Summer has begun! I hope you know what that means :) It means that I will disappear from time to time to either travel or be busy preserving fruits and/or vegetables that are so abundant in this glorious season.
I have just jammed strawberries, lorna apricots and one other new fruit that I was so excited about, red velvet apricots. These apricots are so interesting, small (about the size of small to medium strawberries, not the typical larger size) but fuzzy-skinned with an exquisite flavor. If you are following me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen the picture of them already. My husband said they taste like plums with fuzz on the skin.
The jam from these apricots is bright red and set so fast due to the large amount of pectin in the fruit that I can hardly detect it from the taste. I added lemon juice that actually wasn’t needed at all (lemon juice has citric acid that helps draw the natural pectin readily available in the fruits to make the jam “set”). The finished product was so wonderful, sour but complex in flavor. I can use this jam in place of sour cherry jam quite easily. It’s great on a turkey or chicken sandwich and a nice compliment as a dipping sauce for any grilled dishes.
And now back to where I left off from my last blog about basic Thai red curry paste, Kaeng Kua. I promised to give you a Thai recipe that uses Kaeng Kua curry paste. You already have one peanut sauce recipe using the paste. You can use that sauce as a salad dressing or on top of cooked vegetables and rice in the dish called “Rama Swimming” or “Phra Ram Long Song”, too.
This time I’m not going to make a pot of curry because you already know how to cook a pot of curry with coconut milk. I’m going to make a fish cake, or fish mousse, the Thai name of which is Hor Mok, with the Kaeng Kua curry paste.
To the non-Thai who never had this dish before it sounds EXTREMELY EXOTIC! (Meaning: weird beyond belief, willing to live on a different continent from it) but when I served this fish cake, everyone LOVED IT (Meaning: ate until the last crumb and willing to fight whoever wants to pry that away from your grip) including my fish-hater husband. I think this could be a guarantee that it is really good. So, even though you don’t know the dish, you should try it.
Ingredients for the fish mousse (for 4 serving 7-8 pieces)
Filet of fish: cat fish, trout, cod, salmon or any fish actually (You can even use ground pork or ground chicken, too) Chopped finely or if you’re a cheater, you can go buy fish paste if you can find it; 400g or 1 lb.
Kaeng Kua Curry paste 120g or 2-3 tablespoons (see note #1)
Coconut milk 1 1/4 cups (see note #2)
Thai basil (Ho Ra Pa) pick only the leaves 1/2 cup (see note #3)
Cilantro, chopped 1 teaspoon
Chiffonaded Kaffir lime leaves 1 tablespoon (see note #4)
Fish sauce 2-3 tablespoons
Palm sugar 1-2 teaspoons
Salt as needed
Ingredients for the vegetable bed
Vegetable of your choice, shredded (I used napa cabbage) 4 cups (see note #3)
Thai basil 2 cups (see note #3)
Ingredients for the top garnishing
Coconut cream 3/4 cup (see note #2)
Rice flour 1 teaspoon
Cilantro, pick only the leaves, 8 pieces (If you make a small-size cake, re-count. You should have one leaf per each cake)
Julienne red chilies
Chiffonaded Kaffir lime leaves
1) I used the curry paste I gave you the recipe for last time. If you want to use pre-made curry paste I recommend using Mae Sri Kaeng Kua Curry paste. Kaeng Ped or typical red curry paste contains cumin and coriander seeds and that will spice your fish cake differently, but it’s not outrageously wrong. So you can use whatever red curry you can find, but adjust it to your liking.
Do not put the whole amount in at once. Put only half in and adjust it after you taste it. I can use this much because my Kaeng Kua curry paste is made with mild chilies. If you are using pre-made curry paste, the heat strength is probably four or five times higher than mine.
2) I used 200g of coconut milk. Let it sit at room temperature or a slightly warm place. Then scoop 3/4 cup of the cream on the top for the topping and use the rest for the cake.
If you want to squeeze your own whole coconut milk, here is the method.
3) Typical fish cake is cooked over a bed of vegetables. The traditional vegetable is a type of leaf from a tree called “Yor”, which is the Indian mulberry, or beach mulberry leaves. It’s quite bitter but full of flavor and nutrients, especially calcium, but I have not seen fish cakes cooked with “bai-yor” anymore.
I use shredded napa cabbage and Thai basil, ho-ra-pa. This is the vegetable most commonly served with the fish mousse nowadays in Thailand. You can be creative. My suggestion for the other vegetable choices would be: collard greens (this is the closest to the traditional bai-yor), kale, rainbow chard, cabbage, bok choy, choy sum, carrot leaves, frisée, or endive. Do you see where I’m going with this? I do not recommend spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, romaine lettuce, or green or red leave lettuce.
Thai basil is used as a key flavor. If you really, really, really can’t find it, Italian basil can be used under a one strict condition. You will not serve that “fish mutt” to me or any other Thai person!
4) How to chiffonade the Kaffir lime leaves?
4.1) Remove the stems from the leaves
4.2) Stack all the halves (or you can call them quartered) leaves together then roll them really tight.
4.3) Slice them (see picture) as thin as possible…voila…
Important before you start, you have to find containers for the fish mousse first: ramekins, soup cups, coffee mugs, whole coconut shells, foil cups, glass baking trays or banana leaves cups. They all work.
1.1) Traditional method Stone-age era technique, before electricity was invented. If you own a hand-held mixer or food processor and no longer drag your woman (or are being dragged if you are a woman) by her hair into a cave to make a baby, then you can skip to the Method #1.2.
1.1.1) Put half of the coconut milk and curry paste in a terra-cotta mixing bowl and mix them with a spatula, stirring clockwise until they’re smooth.
1.1.2) Add the fish paste, chopped fish and stir again, also clockwise. DO NOT stir back and forth! That’s what I’ve been constantly told, because the mousse supposedly will break.
1.1.3) Add the egg, half of the fish sauce, half of the sugar and the rest of the coconut milk, then continue to stir CLOCKWISE only non-stop for another 30 minutes. (Oh…No no no, don’t pull your hair out just yet! The man next door is ready to yank it for you and drag you to his cave now).
You know what? When the adults weren’t watching, I did stir the mixture in figure-8’s , zigzags, clockwise for a count of 10 then changed course to counter-clockwise and then back to clockwise again. Of course this was all done behind “their” backs. I thought they would figure it out at some point. Nope. Then I thought, it will show in the finished hor mok. Nope. Well, all of them ate the hor mok, praised each other (including me) for making good hor mok, never mentioning once that the hor mok texture was wrong! So I concluded the clockwise BeeSsss was just a myth.
1.1.4) After half an hour, your arm must be so tired, (save your energy if you are a man. You will need your arm strength or there will be no baby for you). Then you can add the basil leaves, chiffonade Kaffir lime leaves and chopped cilantro. Taste it by dropping a spoonful of the mixture into a piece of banana leaf and steam it for at least five-ten minutes (until it’s cooked). Do not microwave it or the mousse will break! After all, you have the whole day to make this one dish. Why rush?
1.1.5) Adjust the taste, then you can go to Method #2
1.2) 21st Century method (my method) Use a food processor or hand-held mixer. A hand-held blender is going to be the hero on this occasion.
1.2.1) Put the fish paste, egg, 3/4 of the curry paste, and the coconut milk, fish sauce and also sugar in the mixing bowl of the food processor and pulse away until everything is blended smoothly.
1.2.2) Put a spoonful of the mixture in a piece of parchment paper or banana leaf (if you have it) and microwave for a minute or two until the mixture is cooked. Taste it and then adjust if necessary. If it’s not too spicy for you yet then put all of the curry paste in. Add more salt or sugar as needed.
1.2.3) Once you get the right balance then add the Thai basil, chopped cilantro, and the chiffonaded Kaffir lime leaves, and mix well.
2) Half cook the shredded vegetables for the bed but don’t cook the Thai basil leaves. Stop the cooking process by running cold water through the vegetables and then squeeze all of the water out. Divide the vegetables among the containers and then put the Thai basil on top.
3) Put the fish mousse in the containers over the vegetables and steam over high heat for 15-20 minutes.
4) While you’re waiting for the fish mousse to be cooked, put the coconut cream and rice flour together in a small pot, and set it over medium-low heat. Heat until the content bubbles, then turn off.
5) When the fish mousse is finished cooking, pour a tablespoon of coconut cream mixture you made in #4 above onto the top of the finished fish mousse. Arrange the julienned chilies, cilantro leaf, and chiffonaded Kaffir lime leaves over the coconut cream and put the fish mousse back on the steamer and steam for another 2 minutes.
THAT’S IT. You’re done. Pour yourself a glass of Riesling.
You should have cooked jasmine rice already somehow, even though I didn’t tell you to. This fish mousse is best served with the white rice. This is one of my favorite dishes. It usually is never served alone; it would be part of a set menu. The Thai table normally serves between 3-5 different dishes in one meal. It sounds like a lot of food but for a family which typically consists of between 4-16 people, it’s actually economical. I will write about the Thai table when I’ve given you enough Thai food recipes where you can make the whole menu using these recipes some time later (not any time soon, maybe in the next year or two).
Referring back to the Thai eating etiquette, I shouldn’t attack only one dish from the whole set. However, if there are Hor Mok on the table and it’s not too hot or spicy, I usually just dive in for just the Hor Mok. It’s so cleverly balanced and delicious.
Hor-mok has a lot of varieties throughout Thailand. The Northeastern people make it without coconut milk. The Northern people wrap it in banana leaves and grill the whole package instead of steaming it. The Southern people add turmeric to the curry paste and might use shrimp or some other seafood in it, the same as the Northern Thai people would substitute a land animal for the fish.
There are several different herbs added to the paste, the bed vegetables or just to the mousse itself. My mother’s recipe, instead of putting only basil leave, she added shredded bamboo shoot and crushed peanuts in her Hor Mok, too. Northeasterners might put dill in the mousse. Central or Bangkok people might add fingerroot to the paste, and so on. There are unlimited possibilities with this dish; feel free to experiment on your own.