Assam Laksa is truly an exceptional dish – an intoxicating noodle soup dish with the perfect balance of spicy, sweet, sour, salty, and savoury flavours. This is not a dish for the meek and mild – this is an assertive and robust dish that will jolt your taste-buds and get your blood pumping.
Nyonya Hot and Sour Noodles in Fish Soup - Penang Asam Laksa
For spice paste
- 10 dried red chillies, soaked in warm water until softened, deseeded then roughly chopped - up to 12 for additional heat
- 6 small fresh red chillies, deseeded and roughly chopped
- 8 French shallots, about 100g, peeled and roughly chopped
- 8 cloves garlic, about 35g, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 stalks lemongrass, the white parts only, roughly sliced
- 5 cm piece of galangal
- 1½ teaspoons belacan powder or 1 teaspoon belacan paste
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 2 whole mackerel , about 800g
- 2 ½ litres water
- A couple of extra fish heads or bones , optional, but makes for a stronger fishy soup
- 100 g seedless tamarind pulp
- 125 ml hot water
- 5 pieces dried tamarind peel or dried tamarind skin , asam keping / asam gelugor
- 5 sprigs Vietnamese coriander, large sprigs if possible
- 1 tablespoon salt, adjust to taste
- 3 tablespoons sugar, adjust to taste
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 2-3 tablespoons belacan paste, adjust to taste
For the bowls
- 500 - 750 g thick laksa rice noodles, cooked
- 2 Lebanese cucumbers, julienned
- 1 large red onion, very thinly sliced
- pineapple, finely chopped (or tinned pineapple pieces)
- fresh red chillies, deseeded and sliced
- mint leaves
- Vietnamese coriander
- belacan paste, whisked with a little boiling water to a slightly runny consistency
For the paste
- With a stick blender, food processor or mortar and pestle, ground all the spice ingredients until it turns to a paste. <em>If you’re making this in advance, store it in a clean jar in the fridge until ready to use.</em>
For the soup
- Clean, gut and scale your mackerel and rinse off the blood <em>(you can get your fish monger to do this for you but make sure you keep the heads)</em>. Bring the 2 ½ litres water to a boil, then carefully lower the fish and the extra fish heads/bones if you’re using.
- Cook for 10 minutes then remove the whole mackerel <em>(leave the other bones in the pot)</em>. Set aside the mackerels to cool and reduce the heat of the stock to low.
- Add the warm water to the tamarind pulp and leave to stand for a few minutes. Squeeze the tamarind pulp to break it up and extract the juice. Keep squeezing until all the pulp has broken up. Strain and set aside. For a lazier option, use a stick blender to pulverise the water and pulp together before adding to the fish stock.
- Add the spice paste, tamarind juice, tamarind peel and Vietnamese coriander and simmer on low for 40 minutes. Season with salt, sugar, fish sauce and belacan paste to taste.
- Meanwhile, when the mackerel has cooled enough, use your hands to remove the flesh from the fish and set aside. Be sure to remove all the bones, brown bits and skin. Flake and set aside.
- Strain the stock and check your seasonings with salt and sugar <em>(it should be balanced with salty, sour and sweet)</em>. Add about a third of the flaked mackerel to the soup and use the rest to garnish the bowls. For a thicker soup, add more fish flakes.
- Fill bowls with cooked noodles and ladle hot soup over it. Garnish with cucumber, onions, pineapple, chilli, mint leaves and serve immediately with prawn paste to the side.
Cooks Notes & Variations
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