Far upriver from the coast of Rakhine State lies Mrauk U, a sleepy tourist destination of villages and Buddhist ruins. On my last night there, the main dish for supper at the guesthouse where I was staying was a whole fish—I can’t tell you the kind—cooked this way. It’s a remarkable expression of the Rakhine palate, with chiles, galangal as well as ginger, and a little bitterness from cooked coriander.

You’ll need a pan that is large enough to hold the whole fish (snapper or trout is a good choice), one with a tight-fitting lid to seal the steam in.

Serve with rice or boiled new potatoes. Start with a light soup (Ambrosial Chicken Broth with Shallots and Lime Juice, is a good option), and serve a mild vegetable dish such as Eggplant Delight alongside.

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Ingredients

Aromatic Rub

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced galangal
  • ½ lime, including skin, minced
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric
  • to pounds cleaned whole firm-fleshed fish, such as snapper or trout, rinsed and dried
  • 3 tablespoons peanut oil
  • ½ cup thinly sliced shallots
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 red cayenne chiles, minced, or 4 dried red chiles, broken in half
  • 8 to 10 coriander stalks
  • About ¼ cup hot water

Method

Combine all the rub ingredients in a mortar or mini processor, and pound or process to a coarse paste. Rub the fish all over with the paste and set aside for 15 minutes.

Place a wide shallow wok or a heavy skillet that is big enough to hold the fish over high heat. Add the oil, heat for a minute, then lower the heat to medium. Add the shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

Toss in the chiles and raise the heat to high. Add half the coriander, place the fish in the pan, cover tightly, and lower the heat to medium-high. Cook for about 4 minutes, then add the hot water. Bring to a boil, turn the fish over, add the remaining coriander, cover, and cook for another 3 minutes, or until the fish is just cooked through (the flesh should be opaque and should flake when pulled with a fork).

Serve from the pan or transfer to a platter and serve.

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