If you don’t already know this about me, you should probably learn that I love seafood. Not a particularly controversial claim, I know, but an important one nonetheless. And if there’s something I enjoy more than a juicy prawn, mussel or lobster, it’s all of the above with the addition of a bit of spice. It’s no coincidence that some of the best dishes I’ve ever tried have been seafood dishes hailing from (or at least inspired by) South East Asian cuisine.
I remember the first time I ever had a laksa, in a restaurant in Winchester that lamentably no longer exists. It was an entirely new take on flavours that I thought I knew well – spice, seafood and coconut – blended into something truly delicious. Somehow it managed to balance a sharp yet creamy savouriness with lemongrass, chilli and the sweet flavours of seafood that never verged on fishiness. The noodles were slurped up happily, the huge tempura prawn that topped the dish disappeared in a matter of moments, and when it was finished I was sad that it had just been a starter; I wanted to cancel my main order and just have another bowl of this instead!
|My first laksa!|
It’s safe to say that this perfect, soupy creation left a lasting impression on me. I raved about it to my friends, reminisced about it with my boyfriend (who was also a big fan of the dish), and was heartbroken when the restaurant closed a few months later. And yet I never attempted to recreate it – almost out of a lingering respect. If I was going to make anything half as nice as the laksa I had tried, I needed to do it properly, conduct some proper research and not just follow the first recipe I found online.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, I finally decided to tackle it, after doing a huge amount of research (AKA exhausting all options on the first page of Google) and feeling resolved to recreate it as well as I possibly could.
The first thing I set out to do was sourcing ingredients. I didn’t want to use cheap coconut milk, dried lemongrass or inauthentic supermarket brand laksa paste. Travelling to our local international grocers, I hoped that I could find some ingredients that would bring the flavours that were now just a distant memory dancing back to the forefront of my mind (and mouth).
Now, I didn’t make the curry paste from scratch – partly because I’m just looking for an easy life and partly because my brief scan of the international supermarket didn’t present to me essential ingredients, like shrimp paste and galangal. However, when choosing a jar of laksa paste I read through all the ingredients and chose the one I felt best matched the recipes I had found.
One thing that I think is essential for this meal – and for any dish with a coconut milk base (Thai curries, for example) – is decent quality coconut milk. Too often, I’ve gone for a brand in the supermarket that has smelled more like paint than coconut, had a horrible slimy consistency, and actually contained very little coconut indeed. These will always produce a heavy, greasy, flavourless curry, as I’ve realised on more than one occasion. Instead, I found a brand that they used in the Thai restaurant I waitressed in many years ago, and it has never let me down.
What I think makes cooking such a joyful act, is the care you put into it. Sure, I can whip up a relatively tasty dish in about 20 minutes, but those hurried meals definitely lack something. A bit of care, a bit of attention, a bit of soul – whatever you like to call it, there’s a quality to truly wonderful food that comes straight from the person cooking it, making it just that little bit special.
For this dish, that extra attention to detail came in boiling down the prawn shells with the coconut milk and stock, making sure that every single drop of flavour was extracted and went back into the dish. The difference is subtle, but it’s definitely there – adding another dimension of flavour and using every part of the ingredients to create something really, really tasty.
King prawn curry laksa | Serves 4
- shell on raw king prawns – I buy them already deveined, which makes peeling the shells much easier.
- yellow egg noodles, dried (I really don’t know the quantity I use for this, I just put in about a handful per person)
- 1 carrot, peeled and cut into batons
- 200g bean sprouts
- 1 stalk lemongrass, finely minced
- 1 inch piece ginger, finely minced
- 1 shallot, sliced
- 2 red chillies, sliced
- 3 tbsp laksa paste
- 1 tin coconut milk
- 750ml chicken stock
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
- handful fresh coriander
- remove the shells from your king prawns and simmer with your chicken stock and coconut milk on a medium heat for 10 minutes.
- in a little oil, fry together the lemongrass and ginger, before adding the laksa paste. cook until pasta changes consistency and spices are aromatic, then pour your coconut stock through a sieve into the pan and add a splash of fish sauce.
- add your carrots and chillies (save a couple to garnish) and keep on a medium heat, until the carrots are firm but tender.
- add your shallots, beansprouts and dried noodles.
- once noodles have softened, turn up the heat and add your prawns and some chopped fresh coriander.
- cook prawns for 2 minutes, or until firm and pink.
- serve with a couple of slices of chillies, a sprig of fresh coriander and a wedge of lime.