Tuesday, 24 April 2007

cooking with moderate success!

This is a vast improvement on previous weekends' cooking stories.

I made laksa. I have TRIED (and failed) to make good laksa before. Once an Indonesian version from Hannah's mum (no good, I think I watered it down too much), and a couple of times following instructions from a real Thai lady ('go to Coles, get a jar of laksa paste...') all with little success. But then last week I was at the dentist (I am now the proud owner of a filling) and reading a Gourmet Traveller (Dec 2006?), or more specifically that 'Fare Exchange' section at the beginning where people write in and ask for restaurant chefs to share certain recipes. And there was this one for a laksa from Sydney. And I thought maybe it would be a good one to try, seeing as it's a recipe from an actual chef, and someone liked it enough to bother requesting it. So I tried it, and it was good! Nice and fresh and healthy tasting. Easy too, and you can make the pastes earlier so that cooking it at the last minute doesn't take long. Not a 100% success (see notes below), but tasty enough that I will make it again, and can see how it could be made easier and better quite easily.

Here's the recipe! It's probably in a bit of an odd order because I jotted it down as quickly as I could. Sorry I can't remember who the chef is or which restaurant it comes from. I'll try and figure it out next time I visit the dentist.

1. Make laksa paste. Process: 1/2 an onion, 2 cloves garlic, 1 tablespoon of chopped coriander (leaves, stalks and roots), 2 teaspoons of grated ginger, 2-3 small chillies, the rind and juice of 1 lime, 2 teaspoons of chopped lemongrass, 1 teaspoon of shrimp paste, 1 teaspoon of ground coriander, 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric. Fry this paste in 100ml of vegetable oil for 5 minutes.

2. Make sambal paste. Process 50g chillies, 50g garlic, 50g ginger together. Heat 50ml of vegetable oil and add paste and fry for a bit. Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable stock powder, 1 teaspoon of fish sauce, 1 teaspoon of soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of brown sugar and 1/2 a teaspoon of chilli flakes, and stir.

3. Make laksa. In a saucepan combine 750ml chicken stock, 1/2 cup of laksa paste (ie. the amount you made), 375 ml of coconut cream and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add 8 grams of tofu.

4. Cook other ingredients. In another saucepan blanch 1 stalk of finely chopped celery, 2 carrots julienne, 250gm of chinese cabbage and 1 bunch of baby bok choy. Drain. Cook 200g rice noodles. Cook 500g chicken breasts.

4. Put together. Arrange veg and thickly sliced chicken on top of noodles. Pour soup over the top, and garnish with Vietnamese mint, and coriander. Serve sambal paste separately.

Notes on what I did and discovered, and suggestions to simplify things.
1. I didn't process anything - not having any kind of processing machine. I chopped everything finely, and then bashed it up in a mortar and pestle. This was fine, but I imagine a processor would be quicker if you have one (although would create more washing up).

2. Next time, I will double the quantity of laksa paste and soup (I was feeding 5 people). We ended up with massive bowls full of noodles and vegetables with the soup barely coming half way up the bowl.

3. 100ml of oil seemed a lot for the laksa paste. Next time I will use less, because it's not really adding anything - it just bulks it up a bit.

4. The sambal paste is important. Don't skip it! It made the flavour of the soup go from a bit bland, to super-tasty yummy laksa. If you're worried about the spiciness, use big mild chillies. This is what I did, and it wasn't hot at all.

5. The quantities called for in the sambal paste are a LOT. I made it with 30g of garlic/ginger/chillis because I ran out (30g is a whole head of garlic, 6 large chillies etc.). This was a fine amount, and there was a little left over.

6. I made the laksa paste and the sambal paste a day ahead and refrigerated them. This was fine.

7. I cooked the vegetables separately, as per the recipe, but I think it would work ok to just blanch them in the soup itself. This would cut down on pots, and I suspect it's only separated this way in the recipe because that's how they'd do it in a restaurant.

8. I think I would also buy pre-cooked chicken breasts. I hate cooking chicken, and I don't think it would change the flavour at all.

9. I used hokkien noodles, not rice noodles. And I didn't measure the amount. Still good.

Update: summary here of how these adjustements went on Laksa version 1.2. (The short answer: well!).


Margie said...

Interesting to hear what's actually in it. I used to be physically repulsed by the smell of laksa but nowadays I'm ok to sit next to people eating it but I still don't want to eat it.
I just tried to figure out from the ingredients what it is that grosses me out but nothing in particular stands out. I hate coriander but I don't think it's just a coriander thing. Could be the shrimp paste and fish sauce. Don't really like fish sauce, doubt I like shrimp paste.

Maybe it really just is one of those things where the sum is more (bad) than the individual parts?

Well done you though, on making something you were happy with!
Sounds like you will be able to better it up next time no end! :)

Molly said...

Excellent to hear that you had a moderate success, Em!
I am very impressed that you did all the "Make laksa paste" and "Make sambal paste" steps! I can never be bothered with that... which is probably why i just head to Laksa House when i have Laksa cravings.
Hokkien noodles are definitely the go. Although sometimes i like it when they do half Hokkien, half thin rice noodles.
Arm num num, now I wish i could get to Gouger street... or your place! :-P

m∃ said...

Mag - I reckon it must be the sum of the parts for you. I can understand being grossed out by shrimp paste and fish sauce, but both are present in such minescule quantities that I doubt you'd even taste them. I can't STAND anything remotely fishy, and I love laksa.

Molly - the make paste steps I guess are a bit of a palaver (although less so if you had a small food processor), but once you've done that bit it's certainly way easier and quicker to make than to go out and buy. I wonder if the pastes would be freezable? It'd make a great almost-instant meal if so...

Elsie said...

Hey Em,

Congrats on the laksa! I found a little jar of soup paste when I went to china town, and made myself a sort of laska with prawns (shrimp) and a bit of coconut milk and rice noodes. That was all I had in the fridge at the time. So a bit lacking in the ingredients department, but it was quite yummy! Nice to have your recipe to help my lacking imagination :)

Along with your idea of making the pastes the day before, when Andrew and I were in Thailand the cooking school lady suggested you could make a massive batch and then put it in icecube trays to freeze in useful quantities. Then its on hand when ever you need it!!

Food processors rock. I bought a mini one here (hand held motor with three attachements - whip, blender and small processor). Grand total of $20 I think. And actually makes for less washing up methinks.

Well thats my two bobs worth!


m∃ said...

Hi Els,

It certainly said in the recipe that it would keep for a time in the fridge, but I didn't note that bit down, so I was wary of keeping it for too long. The icecube tray is a good idea, but I'm a bit wary of that too, because I did it once with some leftover bought green-curry paste and it stunk out the freezer, and even the icecube tray so much I had to throw it away and buy a new one.

Anyway, I've made more paste and I'm trying again tonight, so we'll see how the new and improved version stands up!

I'm sure your 'sort-of-laksa' was great - I think it's just a case of finding a good paste, a feat I've yet to manage.

Margie said...

You could get the tupperware hand operated food processor. Turns out it works as well as the electric kind - we tested it out on almonds and they both did as well as each other. Not that I am a heavily biased fan or anything.

m∃ said...

I just sent you an email about tupperware! Maybe that's was what I was thinking of getting...

Although funnily enough, my nanna just gifted us her mini electric food processor (I think it's called a moulimix but I can't find one on the net anywhere) so we'll see how that goes tonight. We used to have one too, but half of it melted in our dishwasher (Worst. Dishwasher. EVER.).

But I am certainly a fan of less electricity, more elbow grease, as far as the kitchen goes anyway. And the mortar and pestle was not so effective once I doubled the quantity.

Elsie said...

i suggest ziplock bags and dedicated icecube trays - if you're planning on cooking laksa often anyway :)