Thursday, 13 July 2017

Laksa (Leftover Symphonies 5)

The US sitcom from the late 70s/early 80s, Taxi, was a launchpad for several actors including Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd and Marilu Henner. It also starred established comedian, the late Andy Kaufman, who is widely regarded, amongst the comednicenti (ie those that know comedy), as a true genius. He played an immigrant from an unmentioned Eastern European country called Latka in the show. Otherwise, latkas are potato pancakes made as part of Hannukah celebrations in the Jewish community and are not to be confused with the subject of this recipe, laksa.

It's difficult to categorise laksa. Is it a soup? Is it noodles? Is it a curry? Fuck knows, but it's bloody lovely. It's southeast Asia in a bowl.

Comfort food varies around the world. As I mentioned in a previous post, in the UK it's usually soup (very often out of a can) or hearty stews. Laksa ticks many of the boxes necessary to qualify as the comfort food of the Malay Peninsula: noodles; rich, thick gravy; lots of vegetables; and a good bit of spice. It couldn't provide any more comfort if it was down-quilted and gave you a shot of muscle relaxant. Like this recipe for vindaloo I posted previously, the dish is another bit of natural fusion as the dish derives from ethnic Chinese people settling in the Straits towns of the peninsula and incorporating local ingredients. It's a staple of Peranakan food which is a particularly eclectic cuisine combining influences from China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the European colonisers (Dutch, British and Portuguese).

This is yet another way of using up some leftovers, this time the remains of a roast chicken but you could do it with fresh chicken or seafood, particularly some big, juicy, shell-on prawns.

Preparation:20 mins
Cooking: 1 hour 45 mins

3 cakes of dried egg noodles
1 tbsp oil (neutrally flavoured like rapeseed or sunflower)
1 leftover carcass of a roast chicken (with plenty of meat, a good 150g or more)
4 small shallots, peeled and sliced
1 carrot, roughly diced
1 stick of celery, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 stalk of lemon grass, chopped
1 thumb-sized piece fresh tumeric root, chopped (or 1 tsp dried)
2 thumb-sized piece ginger, chopped
4 red chillies, whole
1 whole star anise
5 cloves
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 stick of cinnamon (approx 5cm)
2 chicken stock cubes
200ml tinned coconut milk
1 lime,juiced and husks retained
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
10 cherry tomatoes
100g okra, topped and tailed and cut into 2cm chunks
3 large mushrooms, sliced

Cook the noodles according to the instructions.

Drain and set aside

Pick the chicken meat off the carcass and set both the meat and the bones aside.

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large pan and add the shallots, carrot and celery and fry until soft (around 10 minutes).

Add the garlic, lemon grass, tumeric, ginger, chillies and dry spices and continue to gently fry for another 5 minutes.

Place the stock cubes and chicken bones into the pan, add 1.5l water, heat to boiling, cover and simmer for 45 minutes

Remove the chicken bones and blend the broth until smooth

Return to the hob and add the coconut milk, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and lime husks.

Throw in the remaining vegetables and stir

Boil and simmer for another 30 minutes.

Refresh the noodles by running them under cold water

Add the noodles to the soup and stir to warm through

Makes enough for a good working week's worth of lunches or would make a decent dinner for four people.

Fresh tumeric is another wanky, foodie ingredient that is not usually that easy to come by in the UK. I used it in this dish as I had some left over, having bought some for another dish I had planned. Use dried as a replacement. The fresh root looks like the picture below.
Fresh tumeric root
Looks like ginger or maggots

image from

Tumeric is currently touted as a miracle food that can cure all sorts of shit, including cancer, heart disease and, aptly enough, diarrhoea. Though there is some evidence it contains some potentially active compounds, a recent scientific review suggests these claims are largely bollocks. Besides which, if it does to your insides what it does to a cotton T-shirt, it's actually going to fuck you up. The number of tops I've had to discard because of yellow stains from curry is nobody's business. Of course, feel free to take a good dose when you've got a cold and you'll feel much better, as long as you back it up with a Lemsip.

I used tomatoes, mushrooms and okra in this recipe, but these vegetables could be substituted for others like aubergine, green beans or peppers. You can also substitute light soy for the fish sauce.

Having mentioned Andy Kaufman, I really need to link to this song by REM:

Man in the Moon by REM

No comments:

Post a Comment