Fish amok is a good dish in Cambodia.
It’s essentially a steamed curry, made with the Cambodian curry paste kroeung, which features a heady mix of lime leaves, shrimp paste, chillies, turmeric, galangal, lemongrass and shallots . This is stirred into thick coconut milk, to which you add eggs. The eggs enable you to steam this dish in banana leaves, where they thicken the sauce to a savoury custard (bear with me, it sounds odd but it’s great) that clings to chunks of soft, unctuous white fish. The banana leaves impart their trademark smoky flavour to the sauce, which has exactly the depth of sweet, salty, tangy coconut flavour that makes south east Asian curries so addictive.
This might all sound complicated, but it isn’t – the curry paste is made in seconds in a blender, and then it’s just a case of sautéing it in a little oil, adding your coconut milk (best to use the really thick part of a can of full-fat coconut milk for the right depth of sweet, creamy flavour), some brown sugar (or palm sugar if you can get it, to be truly authentic), fish sauce and eggs. Stir in chunks of white fish (I like to use cod cheeks for this, as they hold their shape really well and have loads of flavour, but any white fish will do, and I have an inkling this would also be insanely good with salmon or trout), then pour into banana leaves that you’ve shaped into boats to hold the sauce (you can use foil if these prove difficult to find, but you can buy them frozen from most Asian grocers). Shaping them into boats is a bit fiddly, but – as I discovered on a cooking course in Malaysia – it’s totally OK to use a stapler to hold the leaves together! Then steam – I use a bamboo steamer, again for authenticity, but a metal one would be fine – unwrap, and enjoy.
Serving the dish
You need to serve this with loads of steamed or coconut rice, because you will want to soak up every last drop of that gorgeous sweet coconut sauce. Lime wedges are also essential, to bring zest and that important piquancy. I also like to serve this Vietnamese-style stir-fried pineapple with garlic, ginger, chilli and peanuts alongside, adding some greens to the pineapple too for crunch and vitamins. The sweetness and heat of the chilli pineapple and the crunch of the nuts are perfect alongside the meltingly rich coconut sauce and the soft fish. Serve the lot on a big platter for each person, for the maximum wow factor. You can easily put all this together in an hour, but it’ll look incredibly impressive.
Genuinely, I can’t express how much I love this dish. I’ve made it so many times over the last couple of years since visiting Cambodia, determined to get it exactly right before sharing it with you. The secret, I discovered, is full-fat coconut milk and more sugar than you’d think. This is the ultimate version, and has the perfect balance of sweet coconut, chilli, fragrant tropical aromatics and meaty white fish. It is my absolute favourite south east Asian curry, all the more so for being just a little unusual. Basically, it’s damn gorgeous and you need it in your life now.
Hope you enjoy your stay in Cambodia!
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