Cooking some very good home-made Nasi Lemak

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Note: If you like to attend an Alpha Course, check out the details here .

With bits of a spoon-carved hard-boiled egg, rice, sambal and anchovies, the first bite of the Nasi Lemak last night was nothing short of astounding.

And I am still thinking about it.

I  think it was better than the version made by my mum (Auntie Ruby). That is saying a lot. From now, if possible, every lot Nasi Lemak I make has to be done this way. The rice was so good that the prawns, chicken all became secondary though they were delicious in their own right.

Nasi "Kukus" (steamed) is definitely the way to go.

What's the fuss about rice, you may ask. That may be the problem with our local cuisine: we have lost a sense of the art, tradition and detail which goes into making a good dish. We are easily enamored by big and bigger prawns, foie gras, truffle, iberico pork, wahyu beef and so on.

But, rice? Isn't that just to fill our stomachs? Too soft? Too hard? Who cares?

I do. And I know some of you will.

If anything, we can take a leaf or two from the Japanese people and their attitude towards their cuisine. They take their rice seriously. How it is cooked. How it is eaten. It is my hope that if our cuisine is to improve, it is not just because we are adopting modern techniques or ingredients. We are also paying attention to tradition and appreciate why certain cooking techniques were used in the past.

When we plan for and prepare Nasi Lemak for the Alpha Introductory dinner, we wanted our guests to experience home cooking at its best. Never mind if some will not even notice the difference. But as cooks, we do.

This meant that we:
  • squeezed our coconut milk and separate the first (cream) and second batch (milk).
  • patiently pan-fried our Fried Assam Prawns rather than bulk deep frying in the wok.
  • steamed the rice and not just rely solely on the electric cooker to do the job 
  • pounded to make kerisik (toasted coconut) for the chicken rendang till we can both smell (fragrance) and see it (oily glistening).
  • carefully boiled the eggs till they are perfectly hard boiled. Egg omelette just won't do in a plate of good Nasi Lemak. Cut your spoon through contrasting colors and texture of a good hard-boiled egg and you will know what I mean. 
Put these all together and you will have an exciting plate of appetizing home-made Nasi Lemak.

Our only regret last night was the sambal chilli. It was quite good actually. But we forgot to buy dried chillies and had to use grounded chill paste instead (chilli boh). We also ran out of shallots. The chill will taste even better if we grind the the dried chillies coarsely and patiently simmer the onions in oil. There will always be a next time.

The Chicken Rendang, while good on its own, has strong flavors and the curry can mask the flavors of the lemak rice. If there is good rice, strong sides are not necessary. Nasi Lemak is essentially about the key ingredients: rice, sambal, nuts, anchovies, egg etc. Perhaps fried chicken or  milder dry curry will make for better pairing. The Fried Assam Prawns was perfect for NL. Some good points to note for future versions.

I have already blogged about the "essential" Nasi Lemak. Check out the details and recipe here.  For details on how to steam or "kukus" the rice, go here.

Chicken Rendang
But the point I want to drive home in this post is that it is worth the trouble to squeeze the coconut for the milk and steam your rice. It may seem like a messy thing to do at first but once you get used to it, it is a breeze.

Don't get me wrong. I am not a "food snob." I will eat any kind of Nasi Lemak and I still do. But if I am making this at home, if possible, the extra effort at steaming it should be considered essential for a good plate of NL. After all, this recipe is about good rice and not about some nice curry or fried chicken.

It was interesting that about the only dish I had to cook myself was the Chicken Rendang. Everything else was done by someone else on the food team. In particular, I have Auntie Lucy to thank for her insistence that the rice must be cooked in the steamer. And there was Amos who slaved over the prawns.

If there is passion and dedication, everyone on the team will work at bringing the best of home cooking to the party. I saw that last night.

It was the best Nasi Lemak I have ever eaten. Seldom has a local rice dish been so enamoring. Last night's was.

Congrats, team!

Note: If you like to attend an Alpha Course, check out the details here .

Preparing the Kerisik
Marinating the prawns: Assam paste, Sugar, Salt and dark sauce 
Hand-sqeezing the coconut
The rice in the steamer with pandan leaves
Fresh winged beans - just adding a unusual option for veggies
Perfect Hard-boiled eggs
Fried Assam Prawns
We cooked almost 100 plates of NL

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