Sunday, 13 March 2011


Thais do good fish. I, on the other hand have never been super confident with cooking pla (fish), but recently I have been doing my best to conquer my fears. Mostly because it seems like a lot of restaurants where you can get Thai fish dishes use really ordinary fish, and it just isn't the same.

This dish, fish with tamarind sauce, is generally served with a whole fried fish, though as I have done here you can also use fillets. It's not as spectacular in the looks department, but much more achievable on a weeknight, and more palatable if you have smalls who find looking at a whole fish a bit creepy.

When we lived in Northern Thailand we had this dish a lot, most often at the Tha Nam (river front) sitting upstairs in an old open sided teak house overlooking the water. The dish was made with tub tim, a local river fish, and it was divine. So so divine. It was worth the considerable hassle to get there (it is well out of the city centre) to eat the fantastic food and listen to the music ensemble that not only played, but let a very enthusiastic just turned 3 Maliwan (Amy) play an instrument or two too.

I make no claims to this dish being as good as theirs, but I will happily say it is an achievable thing to make at home and it is well like by all members of the family. I serve it with rice and stir fried veggies, but it would also be excellent with som tum or another salad. You can also use the tamarind sauce very successfully on grilled chicken.

Crispy fish with tamarind sauce
Fish, either whole or fillets. For the 4 of us I used about 600gms of snapper fillets.
Oil for frying (peanut gives the best flavour)
1 small red shallot, finely diced
1-3 small red chilies, seeded, deveined and finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 tbs palm sugar
2-3 tbs fish sauce
1.5 tbs tamarind puree

Make the sauce first. In a small amount of oil and low heat, soften the garlic, shallot and chili. Add the sugar, fish sauce and tamarind and gently heat until the sugar is well dissolved. Raise the heat and cook the sauce rapidly, stirring constantly until it thickens and darkens a little. Taste (being very careful not to burn your mouth because I always do), and add more tamarind, fish sauce, or sugar as required. It should be sour first, sweet and salty second. Turn off heat and cook fish.

In Thailand the fish is most definitely deep fried. If you are looking to reduce the oil you can shallow fry it, but you need to cook it quite a long time to get the outside really crisp. The outside should be quite hard. Drain and pat well with paper towel.

Spoon warm sauce over fish and serve scattered with coriander leaves. Scoff liberally.


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Ren said...

There is a Javanese dish similar to this that I just love, love, love. I have real trouble cooking fish this way, i can never make it as crispy is it should. Next time i will use your peanut oil tip! Thanks Sooz. Love all the food posts! Hmmmm hungry now. x

Cathg1g2 said...

This looks delicious! I'm making it on the weekend after a trip to the Prahran Market.
I made the Margaret Fulton Fish Stew with risoni (freebie recipe from Woolies)last night ... it was fantastic. I was the only one that loved it!
I am determined to get my family to eat more fish!