Yesterday I made some laksa. From scratch. All you need is a rempah, some kind of stock and coconut cream plus the toppings of your choice. Because I’m Singaporean, I’m used to good, thick and rich tasting laksa, not the typical watery bullshit you get in Australia. Matter of fact, I’ll say that the laksa I made yesterday makes all the laksas in Sydney look mad stupid. It’s not hard. You grind some stuff up, fry it off, add stock and reduce and then some coconut cream and cook the noodles and toppings off in the soup. How hard is that? And still, they serve up swill they call laksa here in Sydney. I dunno if there’s a watery style Malaysian laksa or whatever but whatever it is, it’s hot water curry noodles with chicken/plastic prawn/seafood or tofu options here down under. Even in places run by actual Malaysians or Singaporeans. Absurd.

For the rempah,

  • 500g eschallot (peel and remove the root end)
  • 50g ginger (peel)
  • 50g galangal (peel)
  • 50g dried prawns (you can also experiment and chuck in some dried squid etc but prawns are the only essential thing and should be the main thing. never let anything overshadow the dried prawns)
  • 25g dried flounder
  • 10g turmeric (fresh is even better)
  • 350g long red chilli (you can remove the pith and seeds if you want it less spicy or use bird’s eyes if you want it more)
  • 25g dried chilli (omit if you want it less spicy)
  • 25g belacan
Everything in the rempah is adjustable to your taste but basically, the base is eschallots (the purple small onions) and the aromats just help to add flavor. You can also add a little garlic or lemongrass or whatever other million rempah ingredients if you want. I didn’t.
For the soup,
  • 1l chicken stock (pork stock is an ok substitute but chicken works best) make this how you want but typically, this would be done with at the most ginger and garlic for mire poix and nothing else. you can also resort to stock cubes if you want but obviously a good quality rooster would be best.
  • 1l coconut cream (more or less depending on how lemak you want it) if you use fresh coconut cream, this is even better. i have no choice but to use the pasteurized tetrapaked version but it still tastes good enough.
For the toppings,
  • 500g prawns (peeled, deveined and keep the shells and heads especially)
  • medium thickness rice noodles (soak in water 5mins prior to cooking)
  • fishcake (slice to your heart’s content)
  • fishballs
  • fried tofu puffs
  • bean sprouts
  • cockles (highly recommended because its curiously bloody/oceanic notes go incredibly well with the soup)
  • laksa leaf / viet mint (gives it a bit of color for garnish but also a peppery bite)
Bring your chicken stock to the boil and either poach or boil your prawns until they’re done. 4mins at boiling point or 10 6-8 on a lower simmer. Poaching should get them more tender. After the prawns are cooked, chuck em in an ice bath, then drain them when cooled and rub a little salt on them for seasoning. Chuck all the shells and heads back into the stock and let that boil until you see all the proteins from the prawns come out and turn the stock orangey/red. That’s good shit. Don’t skim. At all. Leave it in there. The more prawns you use, the more keng/powerful the stock and hence the soup. If you want to give it a bisque-esque note, fry off the heads and shells and then deglaze that with the chicken stock instead.

Dry out the dried prawns and flounder a little more in a low oven. Like 120 degrees for 15 minutes. After this, they blend better and have a more roasted kinda flavor. Add everything else into a blender/mortar & pestle or just chop it up into oblivion. I used a blender, scraped down the sides from time to time and got everything into a slightly chunky paste. In order of fineness, I’d have a scale like this: Puree > Paste > Rempah > Salsa. Good laksa has a certain grittiness in the texture of the soup.

Once you have the dried stuff obliterated into a rempah, you need to heat up something that can take a lot of heat. I used a cast iron wok over the gas stove. I don’t recommend a thin aluminium pot. It needs to be smoking hot in order to bring out the rustic flavors better. Needs a little char and big heat. Fry this for 15 minutes at least on high heat, constantly stirring so the mix fries evenly and nothing burns or sticks. When the rempah starts to catch, stop, remove from heat and stir before returning it again until you think you’ve hit the point at which you can go no further and it smells like amazingness. It should be dark brown.

When the rempah is fried off, you need to add the prawny chicken stock into the wok to deglaze it. Bring this to a boil, scrape the wok etc. Hopefully you didn’t burn anything. If you did, remove the rempah and add it into another pot with the stock. Anyway, let the thing simmer for a bit until the stock is reduced by half or at least a third (maybe 30mins). Once you get there, add the coconut cream, bring to the boil again and then simmer for an hour. At this point, you should taste to see if you like the lemakness or not. If you want it less coconutty, add a little bit more stock or even hot water is fine. Don’t overreduce the soup until it has the consistency of a curry. It needs to have a certain thinness. You can also substitute some of the coconut cream for evaporated milk to give it a different profile. The starch from the noodles will thicken the soup at the end to give you the classic thick laksa soup consistency.

When the soup is done, you can cook off the rest of the stuff. Chuck your fishballs and fried tofu puffs into the soup and forget about them. Put your sprouts and fishcakes into your serving bowl. Pour a ladle of hot soup into your bean sprouts to blanch them. Do this twice, using a big ladle to hold the stuff back and let the soup fall back into the pot. Next, blanch off your noodles in the same way, with a different bowl. When you do this, the soup gets thicker so add more sauce to thin it back down slightly if you need to. It shouldn’t be like gravy texture or Chinese sauce texture. Thinner than that. Lastly, blanch off the prawns and cockles in the same way. Put everything in a bowl including a few well cooked fishballs and laksa soaked tofu puffs and then pour the hot soup over. Garnish with the chopped herbs. You can cut the noodles into short lengths if you wanna eat it Katong style.