Laksa Belut Perlis – Freshwater Eel Asam Laksa
A long overdue attempt, barely making it in time as Malaysia Food Fest Kedah & Perlis Month is just days to closure. Been a “busy” month planning for our pigout sessions during our trip to Taipei (yes! expect more reviews on Taipei patisseries to come!), and then the actual week-long trip itself, followed by a post-holiday withdrawal period. Anyway, enough of my ranting! Sometime back during our regular chats, I asked my dear friend, Wendy from Table for 2 or more, the organiser of this monthly online event on what she felt is a dish which is least likely to be attempted this month. Laksa Belut Perlis is an almost immediate reply, probably because of the lack of accessibility to freshwater eels for many. Lucky for us here in Singapore, they are available in some of our local wet markets. So I took it upon myself to attempt this recipe, which essentially uses “laksa utara” as a base , with the special touch of using belut, freshwater eel as part of its ingredient list.
Laksa as many of us know, is largely classified in two forms. The variety which we are more accustomed to seeing in Singapore is what I call the “lemak base”, with the liberal use of coconut milk for that rich and aromatic soup base. This is the form which our famous “Katong Laksa” is based on, which by itself is largely influenced by the Melakan Peranakan Laksa. As we move further up north, we see the “asam base” varieties void of coconut milk but no less rich, owing to the deployment of various spices and herbs, made into an ulam. This is perhaps influenced from traditional Thai cooking, especially in its southern provinces that forms a land bridge into the Malay Peninsula. Laksa from the northern states adopt similar recipes, using fish and asam gelugor (asam kering) as the main ingredients for that tart flavours make the dish very very appetising and moreish!
Hody and Lena both made Laksa Kedah for this month’s MFF, using Ikan Kembong as a fish of choice. Despite being all forms of “Laksa Utara”, I can’t help but notice the slight difference in ingredients used. For example, some recipes call for lemongrass, others do not. And then the onion to chilli ratio also varies, just like the choice between fresh and dried red chilli, probably slight personal nuances more than anything. For my attempt, I used this recipe as a base and modified it slightly using ideas from the recipes used by Hody and Lena. Hopefully the version I cooked is close to the authentic one. 🙂
Laksa Belut Perlis (serves 4)
Main Ingredients (for stock)
1 ikan belut (freshwater eel) appro. 500g with head and bones removed and save for stock base. innards and gills removed and discarded. Meat filleted and set aside.
4 ikan kembong (mackarel) appro. 500g with gills and innards removed and rinsed.
15 pieces of asam gelugor (tamarind fruit), rinsed
2 stalks of serai (lemongrass), lower white portions only halved longitudinally and bruised
2 stalks of bunga kantan (torch ginger flower), cut 3/4 of the whole blossom including stem. Save 1/4 for ulam. To the 3/4 lower portion, halve diagonally and bruise
1 bunch of daun kesom (vietnamese mint), tied into a bundle
mee laksa (rice vermicelli)
1 1/2 medium bawang besar (red onions) [save the last 1/2 for ulam]
5 large cili merah (red chillies)
1 thumb knob of belachan (fermented shrimp paste)
A small timun (cucumber), finely juilenned
1/2 medium bawang merah, finely juilenned
Small bud portions of bunga kantan finely juilenned into rings
10-12 duan kesom, finely chiffonaded
2 half boiled eggs, halved
Place eel bones, ikan kembong and asam gelugor into a stockpot.
Add water and bring to a boil. Lower flame to a simmer for 15 min.
While waiting, blend or pound all “blend ingredients” into a fine paste
Remove ikan kembong and set aside to cool. Remove cooked fish meat and pulverise finely. Be sure to remove all bones.
Return ikan kembong bones to stock base. Add more water and allow to bring to a fast boil for 3-5 mins on high heat.
Strain and remove all fish bones and asam gelugor slices.
Add halved bunga kantan, serai, bundle of daun kesom and “blend ingredients” paste. Stir thoroughly and bring to a boil. Lower flame to a simmer for 15 min
Using a coarse wired sieve, remove bunga kantan, serai and daun kesom. Add pulverised ikan kembong meat and ikan belut fillet. Simmer for 10 min until ikan belut is thoroughly cooked.
Adjust taste with sugar and salt.
In a separate pot of hot water, blanch mee laksa into soft and cooked.
To serve, place a portion of mee laksa into a dish. Give the asam laksa gravy a good stir to homogenise and ladle some gravy over the rice vermicelli.
Garnish with all the ulam ingredients, i.e. juilenned cucumber, bunga kantan, red onions, slices of ikan belut fillet, calamansi, hard boiled egg and daun kesom.
Tastewise, it is very very similar to the more popularly available Penang Laksa. The “kuah” for Laksa Belut Perlis is noticeably richer, which is probably due to the fatty collagen layer under the eel’s skin being worked into the gravy. It has a consistency which reminds of Japanese “tonkotsu” soup based ramen. Its a refreshing change from the “lemak-based” Katong Laksa which I frequently enjoy back home in Singapore. Which do I prefer? Well, I like’ em they are unique in their own ways, and equally delish!
I bought two eels and one went to this recipe. What am I gonna do with the other? Unagi Kabayaki of course!