Long before it became trendy for restaurants to use laksa gravy as a steamboat stock, theatre director- actress Selena Tan, 45, has been tucking into laksa steamboat during Chinese New Year.
For 30 years, laksa steamboat has been a staple in the family's reunion dinner and open house, during which 80 to 100 relatives and friends drop by throughout the day.
The star of the laksa steamboat is the tongue-tingling stock that is concocted with a blend of laksa rempah (spice mix) and prawn broth.
More than 20 kinds of ingredients are cooked in the soup, including yong tau foo, steamed chicken wings and tau pok (fried beancurd).
The steamboat is not complete without thick white bee hoon, cockles and a dollop of homemade fiery sambal.
Laksa steamboat is the brainchild of Tan's mother, Daisy, 66, who runs the Peranakan restaurant, Daisy's Dream Kitchen, in West Coast Road, with her son, Roy, 37.
Tan, founder and artistic director of theatre company Dream Academy, says: "We like eating all sorts of ingredients that can soak up the thick and lemak (rich in Malay) laksa gravy. My siblings and I ate a lot of such rempah-based dishes as my mum grew up in a Malay-Peranakan kampung."
While she would not reveal the recipe for the homemade laksa rempah, she says it is a blend of seven ingredients, including blue ginger, lemongrass and candlenut.
As a healthier alternative, she uses evaporated milk instead of coconut milk and she says the laksa "tastes just as nice".
She also squeezes lime juice into the laksa to inject some tanginess into the stock.
As part of their Chinese New Year tradition, her family of 30 gather for a reunion dinner comprising seven to eight main courses that "are enough to feed an army".
The dishes include pen cai (treasure pot filled with seafood), ngoh hiang (five-spice prawn roll), roast duck, chicken rice and fish maw soup - all whipped up by her mother and Roy.
Tan, who will be directing a new musical set in a school called Detention Katong at Esplanade Theatre from Feb 17 to March 5, recalls that the festive food line-up these days pales in comparison with the "astronomical" amount of food they had when she was growing up.
Tan is married to John Pok, 48, who helps run Dream Academy. They have a two-year-old son.
As for one of her favourite Chinese New Year Eve memories, she says: "We'd eat, watch television, go comatose and hop into the car to Chinatown at 11pm to rub shoulders with other shoppers and buy goodies at last-minute discounts to get into the festive mood."
SELENA TAN'S LAKSA STEAMBOAT
- Shells from 20 prawns 1.5 litres water
- 160ml vegetable oil
- 500g store-bought laksa rempah (spice paste)
- 2 stalks lemongrass, remove white portions and crush
- 400ml evaporated milk
- 5 Tbs light soya sauce
- 10 pieces tau pok (fried beancurd)
- 100g finely chopped laksa leaves and sambal to garnish
1. In a big pot set over high heat, add shells from 20 prawns into 1.5 litres of water. Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn the heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes. It should be reduced to about 1.2 litres. Drain and set aside. Discard the prawn shells.
2. In a wok set over high heat, add 100ml vegetable oil and laksa rempah and fry for a minute. Turn down heat to medium and continuously stir the mixture for about 45 minutes. Set aside.
3. In a pot set over high heat, add 60ml vegetable oil and rempah. Use a spatula to flatten the rempah around the pot. Once the rempah sizzles, turn heat down to medium, add crushed lemongrass stalks and mix well with rempah for two to three minutes.
4. Pour prawn stock prepared earlier into the pot. Turn heat to high and bring mixture to a boil. Stir the mixture occasionally.
5. Pour in evaporated milk gradually while stirring the mixture in the pot.
6. Stir 5 Tbs of light soya sauce into the mixture.
7. Add tau pok into the pot and cook for five to 10 minutes.
8. Use the laksa stock as a steamboat base. Add ingredients of your choice, such as yong tau foo, prawns and cockles.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.