Chef's Recipes

Asam laksa

Less well-known than Malaysia's curry laksa, asam laksa is a breed all its own: sour, sweet and rich with fish, it's not for the faint-hearted.

By Tony Tan
  • Serves 6
  • 30 mins preparation
  • 45 mins cooking plus soaking
Asam laksa

"Asam laksa is a rice-noodle soup flavoured with a fish broth, and topped with flaked fish and tropical herbs," says Tony Tan. "Its name is derived from the Malay word for tamarind – asam – the souring agent, although asam keping (dried asam gelugur, the Malaysian fruit from the Garcinia atroviridis tree) is usually added to enhance the tangy flavour. These key ingredients complement strong-tasting fish like wolf herring or chub mackerel, the preferred fish for this dish. It is simple to make: cook the fish with Vietnamese mint and galangal, then add the spice paste to the fish stock and simmer for the fish to fully absorb the flavour of the soup. Serve over cooked noodles with garnishes and hae ko, the molasses-like black shrimp paste, if preferred."

Ingredients

  • 1 kg whole fish (such as bream or snapper; see note)
  • 3 slices asam keping (optional; see note)
  • 4 Vietnamese mint sprigs
  • 4 slices galangal
  • 150 gm tamarind pulp, soaked in 1 cup hot water
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar, or to taste
  • 400 gm dried laksa noodles, softened in cold water for 6-8 minutes
Spice paste
  • 5 golden shallots, sliced
  • 2 lemongrass stalks, sliced
  • 30 gm (2.5cm piece) fresh turmeric or 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 4 dried red chillies, soaked in hot water and squeezed out
  • 4 red chillies, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tbsp coarsely chopped galangal
  • 1 tsp belacan (see note), roasted
Garnishes
  • ½ pineapple, cut into chunks
  • 1 Lebanese cucumber, seeds removed, cut into small chunks
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 5 iceberg lettuce leaves, thinly sliced
  • ⅔ cup mint leaves
  • ⅔ cup Vietnamese mint leaves
  • 1 torch ginger flower, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 red chillies, seeds removed, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp hae ko (optional; see note), diluted in a little hot water

Method

  • 1
    For spice paste, blend ingredients in a food processor until smooth.
  • 2
    Place fish, asam keping, Vietnamese mint, galangal and 2 litres cold water in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer until fish is cooked (3-4 minutes). Remove fish from stock, cool and flake meat (discard skin and bones). Strain fish stock into a clean saucepan and return fish to the stock.
  • 3
    Squeeze the tamarind pulp to extract as much juice as possible then strain into a bowl (discard seeds and fibres). Stir tamarind juice into the stock.
  • 4
    Add spice paste to the stock with the sugar and 1 tsp salt and simmer, stirring occasionally, over low heat until well flavoured (25-30 minutes).
  • 5
    Cook noodles in boiling water (2-3 minutes), drain and divide among serving bowls. Ladle in stock and fish, top with garnishes and serve.

Notes

The recipe uses a whole fish; for fillets, reduce to 500gm. Asam keping is dried asam gelugur and is available from Asian grocers, as is belacan, and hae ko, which is also known as petis udang and otak udang. Torch ginger flower is called bunga kantan in Malay and is grown in Queensland and the Northern Territory. It is sold frozen in many Asian grocers.
Drink suggestion: Perfumed Australian pale ale. Drink suggestion by Max Allen.

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  • Author: Tony Tan