Steamed fish curry
Although steamed curries might be less familiar than Thai red and green curries, they are commonly eaten throughout the country. At the back of most curry stalls there is a huge metal steamer where steamed fish curry is cooked and kept warm, waiting to be sold. Saltwater and freshwater fish are most often found in such a curry but prawns, scallops and mussels can also find their way into the spicy mousse. In the north, I have seen parcels filled with chicken, cured pork, wild mushrooms or shredded boiled bamboo treated in this way.
Hor mok literally means something wrapped in a parcel – and in Thailand, that means wrapped with banana leaves. The Thais have created a variety of ways to fold these durable leaves into containers. If banana leaves are unavailable or the intricacies of banana-leaf origami escape you, a less confounding method is simply to steam the prepared mousse in a shallow ceramic bowl. This curry is best served warm, even hot – just lifted from the steamer, garnished and served.
- First make the curry paste. Nip off the stalks of the chillies then cut along their length and scrape out the seeds. Soak the chillies in water for about 15 minutes until soft. Drain the chillies, squeezing to extract as much water as possible, then roughly chop them. Using a pestle and mortar, pound the chillies with the salt, then add the remaining ingredients in the order they are listed, reducing each one to a fine paste before adding the next. Alternatively, puree the ingredients in an electric blender. You will probably need to add a little water to aid the blending, but try not to add more than necessary, as this will dilute the paste and alter the taste of the curry. Halfway through, turn the machine off and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, then turn it back on and whiz the paste until it is completely pureed.
- Place the fish slices in a glass or ceramic bowl, then gradually and cautiously stir in the coconut cream; like a mayonnaise, it must not separate – if it does, add a little ice-cold water and stir to incorporate. If the coconut cream is beaten in too quickly, the curry will curdle as it steams.
- Fold in the curry paste then stir in the egg, the sugar and most of the shredded lime leaves, reserving a few for garnish. Check the seasoning: smear just a little of the curry on your finger and taste – it should be salty, sweet and redolent with coconut cream. It will probably be necessary to add some fish sauce to achieve the correct balance.
- Cut the banana leaves, if using, into circles about 12 cm in diameter. Wipe them with a clean damp cloth then place one circle shiny-side down on the bench and place another circle on top, shiny-side up, with the grain of the leaves running at right angles to the first circle. At four evenly spaced intervals crimp the leaves to form a basket, securing with small toothpicks. Flatten the bottom, line with Thai basil leaves and add the curry. (Or, more simply, line a large ceramic bowl with the basil leaves and spoon in the curry.)
- Steam in a metal or bamboo steamer over a moderately high heat for 20–40 minutes, until the curry has set (this will depend on the size of the steaming receptacle). To test, insert a metal skewer or small knife into the curry – it should come out clean and hot to the touch. Remove carefully and finish with the thick coconut cream, chilli and coriander and the reserved shredded lime leaves.
- Leave to settle for 5 minutes before serving with steamed rice.