PREPARING the perfect bowl of Sarawak laksa is easy and hard at the same time – the process is straightforward, but it’s time consuming. The laborious part is shredding the chicken meat as finely as possible, and peeling the prawns.
First, get hold of laksa paste, preferably Swallow or Barrett’s brands. They’re not easy to find outside of Sarawak so the “pre-first step” might actually to befriend a Sarawakian who can arrange for supply.
Or surf over to www.laksasarawak.com/ buy.php. Order and wait patiently for paste to arrive. At around RM10 for 600g, Barrett’s paste is not expensive, especially for those earning US dollars or pounds, but freight charges can cost quite a bit, like £300 (RM2,000) for a 42kg (worth RM700) shipment by air to Scotland.
Ingredients (serves 4)
Rice vermicelli (beehoon or mai fun)
Chicken breast meat 400g
Prawns 400gm, with shell
Fresh coriander leaves (parsley can substitute), a bunch, finely chopped
Laksa paste, 300g packet
Chicken stock 1.5-2 litres (either made fresh with chicken bones or readymade, MSG-free concentrated stock)
Coconut cream (santan, made fresh from 1 coconut or 500ml processed or instant santan)
Bean sprouts (taugeh or nga choy) 500g
Lime, 4-8 (small ones, preferably limau kasturi)
Sambal belacan (this can be tricky overseas; Barrett’s, however, also offers excellent ready-to-serve sambal belacan) 1 tbsp
1. Soak vermicelli in cold water until soft but still firm.
2. Boil or steam chicken meat about 15 minutes, remove from pan. Use liquid to steam prawns, about 5 minutes. Save liquid to use as stock.
3. Peel prawns (the shells can be thrown back into the stock for extra flavour) and shred chicken as finely as possible. DON’T be tempted to give “extra value” by slicing the chicken thickly – that just won’t cut it. Finely shredded chicken soaks up the gravy better and the texture will be just right.
4. Beat eggs, make a thin omelette and slice into strips 5mm-10mm wide.
5. For the gravy, follow the simple directions that come with the paste. In case those instructions get lost in transition: boil the paste in the stock between 30 minutes and an hour, then strain. Yes, that’s it.
6. Just before serving, bring the gravy to a boil and add santan to taste. Simmer no longer than 30 seconds, do NOT allow a full boil or the santan will curdle or, worse, be rendered into coconut oil, ruining the taste as well as appearance. (This is one area where many restaurants fail.) When just right, there should be a dark orange layer of chilli-laced oil on top, and when stirred, the concoction should be like a darkish milk coffee.
7. Blanch the soaked vermicelli and bean sprouts briefly in boiling water and place in serving bowl.
8. Add shredded chicken, omelette strips and prawns, ladle on piping hot gravy, and garnish with chopped coriander. (Some restaurants in Kuala Lumpur that serve Sarawak laksa add shredded cucumber. If you want the authentic taste, don’t.)
9. Before digging in, squeeze fresh lime juice over the sambal belacan, mix well, add to the laksa and stir. Eat immediately, while it’s piping hot so that the beehoon does not get too soggy.