Malaysian cooks use a wide range of
cooking methods - shallow and deep frying, stir frying, braising,
boiling, steaming and grilling over charcoal or under a grill.
It's essential to know how to prepare the
rempah or basic seasoning paste required for many dishes. Before
beginning, all the ingredients should be finely chopped. The principle
is to grind or blend the toughest ingredients first, adding softer and
wetter ingredients towards the end. Whether using a mortar and pestle, a
blender or food processor, the order is the same. First grind any dried
spices or nuts until fine, then add hard ingredients such as lemon
grass, and galangal (already sliced or chopped in small pieces). Pound
or process until fine then add softer rhizomes such as fresh turmeric
and ginger, soaked dried chilies and sliced fresh chilies. When these
are fine, add the ingredients that are full of moisture, such as chopped
shallots and garlic, as well as soft shrimp paste.
If you are using a food processor or
blender, you will probably need to add just a little liquid to keep the
blades turning. If the rempah is to be fried, add a little of the
specified amount of cooking oil, while if it is to be cooked in coconut
milk, add some of this. While processing, you will probably need to stop
the machine frequently to scrape down the sides. Continue until you have
a fine paste.
Some cooks add water rather than the
cooking medium to the blender; this means that the rempah will
need to be cooked for a longer period of time before adding the other
ingredients, to allow the water to evaporate and the rempah to
eventually fry rather than just stew.
The spice paste is generally gently fried
before any other liquid is added. Malaysian cooks will tell you to cook
the rempah until it smells fragrant or until the oil comes out,
both accurate descriptions of what happens after 3-5 minutes of frying
over gentle heat, stirring frequently. The spice paste must be
thoroughly cooked at this stage or the resulting dish will have a raw
taste to it.
Coconut milk is often added to the basic
spice paste, generally in two stages. The thinner coconut milk is added,
a little at a time, to the cooked spice paste, (often after pieces of
meat or chicken have also been browned) and is stirred frequently,
lifted with a ladle and poured back into the pan, until it comes to the
boil. This process ensures the coconut milk does not curdle. The coconut
gravy is then simmered gently, with the pan uncovered. The thick coconut
milk or cream is added just before serving, heated through but not
boiled, to enrich and thicken the gravy or sauce.
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