Saturday, November 22, 2008

Khmer Recipes: Sinang's Fish Amok

Sitting down to enjoy our lovely amok dinner

Last night, the girls and I got together to make fish amok. This is Sinang's special recipe, though I added some personal notes based on variations that I've seen elsewhere. Amok is your quintessential Cambodian food -- some call it the national dish. It varies across all sorts of dimensions -- from a thin and soupy to solid congealed sauce, from spicy to no heat, from big fish hunks to tiny processed chunks. Some recipes bring out the lemongrass, while others emphasize the kaffir lime taste. But some elements run similar: the dish is always steamed, often wrapped in a banana leaf; kaffir limes always make an appearance; and the sauce always has a curry base with your typical coconut milk and Khmer curry ingredients.

This recipe is for a nicely balanced amok, tending toward a lemongrass-y flavor. The final product is firm, not runny, but beautifully moist so that it separates nicely with your fork over hot white rice. The peanuts play a major role and change the texture from some other recipes. I'm personally ambivalent -- I'm not sure I like the texture mixed in, so I think I would try them as topping or garnish. On the other hand, though this recipe calls for kaffir lime at the end as topping, I personally like it mixed in.

Sinang's Fish Amok (Threi Amok)

1 kilo river fish
5 cups tender star gooseberry leaves (phyllanthus acidus or sluk gontooik)
Banana leaves made into lidless boats, banana leaves for packets, or small ceramic bowls
5 stalks lemongrass
5 grams large dried chilis, or to taste
about 1 inch fresh galangal
about 1 inch fresh young turmeric
2 cloves garlic
2-3 shallots
zest of 1 kaffir lime
7-8 kaffir lime leaves
4 roots wild ginger (kaemplena galanga or k'chlee-ay)
1.5 tbs. salt
3 tbs. sugar, or to taste
1 tbs. dark shrimp paste (kapi)
3 eggs
2 cups coconut cream (thick coconut milk)
1.5 tsp curry powder
2 cups roasted, crushed peanuts (optional)
1 bunch cilantro (optional)

Special equipment:
mortar & pestle or food processor
pot for steaming

Feeds 6-8 people
Preparation time: 2 hours total, 15 min steaming

1) Soak dried chilis in a bowl of water to reconstitute.
2) Chop the bottom third of the lemongrass stems, stopping where the stems dry up into leaves. Also chop galangal, turmeric, garlic, shallots, skin of your lime, and about 1 inch wild ginger root very finely.
3) Process ingredients with a mortar and pestle or with your food processor until they make a smooth paste.
4) Chop your chilis finely and process the chilis in a paste. Mix chili paste with amok paste until the desired spiciness. Depending on your audience, you may want to make two batches -- one with chili, one without.
5) Chop your fish into small pieces. The exact size depends on your preference, but pieces should be no thicker than 0.5 cm and no bigger than 3 cm x 3 cm wide. This keeps the steaming time down and ensures that the sauce sets and the fish finishes at the same time.
6) In a large bowl, gently mix pieces of fish with amok paste and coconut cream until evenly coated
7) Continue to combine mixture, adding sugar and salt, shrimp paste, 3 eggs, curry powder, and finally the crushed peanuts. Peanuts can be omitted if desired, or added later for garnish.
8) Take banana leaf boats, bowls, or packets and line the bottom with 2-3 layers of star gooseberry leaves. Add amok mixture to fill the container. Repeat with all the amok mixture.
9) Thinly slice kaffir lime leaves and remaining wild ginger. Top each boat with a few slices of each for flavor. If desired, the leaves and ginger can be mixed in with the original mixture -- this is up to individual preference.
10) Steam packets in a large steamer for 10-15 minutes, or until done.

Garnish with sprigs of cilantro and serve with white rice

Somart and Rumdourl assembling the amok boats

The little amok boats, ready to be steamed

And in the steamer...

Rumdourl opening up the finished product while Elaine looks on...

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