Thursday, May 02, 2013

Amok Trey (Cambodian Steamed Fish Curry)

Amok Trey (Cambodian Steamed Fish Curry) 1

I was brainstorming ideas to make use of my new grill, thinking of Otak Otak (Indonesian Spiced Fish Paste Grilled in Banana Leaves), but I haven't located my food processor from the move (I know! It's been nearly a year! Still unpacking!) and didn't want to mince fish by hand. The Malaysian version, which is of Nyonya origins is more of a steamed curry, and similarly named because the mixture resembles brains. Hmm. Other versions include, Hor Mok (Thai Steamed Fish Mousse) which uses pureed fish and Mok Pa (Laotian Fish Steamed in Banana Leaves) which has dill, but it was the Cambodian version, Amok Trey (Cambodian Steamed Fish Curry) that held my interest.

Perhaps it's because the few Cambodian dishes I was aware of or had eaten before, were actually Vietnamese or Chinese in origin. And while the above-named Southeast Asian fish custard dishes seemed similar to each other, with some minor variances, they were quite different from anything I could think of in Vietnamese cuisine. I wanted to try making something Cambodian.

The steamed curry is more like a light custard or mousse than the soup-based curries that I'm used to. The recipe uses Kroeung (Cambodian Spice/Herb Paste) that varies from each cook, but includes lemongrass, kaffir lime zest and leaves, galangal, turmeric, garlic, shallots, and chilies. Rather than buying a packaged kroeung mix, I used those basic ingredients in the amount of spices and herbs that I prefer in my cooking. I substituted the galangal with ginger as I don't care much for the former. And lastly, I used Mam Ruoc (Vietnamese Fermented Shrimp Paste) instead of Prahok (Cambodian Fermented Fish Paste). I guess Mam Nem (Vietnamese Fermented Anchovy Sauce) would have been a closer substitute, but I do love my fermented shrimp paste.

The result was a savory, fragrant dish that paired perfectly with plain jasmine rice. I mistakenly wrapped it completely in banana leaves the first time, but it was so good that I made it again the next day to photograph it properly. Even my dad, who hates curries, ate a bowl of this steamed fish curry. If you're not so concerned with presentation though, I'd recommend wrapping it completely in banana leaves as they impart more flavor to the curry custard while it's steaming. If banana leaves aren't available, then just use oven-safe bowls.

It does take a bit of work mincing the various herbs and spices, but trust me, it's worth it.

Amok Trey (Cambodian Steamed Fish Curry) 2

Amok Trey (Cambodian Steamed Fish Curry)
Adapted from seafood amok recipes on and SBS Food.

For a 1-quart bowl, about two servings as a meal or four servings as a side dish, you'll need:
Banana leaves, washed in warm water to soften
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
3 shallots, thinly sliced and roughly minced
1 lemongrass stalk, finely minced
2-inch knob ginger or galangal, finely minced
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp Mam Ruoc (Vietnamese Fermented Shrimp Paste) or Prahok (Cambodian Fermented Fish Paste) or Mam Nem (Vietnamese Fermented Anchovy Sauce)
2 tsp chile garlic sambal, reserve 2 more tsp for garnishing
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 14-oz can coconut milk, reserve 2 tblsp for garnishing
2 tsp Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce)
2 kaffir lime leaves, chiffonaded, plus 2 leaves saved for garnishing
2 eggs
1 large whitefish filet, diced
4 wild betel or 6 basil leaves, roughly torn

Amok Trey (Cambodian Steamed Fish Curry) 3

You'll need a section of banana leaf that's big enough to fold over once and line whatever bowl you'll be using to steam the amok trey. Wash the banana leaves thoroughly, wiping with a paper towel to remove dirt. Let the banana leaf soak in warm water to become more pliable.

Meanwhile mince or grate 3 cloves garlic, 3 shallots, 1 lemongrass stalk, and a 2-inch knob of ginger.

Amok Trey (Cambodian Steamed Fish Curry) 4

In a pan on medium-high heat, drizzle a bit of oil and saute the aromatics until the shallots have softened.

Amok Trey (Cambodian Steamed Fish Curry) 5

Add 1/2 tsp salt, 2 tsp fermented shrimp paste, 2 tsp chile sambal, and 1 tsp ground turmeric.

Amok Trey (Cambodian Steamed Fish Curry) 6

Stir to make sure the ingredients have mixed thoroughly.

Amok Trey (Cambodian Steamed Fish Curry) 7

Add a 14-oz can of coconut milk, reserving a few tablespoons for garnishing and 2 tsp fish sauce. Turn off the heat and snip 2 kaffir lime leaves into the mixture. Beat and add 2 eggs, stirring the mixture again. Set aside.

Amok Trey (Cambodian Steamed Fish Curry) 8

Remove the banana leaves from the warm water and shape them into containers if you can. I wasn't so good at that and simply lined several bowls with the leaves instead. The curry will fill either a 1-quart container or several smaller bowls.

Amok Trey (Cambodian Steamed Fish Curry) 9

Cut a fish fillet into cubes and add that to the bowl.

Amok Trey (Cambodian Steamed Fish Curry) 10

Then pour the curry mixture over the fish.

Amok Trey (Cambodian Steamed Fish Curry) 11

Wash and tear off a few wild betel leaves or basil leaves and add that into the bowl as well.

Amok Trey (Cambodian Steamed Fish Curry) 12

Stir up the mixture a little so the wild betel leaves are evenly distributed and the fish aren't all on the bottom.

Amok Trey (Cambodian Steamed Fish Curry) 13

Steam for 45 minutes to set. I used an electric steamer, but you could steam it on the stove top too.

Amok Trey (Cambodian Steamed Fish Curry) 14

This was the first version with the amok trey completely wrapped in banana leaves.

Amok Trey (Cambodian Steamed Fish Curry) 15

Drizzle the reserved coconut milk and chile sambal to garnish. Snip a few more kaffir lime leaves too.

Amok Trey (Cambodian Steamed Fish Curry) 16

And this was the second attempt, without covering the top and only lining a bowl. Much prettier!

Amok Trey (Cambodian Steamed Fish Curry) 17

Serve with plain jasmine rice.

Amok Trey (Cambodian Steamed Fish Curry) 18

And because this dish was just too pretty, I couldn't resist some more pictures. Here's a close-up so you can see the texture of the curry custard.

Amok Trey (Cambodian Steamed Fish Curry) 19

A dish so delicious that I had to make it twice in two days. So, do try!

Amok Trey (Cambodian Steamed Fish Curry) 20


Some other curries you might like:
Amok Talae (Cambodian Steamed Seafood Curry)
Ca Ri Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Curry)
Gaeng Kiaw Waan (Thai Green Curry with Thai Eggplants)
Malaysian Mango Chicken Curry
Thai Red Curry with Roast Duck, Bamboo Shoots, Eggplant, and Pumpkin

1 year ago today,
2 years ago today, RA Sushi Bar Restaurant - Tustin.
3 years ago today, Minx Restaurant and Lounge - Glendale (Closed).
4 years ago today, Wahkeena Falls - Columbia River Gorge - Oregon.
5 years ago today, pomegranates!!!
6 years ago today, everything's coming up roses...and a sidenote on plagiarism and copyright infringement.


  1. Boy, I could almost smell that aroma of those aromatics hitting the high notes :-) This looks really delicious and not too difficult. And I'm very impressed that your dad liked it, he of the nonspicy preferences...

    Plus, can it be really a year since you've moved?!

  2. Ok, this recipe has been on my to make list for awhile. As you, prahok was holding me back! I lie, it's mainly my fear of cooking w fish.
    This looks amazing, I have to make it soon.

  3. Nikki,
    I was surprised my dad ate the whole bowl too. But he doesn't mind turmeric in his chicken rice, and he likes the aromatics, so maybe it's 5-spices and garam masala types of spices that he doesn't like?

    I moved last mid-July, so almost! But with renovations and shifting furniture and boxes from one room to the next, it's taking me a while to get things sorted. I really have no excuse now that major stuff is done except that I have to move 5 bookcases and my desk to mop the floors in my office, and then unpack a few dozen boxes of books to put on those shelves. But once that's all done and the house is presentable, I'll invite you over!

    You know, I still haven't figured out how to cook with the jars of prahok I bought. The cookbook said to wash and strain it out and just take the juices, but that seems too diluted? I asked a friend, who's half-Cambodian, and she said to rinse out the fish and puree and then stir-fry with ground pork, but I think that's a specific recipe and not to use in cooking like with mam? But since I love mam ruoc, and that's what I used for this recipe, I really think that's why I liked this dish so much. If I made it with prahok, I'm not sure I'd feel the same way because that stuff is a little too unfamiliar for me.

  4. I'll definitely give this a try and will check to see if I can get fresh wild betel leaves at my Vietnamese grocery. They may even have banana leaves if I ask. But I'm baffled about what "chiffonated" means. I'm familiar with Kaffir lime leaves but not the chiffonate part???

    I'm going to have to let my Cambodian friend know of this dish. Seeing she left the country when she was eight as a refugee after losing her family under Pol Pot's regime, she may never have had this. But I bet she'd love to give it a try too. Thanks!

  5. Isom,
    Chiffonade is a culinary term that means to thinly slice herbs and other greens. Like what you see I did with the lime leaves in the photos. Google is your friend.

    The wild betel leaves can be omitted if you can't find any fresh ones. I find they don't add much flavor when steamed, but liked the little bursts of green in the curry custard. I just used the wild betel leaves because I had them in my garden and didn't have the other kind of leaf that Luke Nguyen used in his recipe.

    Apparently current Cambodian cuisine is quite different from what was available before the Khmer Rouge wiped everyone out. Basically, royal court Cambodian dishes disappeared as most of the people who could cook those dishes either fled or were killed. I'm not sure where this dish falls in that side of history. I've got a few Cambodian cookbooks that I'm slowly trying to get around to exploring so I hope to try some more.

  6. This makes my mouth watering, but being a "lazy bum, I don't know if I'd try it. The ingredients are accessible, but the process is too daunting for me, especially how to line that banana leaves. Oh well, maybe I'll invite myself to your place when you make it. Just kidding, don't panic! Thanks for giving such detail instructions!

  7. Co Toan,
    The process isn't difficult at all. I didn't do anything to the banana leaves put place them in the bowls. Making them into little containers was too much work for me. I was afraid everything would spill out if I didn't have a bowl to hold it together. It's actually mincing the ingredients that takes more work.


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