Herbed Catfish Laap

Laap Pla

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves

    4 or 5

Appears in

From the old Tai Koen capital Chiang Tung, also known as Kengtung, in the mountains of eastern Shan State comes this wonderful take on fish.

Laap dishes are made of chopped fish or meat dressed with aromatics. Here the fish is poached whole in a little broth flavored with lemongrass and galangal, then flaked off the bone and finely chopped. The cooking broth is combined with a flavor paste of grilled aromatics to make a dressing for the fish. The list of ingredients is long because of the variety of herbs that are added just before serving. If you are missing one or two kinds of herbs, don’t worry, just increase the quantity of the others.

Serve the delicious traditional way, with Sticky Rice and a plate of steamed and raw vegetables.


  • One 2-pound cleaned catfish (or 2 smaller ones), well rinsed, or another firm-fleshed freshwater fish, such as pike, pickerel, or trout
  • 4 shallots
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 5 dried red chiles
  • 1 Soybean Disk, or substitute teaspoons brown miso paste
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed and smashed
  • 1 teaspoon shrimp paste (ngapi)
  • 3 slices galangal
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • ¾ teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • Peanut oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced lemongrass
  • 2 tablespoons Toasted Rice Powder
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons tender coriander leaves
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons minced scallion greens
  • 1 tablespoon minced mint
  • 1 tablespoon chopped Vietnamese coriander
  • 1 tablespoon chopped tender green tips of sawtooth herb


If using catfish, preheat a gas or charcoal grill, or heat a large wok or pot over medium-high heat. Lightly brown the catfish skin by exposing it to the flame or hot surface just long enough that the skin sears and browns. Remove from the heat and rinse the catfish, rubbing it clean. If not using catfish, then just rinse the fish.

If you haven’t heated a grill, heat a cast-iron or other heavy skillet over medium-high heat. If using the grill, thread the shallots, garlic, and chiles onto skewers (this will make it easier to turn them and control the cooking process). Put the shallots, garlic, and chiles on the grill or in the skillet and cook, turning occasionally, to soften them. Be careful that you cook the chiles just until they are softened, not burned black, which would make them bitter. The shallots and garlic will take longer; cook them until they are softened with some black patches on their skins. Set aside to cool for a moment. Add the soybean disk to the grill, wok, or skillet and toast for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until pale but not scorched.

Meanwhile, combine the water, lemongrass stalks, shrimp paste, galangal, and turmeric in a large pot and bring to a boil. Add the fish and cook at a strong boil for about 10 minutes, turning it to ensure that all parts of it get cooked through. Lift the fish out and set aside in a large bowl to cool. Strain the cooking liquid and set aside in a bowl. (You will have about ¾ cup.)

Remove and discard the stems from the chiles, and remove the skins and any blackened patches from the shallots and garlic. Combine the chiles, shallots, and garlic in a food processor or large mortar and process or pound to a paste. Add the grilled soybean disk or the miso and salt and process or pound briefly to blend. (You should have about ½ cup paste.)

Stir the paste into the reserved cooking liquid to make the dressing and set aside.

Lift the fish flesh off the bones and transfer to a cutting board. Finely chop to reduce it to a smooth texture. Place in a wide shallow bowl and pour on the dressing. Mix well and set aside.

Put 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil in a wok or skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Add the minced lemongrass and stir-fry until crisp, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Lift the lemongrass out and set aside. Add the fish skeleton to the hot oil and fry until crisp and brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Lift out and transfer to a mortar or food processor. Add the fried lemongrass and pound or process to a powder.

Just before serving, add the powdered fish bones and lemongrass, toasted rice powder, and herbs, and mix well. Taste for salt, and adjust if necessary. Serve at room temperature.