Making Nasi Lemak in Toronto

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I am logging in this recipe for my friends in Toronto. It is also helpful for me as there are things I learn each time I cook a dish.

After a week of mostly non-Asian food and in the cold winter of Toronto, Nasi Lemak makes for a very satisfying Sunday dinner with good company to boot.  

This can be seen as a "simplified" Nasi Lemak recipe as being overseas and without access to the usual ingredients meant that there was a need to adapt.

I will start with the rice.

Good NL rice needs to be fluffy, which means it is cooked just right. It needs the flavour of coconut milk, pandan leaves (optional) and enough salt. If you don't put in enough salt, your rice will taste flat, no matter how much "lemak" (coconut) you add.

If you are using an electric cooker, can you make good Nasi Lemak rice? The answer is: Yes. The traditional bottom steaming method is still superior but with care, it is possible to get the rice cooker to work for you.

If you add the coconut cream/milk to the rice cooker, the rice will not turn out right because of the high fat content of the milk. You need to first separate the cream from the milk. Cook the rice first using a ratio of 1:1 i.e. a cup of water (with coconut milk) for a cup of rice. The milk needs to be very diluted.

When the rice is cooked i.e. the button turns to warm, add the thick cream and mix/fluff up the rice thoroughly. Close the lid and on warming, the cooking continues and the rice will continue to absorb the flavour of the coconut cream. This is the method which my Mum usually used.
Coconut Cream & Milk

Two stages: 1. Cook the rice  2. Cream it.

On this occasion, we used canned coconut milk and cream. As we were using ten cups of Jasmine Thai rice, we mixed in two cups of milk and 8 cups of water. Then we added 3 teaspoons of table salt and threw in some tied up pandan leaves. After it was cooked (button switched to warm), we removed half of the rice to a steaming tray. I added the thick cream and mixed it into the rice. Added some more knotted pandan leaves. Then using a steam oven, we steamed it for another 10 minutes. As I mentioned above, you can finish the creaming part in the rice cooker itself but as my friend had a steam oven, it made sense to use it.

If you can't lay hold onto thick coconut cream and using Kara packs (common in S'pore), just use a quarter of it first with the water to cook the rice. And then you add the rest during the creaming part.

Remember to never go beyond a 1:1 ratio when cooking the rice or add too much water during the creaming part (thick cream is ok), or else your rice will be too soft and sticky.

Sambal Chilli

You can get shallots, gula melaka and belachan in Toronto. Cool. We peeled and blended 2 lbs of shallots into a paste. 2 large red onions - sliced into half rings. Belachan, a small half a cm block - toast separately first on a dry pan before you add. Blended about 50 pieces of dried chillies, which had first been soaked in hot water.

First, you deep-fry the anchovies. The oil has to be hot enough for it to crisp nicely. Remove anchovies. Using the same oil (but lower the fire), add the shallot paste and belachan. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the chilli paste. Simmer for 5 minutes. Then add the large onion slices. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Along the way, add Gula Melaka, sweetness to taste. Then you add the anchovies back in. Taste. The anchovies are salty but if the sambal needs bit more, add some salt.

Remember that good sambal, like curry, needs enough oil. As you simmer, you should be able to see some of the oil bubbling on the surface.

Ayam Goreng

We used two large chickens and sheared it into medium-sized pieces. As for the spices, we used 3 teaspoons each of cumin and coriander powder, and one teaspoon of turmeric powder. We would have added chilli powder but did not for the children's sake. We heated up a can of coconut milk in a small pot, added the spices, 2 tablespoon of sugar, 3 tablespoon of salt and half a glass of water. Taste. When marinating, it needs to be uncomfortably salty.

Switch off the fire and when the paste is cool enough, mix the chicken pieces in and leave it to marinate for 4 hours. See photo.

We heated up oil in the wok for deep-frying. I will sometimes mix in some corn flour as it will result in more crispy tasty bits but this time round, we did not. The breast meat needed about 7-8 minutes and the  thigh parts about 8-9 minutes. You will need to dredge the oil in between. There should be a nice sizzling sound when you add the chicken and don't overcrowd it, adding about 6 pieces at a time.

Check the out the full recipe here.

Fried chicken is universally loved and Ayam Goreng takes it to another level. It was really yummy.

Deep-frying the Ayam Goreng. 

Fried Assam Prawns

We bought about a kilo of grey prawns from T&T market. They were imported from Ecuador. Then we bought a packet of Tamarind paste (Thailand). Mix the tamarind paste in hot water. Add salt and sugar to taste. Sour, salty & spicy. Dashes of white pepper. Trim the prawns and marinate in the tamarind paste for about an hour. Pan-sear is the best way to make this as explained here. Check the full recipe here.

Hard boiled eggs?

Hard boiled eggs may be a no-brainerbut but it is possible to overcooked them, resulting in dark green sulphuric outlines, a bouncy hard white and powdery yolk.

Combine eggs and tap water in a pot.  Heat up. Once the water is about to boil, switch of the fire and cover the pot for 20 minutes. If the egg is very fresh, the yolk will stay in the middle even after it is cooked. If not, it may move to the side. Swirl the water and move the eggs occasionally when it is cooking.


There you go. With some care and effort, there is no reason why you cannot cook some good Nasi Lemak, wherever you may be.

Check out the full Nasi Lemak recipe here, and for the traditional steaming way, read here. If you are a perfectionist and cooking for a large important party, you can spare no effort with the approach here.

A perfect Malaysian dinner which we enjoyed in the cold of Toronto

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  1. wonderful! it is so good to read a food blog written by a very generous cook /writer/blogger. each time i read it, i experienced the spirit of sharing. your blog has been my "go-to" for a while and what a joy! :)

  2. I am in Vancouver and missing real good sambal. I noticed that the shops here in Canada do not sell the big fresh chillies like back in MY or SG. I only get cili padi and dried chillies. Does it affect the sambal belacan not having fresh red chillies?

  3. even back home, for Nasi Lemak, I use dried chilli. Actually dried chillies is more intense in flavour. Fresh chillies is not necessary superior, but needed for certain the types of chilli sauce, i.e. chicken rice. The dried chillies here are different and so the sambal chilli will taste a bit different. But chilli nevertheless.

  4. Hi TFC,
    My good friend Andrew Loy directed me to your blog. I live in Vancouver with my wife and two daughters. Will definitely ask my wife to check out your blog; she's been experimenting with various recipes lately.

  5. Thanks for the recipes.


  6. Please come and visit us in Adelaide, the Austral Asian Community Church. You are such a generous person Pastor and I hope to meet you in person one day. I have learnt so much from your blog.
    Jenny Toh

  7. Hi Food Canon,

    You mentioned "Cook the rice first using a ratio of 1:1 i.e. a cup of coconut milk for a cup of rice"

    And also "As we were using ten cups of Jasmine Thai rice, we mixed in two cups of (coconut) milk and 8 cups of water"

    I am a little confused. So what should the correct ratio of coconut milk to water when cooking the nasi lemak rice ?

    Do you think it is a good idea to use reduced fat coconut milk for cooking the rice ? Is it the necessary to put the coconut milk in the fridge and remove the top layer of cream?

    Thank you very much !


  8. Hi KJ - I meant 1:1 ratio for rice:liquid. It depends on how much water there is in your coconut milk but coconut milk + water needs to be same volume as the amount of rice.

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  10. Hi Food Canon!

    Loving your blog right now, as a food scientist/chef I really appreciate how detailed you get on the technicality.

    I'm a Malaysian living in MN right now and I've tried on 2 occasions making Nasi Lemak and both times I ended up with a thick layer of fat on the top and rather sticky rice throughout. Your method looks promising and I will try it soon.

    A couple of questions though;

    Just how much coconut cream did you use and you mentioned you removed half of the rice to the steaming tray? Did you just cream that then later add it to the other half?


  11. Hi Ray

    At the second stage of cooking, I cream the rice before I steam it. I need to recall now the proportions I use but i can remember that milk from one coconut (one pack or one can) is sufficient if you are cooking for 8-10 pax. It is not an exact thing as long as you don't way overdo it.

  12. Hi Food Canon,

    The sambal/oil proportion always stumps me. I've tried making sambal many times, and it almost always ends up being dry. All recipes I've read always say fry until the oil starts to separate from the rempah, but all the oil I put seems to get absorbed and never seen again. Any tips on how much oil to add typically? Should there be enough oil to cover the rempah entirely at the start?


  13. Fred - you need enough oil to make rempah. Just add...the oil needs to be visible and bubbling on the surface. You can always remove some of the oil after u r done. If you look at some of the pics I have here on sambal-making, you will get the idea. It is not difficult at all but just need to get familiar with it

  14. Fred: Check out this photo:

  15. Sweet, thanks for the photo! Looking forward to my next attemp with more confidence now.

  16. Hi, how much thick milk do you use for one cup of rice to mix/fluff up the rice in rice cooker. Trying to cook nasi lemak for the first time. : )

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  18. Hi Terry, I happen to live in Toronto as well and was wondering where you found the belachan? Have never seen it in the downtown T&T before, so any advice on where to find it will be greatly appreciated! Thanks, SC