Australians have a love affair with Thai food. Thai restaurants are everywhere and range from tiny eateries to fine-dining establishments. I even go as far as saying that some of the food rivals the offerings of Thailand’s best kitchens.
Thai food in Australia, like Indian food in England, has been unconditionally embraced. Twenty years ago, in Australia, the most common Asian appetizer would have been the spring roll. While I have no scientific data to prove it, my strong hunch is that Australians eat twice as many tod mun pla (Thai fish cakes) than spring rolls.
In spite of my strong Thai heritage I had never, until recently, attempted to make this popular entrée (appetizers in North America). It seemed like a hassle. I didn’t own a food processor and I didn’t feel like making fish paste with my tiny mortar and pestle. I recently bought a food processor and my excuse vanished. And I’m very glad it did.
You can use pretty much any fish. I used basa, a fresh water fish with firm, white flesh. The fish is first blended into a sticky paste with an egg, to bind the mixture, red curry paste, cornstarch or tapioca flour and fish sauce. The paste is then mixed with fragrant kaffir lime leaves and sweet snake beans. It's best to dampen your hands with a little water before rolling the fish cake balls as the mixture is really sticky.
A tip on the kaffir leaves -- I usually buy them with a specific recipe in mind and I only use several at a time. To keep them fresh, simply place them in a small ziplock plastic bag and keep them in the freezer until you need to use them. They don't need to be defrosted either. Just pop them straight into whatever dish you're cooking.
Tod Mun Pla - Thai Fish Cakes
450 grams firm white fish like basa
1 1/2 Tbsp of Thai red curry paste
1 1/2 Tbsp of Thai fish sauce
4 Tbsp of cornstarch or Tapioca flour
5 kaffir leaves, thinly sliced
4 snake beans, thinly sliced
3 cups of vegetable oil for frying
6 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp white vinegar
4 Tbsp sugar
1 purple shallot, finely sliced
1 Tbsp of finely sliced cucumber
1 small red bird chili, de-seeded and finely chopped
1/2 Tbsp of finely chopped coriander (cilantro)
1 Tbsp peanuts
Special equipment: food processor, slotted spoon, paper towels
- Prepare the dipping sauce first. Heat a small saucepan over a medium heat. Dry roast the peanuts until they lightly brown then immediatley remove from the heat and allow them to cool. Roughly chop the peanuts and set aside.
- Place the water, vinegar and sugar in small saucepan over low heat. Stir mixture until the sugar dissolves. Allow to cool.
- In a small serving bowl combine the cucumber, shallots, chili and corinader. Add vinegar mixture and then top with roasted peanuts. Set aside.
- Now for the fish cakes. Place fish, red curry paste, fish sauce, egg and cornstarch in a food processor. Blend until smooth and combined. Transfer paste into a large mixing bowl and add kaffir leaves and sliced snake beans. Stir through with a wooden spoon until combined.
- Shape about 2 tablespoons of fish paste mixture into a flat disc (this may be hard as it's quite sticky). Alternatively, just do your best to roll the mixture into a small ball.
- Heat the oil over a medium-high heat. Add fish cakes in batches and fry until golden brown and puffed up.
- Remove fish cakes from oil with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat process with remaining fish cakes.
- Serve fish cakes with dipping sauce.