Cooking Nasi Lemak for the Alpha Celebration Party

Thursday, May 03, 2012

We cooked Nasi Lemak recently for 60+ folks at the closing session of Alpha Course at our church.

I will detail here some of the experience and this will also act as a journal record for future Nasi Lemak meals as I am sure last night's will not be the last.

I have said before that Nasi Lemak makes for a fine party spread for these reasons:
  • It can be made beforehand and except for the rice, the items can be served at room temperature.
  • It is inexpensive as far as the 'essential' Nasi Lemak goes with additional costs coming from the extra items like chicken, prawns etc.
  • It is not labor intensive either and does not need great culinary skills and efforts to make. This means, others can be roped in to help.   
  • Assam or Tamarind Fried Prawns
  • It is a sure crowd-pleaser - keeping everyone from vegetarians, non-chilli eaters to the 'a bit of everything' man happy as each gets to decide what goes on the plate.

My Mum's version sticks pretty much to how traditional Malay Nasi Lemak is made, given some Nonya twist. Though great Nasi Lemak abounds in the Holland Village vicinity - including the famed stalls at Adam Road Hawker Center - her version is different and appetising in its own way.

Having planned for the "essential NL," we had to consider what extra dishes to make as we are offering this for dinner. I opted for two of my Mum's faves: Curry Chicken and Fried Assam Prawns. I like the additional aromatic flavours from a good curry and the way it mixes in with the chilli paste, pieces of hard-boiled eggs and coconut rice. The unique umami-ladened Fried Prawns in Assam (tamarind) paste also adds to the plateful of different textures and flavors.

It worked perfectly.

Rendang beef was also an option but the thought of preparing kerisik and the limited time that I had meant that I had to leave that to another day.

I have already posted a detailed recipe on this and I won't repeat  those steps here. I will make some additional comments:

For the Veg, I opted for fresh cucumber and tomatoes. It is easy to prepare as no cooking is involved and their colours look beautiful on a buffet spread. Cut the cucumber in chunks (like the way they do it for Satay) and slice the tomatoes.

Don't forget the duo of peanuts and ikan bilis. We used half a kilo of peanuts (use the smaller variation) and about 700gm of prepared ikan bilis (dried anchovies). It ran out and perhaps we could have offered a bit more.

Nasi Lemak Chilli is characteristically sweet and should not be overly spicy so that diners can have generous helpings of it with their rice. Use the milder tasting blended fresh chilli as base and add pieces of chilli padi for the spiciness. Dried chilli paste as base will be way too spicy. We used about 6 dollars worth of chili paste or "boh" (from wet market stall). Simmer it in oil. To that we added toasted belachan, shallots (half fine-blended, the other half coarsely for the texture). Then at the final tasting phase, add some salt, gula Melaka, tamarind (Assam) sauce and sugar. Dip your finger in to the simmering chilli (forget the spoon!) and taste till you are happy with it.

Hard-boiled eggs - What else needs to be said about this? After all, just keep boiling it and even if overdone, the end result is the same. Not true. If an egg is cooked too vigorously (quickly), the sulfur in the white will move towards the center of the egg to escape the heat. The iron in the yolk then reacts with the sulfur, resulting in greenish whites and the smell of sulfur. If boiled for too long, the white turns rubbery. So, start with eggs in lukewarm water and heat up slowly. When the water is nearly reaching boiling point, lower the flame and keep to a simmer for 10 mins. Then switch off the fire, keep the eggs there for 10-15 more minutes. Don't cook it in vigorous boiling water and don't overcook it. As for peeling, some think adding salt will do the trick but I have yet to find it so. Actually fresh eggs are harder to peel. The easiest way is to peel under slow running tap water after you have given it a gentle bash all around. Get your nail under the membrane and it should come off easily. And if the batch of eggs is difficult, patience is needed. But the colours and texture of hard boiled eggs and the unique way it contributes to a plate of Nasi Lemak cannot be beaten. Omelette - which can be beaten - is more of a nasi padang thing. And fried eggs, though easier to prepare, won't do. Runny yolk is terrible for Nasi Lemak. Imagine coconut rice soaked in yolk...

As for extra dishes, I will make a few additional comments on Curry Chicken. I have already blogged the recipe here. For nasi lemak, cut the chicken into smaller bite-size pieces. Aromatic curry is nice and you get to smell it first before you taste. For that, you need freshly toasted seeds which are then grounded (Same idea for coffee beans). So toast some seeds (coriander, cumin, fennel- I always keep packs of them) and pop them into the grinder. There is no other way to an aromatic curry. Powder will not do unless it is fresh. Use gentle fire to simmer and don't over cook the chicken. Overcooking reduces the sweetness of the meat and texture-wise, makes it mushy. Coconut milk is optional.

As for the Coconut rice, making fluffy rice in large quantities can be challenging as you can't use the 'kukus' method - unless you do it in batches - where rice is steamed in the traditional way. Coconut milk affects the way the rice turns out in rice cooker. Use fresh coconut milk and some do come pre-packed. Milk in first and the top cream when the rice is just cooked. Avoid using the Kara cream ones. You have to experiment and keep the liquid to optimal level. And of course, mushy rice is a disaster for any dish, let alone Nasi (Rice!) Lemak and best to be kept for porridge making. But even if the rice is not perfectly fluffy, its impact is different from say, rice-based dishes like Briyani. There are so many different flavours and condiments crowding your Nasi Lemak plate that you will barely have the opportunity to appreciate the rice alone. That said, this is no excuse for being sloppy with your rice-making. I sometimes use Basmati rice.

Alright here are the additional notes for Auntie Ruby's Nasi Lemak. This dish reminds me fondly of her.

And I am glad that many others can now enjoy it including those at last night's Alpha Dinner. We had a wonderful Course and many guests enjoyed it...even the good meals aside!

Here are more photos for your viewing.

And before you do that, take a look at this short take on why life is worth exploring:


6 chickens in the wok
Taking a pic with some church staff and friends

Some happy guests

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