Duck & coconut laksa with grilled sweetcorn, soba noodles, squid & coriander

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Preparation info

  • For

    4-6

    • Difficulty

      Medium

Appears in

Fusion: A Culinary Journey

Fusion

By Peter Gordon

Published 2010

  • About

Laksa is a Peranakan dish (a fusion of Malay and Chinese cultures) originating in Malaysia, although Singapore and (less common but equally delicious) Thailand make wonderful versions as well. I first came across laksa when I was hitch-hiking around South-East Asia in 1986 and what I loved about it, and its ‘cousin’ bakso from Indonesia, was that there was always a wee tweak here and there depending on the cook making it. In Penang it was an aromatic dark sweet and sour broth served with round fat white rice noodles, in Ipoh it was somewhat more sour with a tamarind-based stock redolent of shrimp paste, and in Singapore it was yellow with turmeric and coconut milk, served with vermicelli noodles and fried tofu. Since those days I’ve always had a laksa on my menu in whatever restaurant I’ve cooked in, and although I’ve been criticised for ruining a classic dish, I figure I’ve just adapted one of the world’s great soup-meals as I witnessed myself. Sweetcorn originates in North America and by cooking it over a high heat as in this recipe, it develops a lovely smoky, sweet taste and crunchy texture. Soba noodles are Japanese in origin, and their lovely buckwheat flavour and firm texture rounds off this coconut-sweet and aromatic soup. For the curry paste you can simply buy one from a Malaysian or Thai food store, although I also give a simple recipe on the following page.

Ingredients

  • 4 shallots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 thumb of ginger, peeled and finely chopped or grated
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 10 ml (2 tsp) vegetable oil
  • 1-2 Tbsp curry paste (to taste)
  • 2 Tbsp palm sugar
  • 30 ml (2 Tbsp) fish sauce
  • 4 lime leaves (or use the peel and juice of 1 lime)
  • ½ tsp Sichuan peppercorns (optional - but they add a real zing to this)
  • 1 heaped Tbsp tamarind paste (you can also use the paste that’s full of fibre and seeds that usually comes in a block, you’ll just have to pick out the chunky bits as you eat it)
  • 400 ml unsweetened coconut milk or coconut cream
  • 1 duck breast, skin scored with a sharp knife to give many ridges
  • 2 tsp garam masala or other spice mix (see my garam masala recipe)
  • 1 corn cob, cut in half
  • 100 g soba noodles
  • a small handful each of Thai basil and coriander
  • 100 g squid, cleaned, the heads cut into rings, the legs separated
  • crispy shallots to garnish

Method

Heat up a medium-sized pot and sauté the shallots, ginger and garlic in the vegetable oil until just beginning to caramelise. Add the curry paste and fry for 1 minute, stirring often, until it releases its aromas. Add the palm sugar and fish sauce and fry until they form a boiling syrup. Add the lime leaves, Sichuan peppercorns and tamarind paste and cook until the leaves soften. Add the coconut milk or cream and 300 ml hot water and bring to the boil, then turn to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

Heat up a deep-sided pan large enough to hold the duck breast and place the duck in, skin-side down. Cook over a moderate heat for 5 minutes to render some of the fat from it and to colour it golden brown. Remove the duck and dust it on both sides with the garam masala.

Place the corn halves in the pan and cook over a moderate-high heat in the duck fat until it’s coloured all over. Remove from the pan and return the duck, continuing to cook for 2 more minutes on the skin side, then turn over and cook on the other side for 2 minutes. Turn the heat off and leave it to rest in the pan and it will be nicely pink when you eat it.

While the duck’s cooking, bring 2 litres of water to the boil in a large pan. Add the noodles, gently stirring them to prevent them from sticking, and bring back to the boil. Add a cup of cold water to the pan then drop the temperature to a rolling simmer and cook until they’re supple, but still with a little bite to them - around 10 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water then cover with a little water to prevent them sticking.

Cut the corn kernels from the cob and put to one side. Pick some Thai basil and coriander leaves from the stalks and thinly slice the duck.

Taste the laksa broth for chilli heat, sweetness and seasoning, adding either some fresh chopped chilli, palm sugar, fish sauce or salt to taste. Bring it to a gentle boil and stir in the squid. Count to 20 and it’s ready to serve.

To Serve

Drain the noodles and divide amongst preheated bowls. Ladle on the broth making sure everyone gets some squid, then place the sliced duck, corn, Thai basil and coriander on top. Scatter on the crispy shallots and it’s ready.

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