One of the missus and my absolute favourite dishes is the Malay/Singaporean classic, Nyonya laksa. Truth be told, we love the entire genre of curry noodle soups that arc up from southeast Asia through Hong Kong and China to Japan; but it’s Nyonya/curry laksa, with the richness of coconut milk that is our favourite. This recipe here is my homage to curry laksa, which is not to say that it seeks to replicate it or in any way improve upon it. It merely adapts the form to use a vaguely Kerala-style chicken curry as the base for a bowl of nourishing noodle soup. That is to say, at one (not insignificant) level this is merely a rich chicken curry served as a soup with noodles rather than over rice or with appams. Okay, that’s really the only level but it really comes out very well. I first made it for a dinner party in the Before Times—it was improvised then but was so popular among the guests that I kept tinkering with it till I had a version I didn’t feel like tinkering with any more. I do encourage you, however, to tinker with it further. You can change the spices, add less tomato if you like etc. etc. But maybe try it this way first to set a baseline to iterate on. If you enjoy noodle soups I can all but guarantee you will like it.
- 6 chicken thighs, skin removed, cut into strips and set aside
- 3/4 tspn black mustard seeds
- 3-4 pods green cardamom
- 1 sprig curry leaves
- 1 medium red onion, thickly sliced
- 1 large clove garlic, pounded to a paste
- A little more ginger than garlic, pounded with the garlic
- The following lightly toasted, cooled and ground to a fine powder: 1 large piece cinnamon/cassia bark, 2 star anise, 2 tspns black pepper, 1 tspn cumin seed, 1 tspn, coriander seeds, 1/2 tson fenugreek seeds, 3 byadgi chillies or similar (see note 3 below)
- 3/4 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
- 1 14.5 oz can of tomatoes or equivalent chopped fresh tomato
- 6 cups chicken stock
- A little less than two cups of coconut milk
- 3-4 oz dried Chinese wheat noodles per serving
- For garnish: 2 tblspns chopped red onion, 1 tblspn chopped dhania/cilantro
- 1 lime quarter per person
- Place the chicken skin in a small carbon steel pan or similar over low heat and leave it to render the fat and crisp up while you proceed with the rest. Once the fat has rendered completely, drain the strips on paper towels and when dry and crisp chop them roughly. Set aside.
- Heat a few tblspns of oil over medium heat in a large saucepan and brown the chicken thighs lightly for 3 minutes or so per side. Keep aside.
- Add a little more oil to the saucepan and when it shimmers add the mustard seeds and cardamom.
- As soon as the mustard seeds begin to pop add the curry leaves.
- As soon as the curry leaves turn glossy add the sliced onion and saute till browned.
- Add the ginger and garlic paste and saute till the raw aroma is gone.
- Add the haldi and powdered spices, mix and saute for another minute or two.
- Return the chicken to the pan and mix to combine well.
- Add the tomatoes and salt and saute, stirring often till the tomato has completely cooked down and the oil separates.
- Add the stock, bring to a simmer, cover the pan and cook till the chicken is tender but not falling off the bone.
- Add the coconut milk, mix in, return to a simmer and hold it there for another 10 minutes or so.
- Taste and adjust for salt and set aside.
- Cook 3-4 oz noodles per serving as per the instructions on the packet of whatever noodles you are using and then assemble as many bowls as you are serving at a time:
- Place the noodles in the bowl first, add enough of the curry to begin to submerge the noodles and place a chicken thigh on top (a little off-center is my aesthetic preference). Garnish with the chopped onion and dhania/cilantro and sprinkle some of the crispy chicken skin over.
- Serve with a lime quarter and squeeze it over before eating.
- A good gelatinous chicken stock made with some chicken feet is best but use whatever you have at hand.
- I’m sorry to belabor the obvious but unless you’re serving it all at once you don’t need to make any more noodles than you need at each meal. Just heat up as much of the curry as you need each time and add it to a batch of cooked noodles. The curry will only taste better on the second and third day and you can easily re-crisp the chicken skin in either a toaster oven or over dry heat on the stovetop.
- I don’t like to make this very spicy but that’s largely on account of the boys. Byadgi chillies [affiliate link] are relatively mild and you could of course use a hotter variety. Or you could use whatever mild dried chilli you have at hand (ancho would probably be an interesting choice).
- This is really three recipes at once as there are two points before the end when you can stop and still be very happy: 1) let the chicken cook completely in the stock and don’t add the coconut milk; 2) add the coconut milk and let it simmer to combine and don’t bother with the noodles.
- You could, of course, make this with drumsticks instead; and if you’re willing to sacrifice the crispy chicken skin you could even make it with cubed boneless thighs—but make sure to use a rich stock if you go the latter route.
I made a variation on this today, was delicious and enjoyed by all (not as easy as it sounds!) – although my oldest insisted on making parathas to have with it too.