This dish is traditionally served using whole fish, and if you choose to do so then stuff the cavity with lemongrass, ginger, garlic and Chinese chives. Score the fish skin on the diagonal two or three times and season with salt before frying or roasting. The sauce makes more than you will need but it is hard to make it in smaller amounts. It should keep well in the fridge for at least a month.
Recipe Tag: fish
You can choose any fish you like for this dish, or even fish fillets. I used line-caught baby snapper as it is easy to steam.
These simple fish cakes are easy to pull together and most types of fish are suitable to use. The mix is soft so it does benefit from being made ahead and allowed to rest before frying. Adjust the curry paste as needed depending on how hot you like it. You could also use green curry paste here instead of red. Dried shrimp can be found in Asian supermarkets, and add both an umami hit and texture to dishes. Often they are pre-soaked before using. Once opened keep refrigerated in a jar.
A trip many years ago to Khon Kaen in north-eastern Thailand introduced me to the delights of Isaan cuisine and in particular larb (or larp laap, larp or laab as it is sometimes spelled), the chopped salad of minced duck, beef, pork, chicken or freshwater fish. The region’s cooking uses dried hot chilli with a wilful abandon; I’ve cut down the quantities somewhat but feel free to increase if you like. It’s not authentic, but I often add fresh chilli for a burst of colour too. Last summer I bought a sawtooth coriander plant at the Avondale market that is still going strong; its robust coriander flavour is perfect to use here, but otherwise use ordinary coriander along with other herbs. Don’t omit the toasted and ground rice. Not only does it add a nutty and textural component but it also helps to thicken the juices.
Nowadays Ray is the consulting food director for Bite in the New Zealand Herald, he's the Ambassador for FAWC in Hawke's Bay, offers product and recipe development for private clients, and does food demos all around the country.
Some cooks use smoked fish as a substitute but this makes a very different salad from the original. The light salting of the fish in this recipe, however, approximates as much as possible the raw fish flavour and texture of rehydrated salt cod. The salting of the onion turns even the most pungent onion into a sweet and crunchy salad vegetable.
Recipes, food styling & photography Will Bowman