Spicy Fish Cakes

Tod Man Plah Grai

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Small curry spiked fish cakes are a common appetizer and street-food in Thailand. The small misshapen bouncy fish cakes are addictively good as they get dipped in Thai sweet chili sauce and the cucumber relish. I remember sitting by the Udompasat Dam along the river, watching catfish the size of my suitcase being reeled in one after the other. That day, my host “Noi” and his wife, “Saa” at Gayson Restaurant, crafted fish cakes from that local catch, served with glasses of Jonnie Walker Black Label and soda. It seemed like an unlikely beverage pairing, yet they went together nicely.

Ingredients

  • ½ lb. (227 g.) Fresh catfish, snapper, monkfish, or yellowtail, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm.) pieces
  • 3 Tbsp. Red curry paste [4 Tbsp. if made in blender) or store bought
  • 1 lg. Egg
  • 1 Tbsp. Fish sauce (nahm pla)
  • 1 Tbsp. Granulated sugar
  • 1 large Ice cube
  • 6 medium Kaffir lime leaves, vein removed, sliced into very thin strips, 1/16 inch (.1 cm.) thick
  • ½ cup Thinly sliced long beans, about inch (0.3 cm.) thick
  • ½ cup Holy basil or other Asian basil leaves Oil for frying
  • 1 recipe Thai sweet chili sauce (nahm jim gai)
  • 1 recipe Cucumber relish (achaat)

Method

  1. Prepare equipment for fish paste: Place food processor work bowl and blade in freezer. Also chill (not freeze) fish very well, about 20 minutes.
  2. Make fish paste: Add the ice cube to food processor and grind until it become fine crushed ice, almost a powder. Add curry paste, egg, fish sauce, sugar, and chilled fish to processor. Run on high speed, scraping occasionally, until mixture becomes a thick paste. Keep going until the food processor begins to work really hard (you will hear it slow down, mixture pulls to center and gathers on blades.
  3. Test the seasoning: Sauté a tablespoon of mixture, taste and adjust seasoning with fish sauce, sugar, and/or curry paste. Transfer mixture to mixing bowl. Gather with hands and throw down into bowl to “slap” mixture; repeat 10 times until it is slightly sticky.
  4. Fold in lime leaves and sliced long beans until thoroughly incorporated. Finally, fold in basil leaves until evenly distributed. However, basil leaves should poke out from the cakes in an irregular way. The exposed parts will get crispy while the internal leaves stay succulent.
  5. Fry the cakes in batches of 6 pieces: Heat oil in a small pot to 350°F (177°C). Lightly moisten hands to prevent sticking, then hand-form small cakes, 1 to 2 tablespoon each, and drop directly into hot oil. Keeping your hands damp will make sure the paste does not stick at all. Fry until fish paste browns and protruding basil leaves are crispy. About 2 to 3 minutes, cut one in half to check that they are cooked in the center, before serving. Repeat with remaining paste.
  6. Serve with Thai sweet chili sauce and cucumber relish in small bowls.

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