. This is one of the advantages of having clients in the food business – we get plied with lots of samples!
The few packets of laksa paste that we have in our fridge are like precious gems. Only to be opened and cooked for special occasions like Christmas. Also, it’s more fun to cook when there are lots of people coming over; everyone loves a good bowl of kickass laksa, particularly displaced Sarawakians like my husband who hanker for their hometown food and some KL friends of mine who have been asking for some (sorry Jana, I wished you were here to try it out but you are in KL, of all times).
OK, besides the laksa paste, you will need some a packet of mee hoon (rice vermicelli), 2 eggs, 300gm medium-sized prawns, some chicken breast meat, chicken carcasses, lots of limes, coconut milk and some coriander. You will also need some real Sarawak sambal belacan too and I get mine courtesy of Barrett and Stefania. (By the way, they’re also mentioned in Wikipedia. See end of this post for the link.)
You can prepare the laksa soup or gravy first and let it simmer over a slow fire for 3 hours or more. Get a huge stock pot and fill it halfway with water. Bring to a boil and add in the chicken carcasses and prawn shells. I have not tried cooking it with pork bones (like what I do when simmering Chinese herbal soups) because Nic tells me no one uses ‘bak kut’ to make the laksa stock.
Once the stock has simmered for at least an hour, you can add the laksa paste. Once the paste goes into the stock, the whole apartment smells like laksa! The fragrance wafts around and those in the know will know that someone is cooking laksa. Free smells for the neighbours then. Let it simmer for an hour or so first.
You can now prepare the other ingredients. In another pot, bring some water to boil. First, blanch the mee hoon. Rinse the mee hoon under running tap water after it comes out of the pot of boiling water. Next, blanch the chicken breast meat; when the meat has cooled, you need to tear the meat into strips. Finally, blanch the prawns.
Finely slice the coriander and put aside. Also, slice some limes. These two will be the laksa garnishing.
Next, beat the eggs lightly in a bowl. Heat up your pan and make thin omelettes with these eggs. Cool and julienne. Set aside.
You will need to ‘tapis’ or filter your laksa gravy. This is the part which I find tedious. Get another pot of similar size and place a metal strainer on the mouth of this pot. Filter the gravy well. Once you have filtered it, you will need to bring it back to a simmer on the stove.
The next step is to add coconut milk. I would prefer freshly squeezed santan from the wet market but sometimes I have to make do with Ayam Brand Coconut Milk in tetrapak. I used 200ml of this coconut milk – you can use more if you wish, depending on how rich or ‘lemak’ you want your laksa gravy to be. I tend to watch the waistlines of my friends so I go easy on the artery-clogging santan.
You can add your seasonings now – a bit of salt, a bit of fish sauce or nampla, a bit of oyster sauce and some sugar. Or you can just omit all these and pop in some Maggi chicken stock cubes. Let it simmer for another 30 minutes or so and your gravy is ready. Let it sit for another 30 minutes before you serve the laksa.
To assemble the laksa, place the mee hoon in a bowl. Add prawns, chicken meat, coriander and egg strips. Bring laksa gravy to a boil and ladle hot laksa gravy on top of mee hoon. Before you tuck in, squeeze some lime juice over. Stir in a generous dollop of Sarawak sambal belacan. Mix well and bon appetit!
Note: Sarawak laksa doesn’t look appetizing – in fact, it looks rather muddy and awful. There’s nothing gorgeous about this ubiquitous Sarawakian breakfast. But if you’ve tasted it once, you’ll never forget it.
Update: More rave reviews of Barrett’s sarawak laksa at this quirky blog which writes ONLY about Sarawak laksa! The link is at http://real-sarawaklaksa.blogspot.com/2006/10/tiangs-cafe-bormill.html
The honourable Wikipedia mention at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laksa