The food in Cambodia is great. There is a lot of coconut and fresh fruit. There are hints of the curry one expects due to proximity to Thailand. Noodles are loved, but so are French baguettes, a reminder of colonial times. The food is not as hot as in Thailand, but it is still wonderfully flavorful. My first day in Cambodia, I had lunch at Jasmine, a restaurant with a roof but no walls, with palm trees and flowers crowding the building. Among the half a dozen dishes they brought us was fish amok, which was served in a hollowed out coconut shell. A warm breeze mixed the fragrance of flowers with the aromas of the foods on the table, which made for a memorable meal. Fish amok is among Cambodia’s most popular dishes. I have had several versions, some more like a quiche, but the first way I had it, at the Jasmine Restaurant, has always seemed like the “right” version. If you can’t get to Cambodia, at least you can now get a hint of its taste. Enjoy.
1 lb. white fish fillets
2 Tbs. curry paste (recipe follows)
2 Tbs. fish sauce
2 tsp. sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup coconut milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 tsp. ground black pepper
4 kaffir lime leaves (optional)
Cut fish fillets into roughly 1/2-inch squares. Place fish in 1 quart, oven-proof bowl. Whisk together all other ingredients, except lime leaves. Pour over fish and stir, to make sure every piece of fish is coated. Place bowl in the top compartment of a steamer. Steam for 15 minutes, stir, then return to the steamer for another 5 minutes, or until fish is cook and amok is heated through.
Note: The fish most commonly used in this dish is one indigenous to Tonle Sap. Your best bet for duplicating the taste is a nice, mild, firm-fleshed white fish, such as cod, snapper, or catfish.
5 large dried red chilies
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped
1 Tbs. finely chopped lemon grass
1 tsp. grated lime rind
1 tsp. salt
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tsp. turmeric
Soak the chilies in water for 30 minutes. When you take them out of the water, reserve the soaking liquid. Split, deseeded, and chop the chilies.
Combine chilies and all other ingredients in a food processor and blend to a thick paste, adding a little of the reserved soaking liquid as necessary, to keep the processor going. Alternatively (and more traditionally) this could be created with a mortar and pestle.
Refrigerate any paste not needed for the amok recipe.
Note: Depending on the size of your chiles, this may make more than you need for the amok recipe, but it can be used to add a little kick to soups and stir fries. Or make more amok!
Galangal, a relative of ginger, would be more authentic than ginger in this recipe, but it is harder to come by in the U.S. Also, with garlic and 5 chilies in the paste, the difference would be difficult to detect.
©2008 Cynthia Clampitt