Spicy Malay-Style Laksa

This is another well-travelled dish. Laksa means a one-dish meal of rice noodles, with either seafood or chicken. Although it originated in far-off Malaysia, I first encountered it in London thanks to my friend fenny Lo. Being of Chinese-Malaysian descent herself, she is fortunate in that the fine Malaysian restaurant, the Singapore Garden, is located near her home.

The authentic version of the recipe calls for some rather exotic and difficult-to-find ingredients. Moreover, it demands a great deal of preparation time. I have therefore modified it to make it more accessible for home cooking. I believe I have retained the spirit of the dish in the process. It certainly looks and tastes as good as the original! Once the chicken has been prepared, the wok infuses smoky flavours to the aromatic ingredients, which makes it all rather easy to cook and enjoy.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 kg (3 lb) whole chicken
  • 2.25 litres (4 pints) water
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • 450 g (1 lb) raw prawns
  • 2 fresh red chillies
  • 2 tablespoons groundnut oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh root ginger
  • 100 g (4 oz) shallots or onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 225 g (8 oz) rice noodles, rice vermicelli or rice sticks
  • 400 ml (14 fl oz) tinned coconut milk
  • 2 teaspoons Madras curry paste
  • tablespoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

For the Garnish

  • 3 tablespoons thinly sliced spring onions
  • 200 g (8 oz) bean sprouts, blanched
  • Fresh sprigs of coriander

Method

Put the chicken and water together in a large pan and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes, skimming all the time. Add the salt and pepper, cover and simmer for another 25 minutes. Remove the chicken and allow it to cool thoroughly. Reserve the liquid.

Peel the prawns and remove the fine digestive cord. Wash the prawns and pat them dry with kitchen paper. Cut the chillies in half and finely shred them, removing the seeds.

Heat a wok or frying-pan over a high heat until it is hot. Add the oil and, when it is very hot and slightly smoking, reduce the heat, add the garlic, ginger, chillies and shallots or onions and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the coriander, turmeric and the liquid from the chicken. Turn the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat with your hands and pull it apart into shreds with a fork. Set aside. Soak the rice noodles, vermicelli or sticks in a bowl of warm water for 25 minutes. Drain them in a colander or sieve.

Add the coconut milk, prawns and rice noodles, vermicelli or sticks to the simmering liquid. Season with curry paste, salt, pepper and sugar and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Add the chicken and cook for 2 minutes. Ladle the mixture into a large soup tureen and serve with the garnishes on the side.

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