This dish is a wrap, and is almost all about making the dipping sauce right. The best sauce I’ve had is still the tamarind sauce my mom made for us when we were young. It was perfect: not too thick or too watery, and not too sour or too sweet. I love wrapping dishes in general because they almost always include fresh and crunchy vegetables dipped in sweet and sour sauces that are packed with flavor. In this recipe, we will cook the fish in such a way that it will keep all its flavor, too. The herbs and spices add yet another dimension to the dish without affecting its healthiness. I can’t think of a better meal!
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Serves 6 to 8
For the fish:
- 2 whole snakehead or tilapia fish, about 2 pounds each
- 6 stalks lemongrass
- 12 thin slices galangal
- 14 makrut lime leaves
- 10 cloves garlic
- 6 shallots
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 2 banana leaves
For the tamarind sauce:
- 5.3 ounces dried tamarind, no seeds
- 5 cloves garlic
- 3 shallots
- 5 red chilies
- 3 tablespoons cooking oil
- 4 tablespoons palm sugar
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon sea salt
For the vegetables and noodles:
- 2 pounds lettuce
- Mixed basil and mint
- Bean sprouts
- 2 pounds fresh rice noodles
Remove the intestines of the fish, scrub the flesh with salt, then wash with water and drain.
Slice the lemongrass, but not too thin. Wash the makrut lime leaves well. Peel and slightly smash the garlic and shallots.
Mix all the aromatics, herbs, and spices with salt, rub the mixture on the fish skin, and stuff some inside the fish. Use banana leaves to wrap the fish, then wrap them again with a final layer of aluminum foil. Make sure there are no gaps for liquid to leak out. Place the wrapped fish on a charcoal grill on medium heat and cook for 5–7 minutes on each side.
To make the tamarind sauce, first, make an extract from the tamarind by soaking them in 1 2/3 cup warm water for 15 minutes. Squeeze the flesh to help spread the flavor, then strain to remove the tamarind pods and pulp, keeping only the liquid.
Finely chop the garlic, shallots, and red chilies.
Place a small to medium-sized pot on medium heat and add cooking oil. When the oil is hot, add the chopped garlic, shallots, and chilies and sauté until they are brown. Add palm sugar and caramelize it until it becomes a clear, dark brown.
Add fish sauce, sea salt, and the tamarind extract, and stir well until the sugar and salt are completely dissolved. Let it boil, then add water and bring to a boil again for 3 minutes. Switch the heat off and let it cool.
Wash the lettuce, mixed basil and mint, bean sprouts, and cucumber well, and drain.
To serve, arrange the fresh vegetables, noodles, and fish nicely on a flat bamboo basket. Put the tamarind sauce in small bowls. To eat, take a piece of lettuce and place a small amount of everything into it. Wrap it all up and dip in the tamarind sauce.
Reprinted with permission from “Nhum: Recipes From a Cambodian Kitchen” by Rotanak Ros and Nataly Lee.