Laksa Lemak translates as “creamy laksa”. This is a spicy noodle soup, made rich from an unhealthy (but delicious) dose of coconut milk.
This recipe takes inspiration from a couple of my favourite Laksas in KL. Firstly, my old local Ho Li Chow in TTDI who have a wickedly rich version made with fish broth. Secondly, the version I was taught at the awesome Lazat cookery school in KL. Run by the amazing Ana, she teaches a traditional Kampung style laksa, bursting with fresh aromatics from a relatively simple, but delicious, paste.
Here we’ll look at the traditional recipe, ingredients and techniques as well as variations you can play with and suitable ingredient substitutions to try maintain an authentic flavour.
There are 3 key aspects to a great laksa.
The spice paste, the broth and the toppings.
Let’s start with…
The Spice Paste
The 3 key flavours here are the shallots, lemongrass and chilli. Beyond that there is always a fair amount of flexibility, however to ensure an authentic taste try deliver on as many of these as possible.
Peel, chop and prep all the ingredients before blending to a smooth paste. Do this either with a pestle-and-mortar or a blender (adding some water to loosen and aid blending).
NB: A pestle-and-mortar is always the gold standard here as it fully breaks down the cell walls to fully release the aromatic oils, however for any non-masochists a decent blender also does the trick.
Next, the most important bit – pecah minyak aka oil separation.
Over a medium-low heat fry the paste in 100ml of oil. Initially stir to incorporate the oil however after this refrain from mixing bar the odd poke to check it’s not scorching and mix in any bits that are catching. Do this until the oil fully separates from the frying paste. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes.
TOP TIP: If it appears to catch before completion then add a little more oil and/or turn down the heat.
NB: This will seem like a lot of oil, and it is, but the aim of the game is to get all the aromatic compounds out of the paste and into the oil. This will result in a much tastier dish as the oil will coat your mouth, ensuring the flavour compounds are readily available to your taste buds i.e. your food will be tastier.
Peel the prawns and reserve the meat for the toppings.
Fry the shells in a good glug of neutral oil until pink. Cover with 1.2L cold water and a good pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, before reducing the heat and simmering for 30 minutes. Skim off any foam.
Use a potato masher to squish all the heads to extract the flavour, strain well and make up to 1L total volume.
Add the stock to the cooked paste and bring to the boil.
At this point, if using prawns, add the prawns (de-veined) to the broth to cook for 2 minutes before removing and cooling.
Add the herbs and cook for 5 minutes before adding the coconut milk and bringing back to the boil.
Then season the broth with salt and a teaspoon of palm sugar.
Don’t be shy with the salt, there IS tonnes of flavour in this broth. You just need to unlock it. If it’s not making your mouth instantly salivate, add a big pinch of salt. Continue until desirably delicious.
NB – while I used prawn-stock here it’s entirely possible to use chicken stock, fish stock, vegan stock or a mix (particularly prawn and chicken) to make laksa.
These can be really good substitutions either due to availability, or because you’d rather not spend 15 quid on king prawns. Try these:
Chicken Stock - bring 1.2L of water to the boil. Poach the meat for 10 minutes until cooked. Using a fork, remove the meat from the bones before reintroducing the bones to the stock and simmering for at least an hour minutes, skimming off any foam.
Vegan Broth – In a casserole dish roast 2 large onions and 2 carrots until caramelised, then deglaze with 1. water and add 2tbsp of white miso. Simmer for at least an hour.
Slice the tofu puffs in half and add to the boiling broth. This will serve to let them soak up all the delicious broth, as well as get rid of any stale oily taste from the commercial frying process.
Cook your noodles as per the packet. Add the beansprouts 20 seconds before completed and strain.
Divide equally between 5-6 bowls and top with your broth and tofu puffs.
Garnish with the reserved meat, a halved hard-boiled egg and some slices of laksa leaf (or suitable substitute).
Side with some sambal for anyone who wants to add more spice.
Go change your t-shirt to the darkest colour you own.
You’re ready to eat!
NB: One the many beauties of laksa is that you can include whatever toppings you fancy!
As long as you have some noodles every single thing here can be substituted dependent on what you have available.