Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Laksa Risotto - Chef Chua Yew Hock's Tasty Laksa Paste From Holiday Inn Atrium Restaurant

Everyone loves a good bowl of laksa in Singapore. And my personal favourite for some time now has been Sungei Road Laksa, which is not only delicious, but very affordable.

Most hotels's cafe will also have this delectable dish, but sadly, they tend to use the prima mix to make the soup base. It is good and eatable, but not necessarily spectacular and they tend to taste the same from hotel cafe to hotel cafe.

That is why I was very impressed with Chef Chua's laksa from the newly revamped Atrium Restaurant at Holiday Inn Atrium along Havelock Road.

I also have some fond memories of this establishment, which used to be called Melting Pot. It was the place that Pauline and I had our first date at. We remembered feasting over the fresh and ample seafood that used to be the selling point of Melting Pot.

Recently I was there to sample some of their new dishes, and Chef Chua was kind enough to provide me with a jar of his amazing laksa paste. Instead of trying to replicate his laksa noodles dish, I decided to make a risotto out of it.

People often ask me for the recipe to a good risotto, and I usually tell them it is not about what goes into the risotto. Rather, it is the technique that is key to a delicious and well made risotto. I will attempt to share some of this here.

I like to start with just toasting the risotto grains in butter. Lots of it. No onions and any root vegetables to flavour the rice. Once there is an emulsion, let the rice soaked in the butter foam for a few minutes.

The next part is vital. Make sure the broth you cook is hot, as cold broth will only cool down the mixture and will make it longer and harder to cook the grains. Also, make sure you turn your stove up to high heat as you add in the broth.

For the laksa risotto, I made a fresh stock up of buttered prawn heads and shells that has been salted. Cook the stock for about 30 minutes at low heat to extract the maximum flavour. Once done, just add 2 tablespoons of Chef Tan's laksa paste and enough coconut milk to create the familiar laksa broth.

Add in ladle by ladle of the piping hot broth to your risotto. Avoid stirring the rice too much and add enough stock so that you can swirl the rice in the pan. And yes, use a wide pan to cook the risotto.

Once the mixture reduces, add more ladles of stock until the grains start to puff up and get cooked. This repeated process will usually take up to 20 minutes, but it will vary depend on how much rice you use and how high your heat is.

Once the risotto is about to get cooked, the last part is what the Italians call Mantecare, or finishing your cooking with butter or cream. I like my risotto to be more al dente, so make sure you do not overcook the rice until it becomes chalky and dry.

To mantecare, simply remove the pan from the heat and add in a few more ladles of stock. By this time, the risotto should be cooked and adding more liquid will create a nice creamy sauce. Add in lots of butter (one third of normal piece) and gently stir in the cold butter until it is emulsified into the risotto mixture.

The resulting effect is that it will create this shiny and glossy texture over the risotto. To plate, just pour the risotto onto a flat plate and garnish with some fresh laksa leaves. Add a couple of fresh prawns or tau pok to give an authentic laksa visual look.

The Original Chef Chua's Laksa

If all this sounds too much, you can always make a trip down to Atrium Restaurant to savour the real thing. And what I like about his laksa is that it's light and full of laksa goodness. It does not taste too spicy as well and whilst the rest of the ingredients are pretty standard, it is the broth that will linger on for quite some time.

Chef Chua Yew Hock

Chef Chua's other signatures include his famous assam fish head, which is really quite good for a hotel buffet dish, and the ever popular chilli crab. Whilst there are other usual buffet fare on offer here, I would recommend the buffet based solely on his renditions of our local favourites.

As for me, I am happy to just go there for the laksa. This is my vote for the best laksa that can be found in Singapore hotels.

In the meantime, practice your risotto skills at home. I always believe that in order to make a good risotto, you have to keep cooking it time and time again until you get it right.

Atrium Restaurant
Holiday Inn Atrium
317 Outram Road

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