Sunday, July 11, 2010

Day 29 - Cambodia (AS) - Amok Trei: Coconut Fish Curry Parcels in Banana Leaves - Up Next, Cameroon (AF)

It's a Family Affair....It's a Family Affair

Family, family, family. As my wonderful Sicilian friend and neighbor, Lina says, "family is everything."

This Cambodian  meal was cooked on Martha's Vineyard with my brother, Clay. Back up , both technical and emotional, was unconditionally supplied by my beautiful sister Anna, Liam, Ian, Tim, Evie, Mom and Michael as well as my life long best friend, Sarah and her rockin' husband, Ted. I love you all. A la famille!

The history of Cambodia is intricately linked to both Laos and Vietnam. In modern times Cambodia was part of the French Colonial empire, taken over by the Japanese during World War II. After the war, the French returned but granted Cambodia independence in 1953, with Prince Norodom Sihanouk as Chief of State in the capital at Phnom Penh. The Geneva Accords of 1954, that ended the first Indo China War with the French, divided Vietnam at the 17th parallel and also confirmed the status of Cambodia and Laos as independent states.   
No Comment
 In March 1969, in violation of the Geneva Accords and without informing Congress, the Nixon administration began the secret B-52 bombing of North Vietnam's Cambodian bases, the "Menu Series" of raids. Sihanouk did not object to these raids since he had his own worries with the rise of Communist power within Cambodia. The B-52s flew 3,630 sorties over Cambodia during Menu Series using various deceptions and false reports to maintain the fiction that only S. Vietnam was being bombed.

The Vietnam War is the first war I remember being aware of as a child growing up in Cambridge in the 60's.   To this day, it's effects continue to be felt by families whose fathers, sons, brothers and sisters are still considered POW/MIA.  Anyone who has visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC can't help but be overwhelmed by the sacrifice our young soldiers made in this illegal war - and now, of course, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars continue to claim thousands of brave American lives....but....that's another blog....

About Cambodian Cuisine:  Cambodia is situated in South East Asia and has borders with Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. It consists of mainly flat low lying plains, mountainous regions in the north and southwest. Its coastline of 443 km and a huge freshwater lake play important roles in the cuisine.

Cambodian cuisine could be described as Thai without the heat,  although this is somewhat of a simplistic way to describe its true nature. It takes some of the best qualities from Chinese, Indian and Thai cuisines and blends them into a unique and delicious culinary experience. Rice, fish and seafood were the main staple in their diet.

I chose to make Cambodia's National Dish, Amok Trei, Coconut Curry Fish Parcels. I'd never cooked with banana leaves. I went to the Asian Market (that's what it's called) in Westborough to get all the ingredients as few of them were available in my local grocery store. I brought them over on the boat to the Vineyard and prepared the meal in my Mom's beautiful kitchen. Here's how it all went down!
Basic Ingredients: Banana leaves, Ganlanga root, fish sauce, shrimp paste, lemon grass, coconut milk and noodles
Chop baby bok choi (from Mom's garden!) and spinach along with medallions of cod bought that morning at Larsen's Fish Market in Menemsha (thank you Betsy!)

I decided to add the zest and juice of 4 limes to the recipe (which it didn't call for, but I highly recommend)
Clay, on point! Put red onion, Galanga root, lime, garlic, lemon grass fish oil, shrimp paste, turmeric, sugar and coconut milk in food processor
Process, (the blender would have worked better),  then cook it on a simmer till it's reduced and thickened
Pour 1/2 hot curry sauce of over fish to poach (kind of like making Seviche)

My brother, Clay and sister, Anna unfolding the banana leaves, which we cut into 8" squares for the packet,  then filled with a spoonful each of spinach/bok choi, fish, and curry sauce before folding into individual packets.
We didn't have a steamer, so I improvised and put about 2" of water in the bottom of a roasting pan, placed 2 racks in the bottom, placed the banana packets on top, covered with foil and steamed in a 325 oven for 30(ish) minutes. Also, I tripled the recipe to feed 12 of us - 3 pounds of fish was perfect.

The meal, which I served with a green salad

The whole crew enjoying a beautiful meal outside

Coconut  Fish Curry Parcels  - Amok Trei
Serves 4  

1 Garlic Clove, chopped
1 Red Onion, chopped
5cm/2-inches fresh Root Galangal, chopped or ½ teasp Ground Galangal
2 tbsp chopped Lemon Grass or 2 teasp Ground Lemon Grass
½ teasp Ground Turmeric
1 teasp Paprika
2 tbsp Fish Sauce
1 tbsp Sugar
½ teasp salt
1 x 400g/14oz  tin Coconut Milk
450g/1lb White Fish Fillets, e.g. (Catfish, Cod, Haddock, Sole, Orange Roughy)
4-8 Banana leaves (depending on size)  or or 8 large Dark Green Cabbage Leaves


1. Place the garlic, onion, galangal, lemon grass, turmeric, paprika, fish sauce and sugar in a blender or food processor and process until well blended.

2. Add the coconut milk and process again until thoroughly mixed.
3. Transfer the coconut mixture to a medium saucepan and bring to simmering point, stirring. Continue to cook gently for about 10 minutes until thickened.

4. Meanwhile, if using cabbage greens, place them in a large saucepan,  cover with boiling water and set aside to soften. If using banana leaves, cut into pieces about 20cm/8-inches square.
5. Place the fish in a bowl, season with a little salt then pour over half the hot coconut sauce and mix well. Set the remaining sauce aside.

6. Place 1/8th of the fish mixture in the centre of each leaf and fold the edges over to form secure parcels, making sure you tuck the edges under.  Steam the parcels for 1 hour.

7. 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time, gently reheat the remaining sauce.
8. To serve - make a small opening down the centre of each parcel and spoon the remaining coconut sauce into the opening. Serve immediately with rice.

Final Assessment: This was a wonderful dish! Light, filling, full of interesting flavors and really fun to make. It's one of those dishes that will improve with practice and improvisation. I loved serving it with noodles, although rice would have been fine. And, the leftovers were just as good cold the next day!


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