By: Mr Robot
Having already had Ping Coombes' food on one of her Laksa nights, it was inevitable that I'd buy her Malaysia book at the first opportunity, but if there'd been any doubt, two minutes leafing through it in Waterstones sealed the deal. It looks beautiful and has a vast number of recipes that are truly compelling in that they look both instantly appealing and highly achievable. Always assuming one is as highly skilled as me of course. Ahem.
In just a couple of weeks the book had already become a favourite. Idle browsing all too easily turns into a shopping list but that can only ever be a good thing. I probably bought more lemongrass and turmeric in the first fortnight than in my entire pre-Ping life. Again, this is a good thing.
So first up, and I guess predictably, we hit the Beef Rendang. Now, we've had a fair few Rendangs over the years, all of it cooked by people who do so for a living. So the fact that Ping's Rendang - as done by Cpt Ignoramus here - is without doubt the finest we've ever had, by a mile, should tell you all you need to know. It was truly outstanding.
I think the heat distinguishes it: the chilli is almost fierce as a deep, rich background which marries so well to sweet, fragrant coconut, lemongrass and kaffir lime.
And it's not a speedy dish: Ping demands tough, slow meat and it'll take a good 2 to 2 1/2 hours to do it justice.
I've always thought there's too much of the "quick and easy..." kicking around these days anyway.
Anyhoo Ping's Rendang needs devotion and love, but repays it tenfold.
From there I moved to a snack-food double feature. There was Lor Bak, pork spring rolls flavoured with five-spice, and Murtabak, a flaky bread (intriguingly made with condensed milk) stuffed with lightly curried minced lamb, and fried.
To be honest, the Murtabak was a bit of a faff - not least because it wanted to be bathed in oil all night long. Well, yes, who wouldn't, but does the dearest heart who completes your soul do that for you?
Plus, I didn't really achieve the hoped-for flakiness, which I put down to one or more of a) oil too hot / not hot enough, b) too much / little kneading and c) flakiness of my own.
Nonetheless as a crisp outside, gooey inside, meat-n-fats-n-carbs affair it's hard to fault and I sincerely hope to one day arrange for them to coincide with a stinking hangover.
It'll be awesome.
The Lor Bak we were already familiar with since they came as a side with Ping's Laksa and we absolutely loved them.
The recipe in the book didn't disappoint one jot, and they were so good I made a second batch a day or so later.
The fact that most of those were given away to friends says much about my great heart, and tiny brain.
Then came the other inevitability, which was the Laksa itself. To be completely honest it was a bit...off, though I have no doubt that was down to me (after all, what are the odds!).
Or rather, I blame Sainsbury's.
When Ping was in charge I raved about the intense but balanced fish note. Well, when I was driving that balance was off.
The base paste calls for both dried shrimp, and two tablespoons of shrimp paste, which struck me as quite a lot at the time. In the eating it was just too fishy for comfort, and that shrimp paste overpowered the rest of the dish.
I strongly suspect that foil packet of supermarket shrimp paste (two tablespoons was basically the entire thing) was not what Ping had in mind.
Either that or I didn't cook the paste out long enough.
In some ways though, I'm quite glad it turned out that way. It's been a good and rare experience of having a dish as it absolutely should be, and then failing to reproduce it myself.
An excellent demonstration of why the author has her authority.
Finally (so far) I had a bash at the Captain's Chicken Curry. I don't know why but the name made me sceptical - perhaps it sounds a little contrived - but I had some chicken to use up, so why not?
One reason why not, which gave me genuine pause for thought, was the use of 20 (yes twenty) Kashmiri chillies. Since the already pokey Rendang used 15 I feared it'd be a bit too much, and Mrs Robot might hiccup herself into total shutdown.
Well I needn't have feared - it's an absolutely stunning dish. Yes it's hot but again so perfectly balanced, this time given a real edge by a good dose of tamarind contrasting with the coconut milk, while the chicken itself is brilliantly smokey thanks to marinading in turmeric before frying.
Unforgivably, I failed to get any pictures. It just smelled so amazing, from the first minute of cooking, I didn't even think about the camera. That's how good it is.
In fact I think might even be better than the Rendang. Mrs Robot isn't sure and now demands both together for a proper comparison. I can't wait to do it.
There are so many more things I want to do from this book. We've had so much great and exciting stuff already, and t's a book that gives pleasure equally in the reading and the using. For me that's about as good as it gets.
All images (c) PP Gettins