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)
Adapted from seafood amok recipes on taste.com.au 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
1 large whitefish filet, diced
4 wild betel or 6 basil leaves, roughly torn
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.
In a pan on medium-high heat, drizzle a bit of oil and saute the aromatics until the shallots have softened.
Add 1/2 tsp salt, 2 tsp fermented shrimp paste, 2 tsp chile sambal, and 1 tsp ground turmeric.
Stir to make sure the ingredients have mixed thoroughly.
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.
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.
Cut a fish fillet into cubes and add that to the bowl.
Then pour the curry mixture over the fish.
Wash and tear off a few wild betel leaves or basil leaves and add that into the bowl as well.
Stir up the mixture a little so the wild betel leaves are evenly distributed and the fish aren't all on the bottom.
Steam for 45 minutes to set. I used an electric steamer, but you could steam it on the stove top too.
This was the first version with the amok trey completely wrapped in banana leaves.
Drizzle the reserved coconut milk and chile sambal to garnish. Snip a few more kaffir lime leaves too.
And this was the second attempt, without covering the top and only lining a bowl. Much prettier!
Serve with plain jasmine rice.
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.
A dish so delicious that I had to make it twice in two days. So, do try!
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,
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5 years ago today, pomegranates!!!
6 years ago today, everything's coming up roses...and a sidenote on plagiarism and copyright infringement.