Chicken Laksa

This soupy Malaysian dish has distinct regional variations. In Penang or Assam, a laksa named after the indigenous mint leaves which play an important role in its flavouring – is cooked with fish in a tamarind broth bulked with noodles and fresh pineapple, quite a sweet-and-sour presentation. In Malacca, laksa also includes chicken, coconut milk, prawns, beancurd and fish balls, but leaves out the tamarind and pineapple. The most important part is not the precise mix of ingredients but the distinctively aromatic Malaysian curry paste that gives it heat and complexity. This would traditionally be made with a pestle and mortar, which gives the best texture, but a food processor does the job effectively, effortlessly and very quickly.

Ingredients

  • 1 chicken, preferably free-range
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 20 Asian mint leaves (laksa)
  • 8 shallots
  • 7.5-cm / 3-inch piece of galangal, grated
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 stalks of lemon grass, outer leaves removed and cut across into thin rings
  • 2 tsp chilli flakes (use less if you don’t like very spicy food)
  • 1 tbsp belacan (dried shrimp paste)
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 400 g/ 14 oz dried rice noodles (vermicelli type)
  • 2–3 tbsp sunflower or groundnut oil
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 500 ml/ 16 fl oz coconut milk
  • 12 raw peeled tiger prawns
  • 225 g/ 8 oz firm tofu (beancurd), cut into 2.5-cm / 1-inch cubes
  • 8 fish balls (optional)
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • coriander leaves, to finish

Method

The day before, poach the chicken gently in simmering water for 50 minutes. Remove and, when cool, take off the breasts whole and cut into bite-sized pieces, then refrigerate (keep the rest of the meat for another dish). Return the carcass and bones to the poaching liquid and simmer for 2–3 hours. Strain and boil to reduce to 1.5 litres/ 2Β½ pints.

Next day, toast the cumin seeds and coriander seeds in a dry pan over a low heat until aromatic. Grind and reserve.

Put the mint leaves in a processor with the shallots, galangal, garlic, lemon grass, chilli flakes, belacan, turmeric and the ground toasted cumin and coriander. Blitz to a paste and reserve.

Cook the noodles in rapidly boiling water for 4 minutes, or as directed on the packet. Refresh in cold water and drain.

Put the oil in a wok and, when hot, add the curry paste and fry, stirring, for 3–4 minutes over a moderate heat. Pour in the chicken stock, add the sugar and bring to the boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and add the coconut milk. When hot, add the cooked chicken, prawns and tofu cubes. If you are able to get them from the chill cabinet of an Asian market, add the fish balls. When the prawns turn pink, it is ready.

Finish by stirring in the fish sauce and serve in deep bowls, scattered with coriander leaves.

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