Nasi Lemak is a much loved dish which appeals to all races, although it is the Malay community which excels in cooking this dish.
When I first started cooking this dish, I experimented again and again trying to get two aspects right. First – the rice. After all, a literal translation of this dish is “rich rice”. So basically it’s washed rice, pandan leaf, the right amount of pressed coconut milk, a dash of salt. I’m not a pedantic stickler when it comes to cooking but this is one instance when I think the packet or can coconut milk is not going to make it . You need fresh grated coconut from the market, add water, squeeze and strain to get fresh fragrant coconut milk.
The second element that one needs to experiment with is to perfect a sick chilli sambal to go with your nasi lemak . The chilli in nasi lemak quite often determines the popularity of a particular stall and grown men can get into a hissy fit about which is better.
I like to make mine with a pounded chilli paste that contains fresh chillies, dry chilli , candle nuts, fresh turmeric and galangal, and a small peice of toasted belachan. I will slow fry this mixture with vegetable oil on high then medium heat until it becomes unbearably fragrant, then add a little tamarind water at the end in small doses (for the hint of sourness) with a couple tablespoons of sugar (adjust slowly to your taste). To give it some bite, I sometimes add in crispy silver fish that I have pre-fried and even, god forgive me, crispy pork lard just before serving (see sick pictures below).
If your rice and chilli are perfected to the point when they can be happily eaten on their own, then you have become a nasi lemak beast. That is what you want to aim for. Every dish you want to add on to accompany this maestro peice then becomes a smorgasboard of your imagination and as far as I am concerned, there are few rules. Let your imagination run wild.
Below are some pics of side dishes I’ve cooked to serve with nasi lemak over the years.