Does every Perakian worth their salt need to know how to make good gulai tempoyak? I figured maybe it’s time as an ‘anak Perak’ to learn how to make this glorious pungent-spicy-sweet-sour broth and pair it with a richly fat ikan patin… #mouthwaters
” My Perakian gran would be proud! “
In my pursuit to learn how to cook my favourite dishes, Gulai Tempoyak looms large. I came to tempoyak late in the game, more obsessed with sambal tumis growing up but when I started, taste genes that I never knew existed kicked in. I LOVED IT.
My mother, a Ng Sembilan lass learnt how to cook gulai tempoyak when she married my father, a true blue Perak boy. She even smuggled tempoyak to London when she visited me years ago. I remember her making it on a cold winter’s day with fatty salmon. Slurping down the pungent taste of home as winds howled outside with creamy, oily salmon bursting in my mouth was one of the most visceral taste-memories of my life.
Tempoyak is made from taking durian flesh, usually the ones that are a little kelat (bitter) or mangkau (hard) and then mixing it with salt and letting it ferment for a day or two. This is not an exact science, tempoyak quality will vary with the durian used.
1. Take about 500g of durian meat.
2. Mix in 1 tsp of salt.
3. Really work the salt into the flesh. Wear gloves if possible as this will make your tempoyak last longer. Then cover with a lid loosely and let it stand in the kitchen overnight. For a more sour tempoyak, let it stand for two to three days.
4. The next day you will see water seeping out, take a clean chopstick and stir tempoyak around. Screw on lid and pop it in the fridge. It can last up to 3 months.
We had some durian last week at the office so made a batch up.
For good gulai, you want your tempoyak a little sour. There is a difference between gulai tempoyak from Perak and one from Pahang. Pahang’s Gulai Tempoyak is usually spicier and creamier with the addition of fragrant leaves like daun kesum, sometimes even bunga kantan. Perak’s is simpler and more mellow. The best of it’s kind, you can hirup the kuah like soup- a true thing of beauty.
Firstly, I needed a recipe. So, I called up Mak Siah, who came over to cook for my family when I was little. In my books she cooked the best Gulai Tempoyak. I honestly think she’s a bit of a durian maestro- her Serimuka Durian is to die for too. In true fashion of veteran cooks, she just rattled off ingredients. This included 4 senduk of tempoyak (?) how big is this senduk? Cili padi and cili hidup, 4 serai and literally put everything in a pot, add fish last and then seasoning.
Alright then, let’s got to it.
Here is my fish. Glistening ikan patin cut into 5 pieces- this depends on size, we’re looking at about 1kg of fish.
4 senduk tempoyak (she mentioned senduk nasi). This translates to about 300g tempoyak
6 red chillies
15-20 cili padi. (20 is the limit, this is pretty darn spicy- you’re looking to about 10-15 for comfortable heat)
4 sticks of lemongrass
½ tsp turmeric powder
½ old cucumber
2 turmeric leaves
3 asam keping (if needed in case your tempoyak is not sour enough)
1 tsp salt
2-3 Tbs sugar
Firstly blend all chillies with one lemongrass stick and a bit of water. You just need to bash up the other 3.
Put tempoyak, chilli paste, lemongrass, turmeric powder and turmeric leaves in a pot. Add in about 500ml water. Test the thickness of the gulai and bring it to a simmer. You can add the rest of the water bit by bit.
1. Add in old cucumber slices. If you have belimbing also can!
2. Add salt and sugar and let it cook for 10 minutes. Taste. This is when you see if everything is balanced. There should be a good balance of spiciness, pungency and richness with a bit of sweetness at the back of your throat.
3. Add in your fish now and simmer for a further 5-10 minutes.
4. If the gulai is not sour enough, you can add in the asam keping.
After the fish is cooked, switch off the heat and let it stand in residual heat for 15 minutes. Taste again and see if you need to add a bit more salt or sugar. If this is the case you just need to put it back on a low flame, stir it a few times and you are ready to serve.
Although my first gulai tempoyak was spicy… I was pretty stoked that it turned out delicious and surprisingly simple to make. It’s pretty much put everything together in a pot without oil and simmer. This one was SPICY but so addictive. I actually think I needed tempoyak that is a bit more sour, a little less chillies and a bit more water. Can’t wait to try this again!
If you’re tempoyak crazy you can serve it with some sambal tempoyak by pounding chillies with tempoyak and serving it on top. Be ready for some serious durian sweats later though!