Friday, 1 October 2010

Fish Amok

It has been a while since we cooked Khmer food (Cambodian). We attempted a meal for parents a while ago, after our trip to Vietnam and Cambodia last year. For us, it was the Cambodian food that was the most memorable of the trip, even though we were in the country for such a short time. We ate in out hotel a couple of times, which also had a restaurant in the town. Other meals were in small restaurants within the Angkor complex.
My favourite dish from Cambodia is their national dish Amok Trei, or Fish Amok. There are a few different recipes and cooking methods written about on the Internet, but our Cambodian and Vietnamese recipe book calls the dish "Steamed Fish in Coconut Custard". Some recipes I have come across don't even involve steaming, and in fact one recipe I saw was from the wall of Angkor Thom apparently, and there was no steaming.

The two examples of Amok I had in Cambodia (above) were quite different. The first was chicken Amok, and was rather liquid. This was served in a coconut, and had a small amount of onion and other vegetables within the dish. The second was fish amok and was served in a banana leaf cup, in which many recipes say that the mixture should be steamed. (Although some just say it should be presented in them). This second version was thicker and again included small amounts of vegetables. Both we very tasty and quite unlike anything we'd ever had before.

The basic flavours of this dish come from the paste "Kroeung". Some times this is called this Cambodian curry paste, other times it is called a herbal paste, but the version I used contained lemongrass, shallots, ginger, turmeric, kaffir lime leaves and loads of garlic. No chilli. Some recipes do add chilli, but I was following the "herbal paste" recipe from the Cambodian and Vietnamese recipe book.

When we tried the dish before, we'd used that book, however the quantities didn't seem to add up. The Amok was very liquid, and the flavour of the Kroeung quite diluted, so I'd researched a few alternative recipes and came up with an idea of what to try to see if it worked.


3 lemongrass stalks
8 cloves of garlic
Ginger root or galangal if available
1 tsp Turmeric
1 large shallot
3 kaffir lime leaves
2 Birdseye chillis
2 fillets of cod
Half a can of coconut milk
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 eggs

Firstly I made the Kroeung paste. This was 3 lemongrass stalks (I'm never sure how to prepare lemongrass, I know everything says to removed the woody outer leaves, but it is all woody if you ask me!), 8 cloves of garlic, 1 shallot, 3 kaffir lime leaves, a piece of ginger and a teaspoon of turmeric all whizzed up with a bit of water to make a paste.

Next I added about 2-3 tablespoons of the Kroeung to about half a tin of coconut milk along with 2 chopped birds eye chillis. Many recipes for Amok do not have any chilli at all, but some do (and some Kroeung recipes have chilli in but this one didn't). We like the kick, so I added some. Into this mixture went two eggs (double yolkers bought from Marple Food and Drink Festival), 2 tablespoons of fish sauce and two fillets of cod, cut into chunks.

The mixture is then put in a steamer, and for these quantities, steamed for 15-20 mins stirring part way through.
The last time we attempted Amok, we didn't have a bowl big enough for the food that would fit in the steamer so cooked the mixture in a ban marie. Perhaps that method also was to blame for it not thickening last time.
I think I overcooked the mixture slightly as the eggs seemed a little scrambled, but this didn't ruin the dish as all the flavours were still there.

The finished dish was lovely. Very very tasty. The flavours were true of the food we'd eaten in Cambodia, but possibly this version of Amok might not be that authentic. For example I used powdered turmeric instead of fresh turmeric root, and ginger rather than galangal, also I'm not actually sure about the addition of the chillis. (Kerry, can you help on this? Does your Amok have chilli in?) Plus there was not a banana leaf in sight. The fish still held it's flavour and the sauce was definitely thicker than before. We served it with plain rice.

I will modify the proportions the next time we make this. I think there was too much Kroeung to coconut milk as it was rather rich and needed the rice to balance it. I may also try adding a few thin slices of onion and another vegetable maybe. But I think this time was far more successful than last.

Fish Amok or Amok Trei

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