Cambodian Fish Custard – Amok
A must try so you can say that you know Cambodian cuisine; fresh fish fillets sliced and marinated in Kroeung, sweet chili powder and coconut cream.
- Kitchenaid stand mixer with wire whip and flat beater attachments
- 7 Ramiken bowls or banana leaf bowls
- 14 ounces coconut cream
- 3 tbsp Angkor California chili powder
- 3 fresh Makrut lime leaves finely julienned 1 leaf and minced the rest*
- 3.5 oz Angkor Lemongrass Paste
- 5 eggs
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp Angkor Thnot sugar*
- ½ tsp fish sauce
- 1½ pounds catfish fillet sliced 1/3” x 2” thick
- 4 ounce collard greens remove stems & cut into bite size
- 1 Fresno chili de-seeded & thinly sliced*
- Prepare the Custard – Skim 3 tablespoons of coconut cream (top portion of the coconut cream can), set aside for garnish. Place remaining coconut milk into the KitchenAid Stand mixing bowl. Add the chili powder, minced kaffir lime leaves, Angkor Lemongrass Paste, eggs (for binding), salt, Thnot sugar, and fish sauce. Using wire whip attachment on lowest setting to mix the ingredients until uniform color and texture.
- Marinate the Fish – Add fish, using the flat beater attachment on lowest setting to gently mix for about 2 minutes, until mixture thicken.
- Wilting Collard Greens – Set regular oven (not conviction) to 375ºF. While the oven is preheating, put collard greens on a baking sheet then place the dish in the oven. When the oven reaches the temperature, take the dish out of the oven. Divide the wilted collard greens evenly into 6 ramekin bowls and fill them with fish mixture.
- Baking Bake at 375ºF for 35 minutes, then broil at 375ºF for 2 to 3 minutes until the top of the Amok is nicely brown.
- Garnishing Remove from oven and top each bowl with 1 teaspoon of coconut cream, then sprinkle with julienned kaffir lime leaves, and a few slices of Fresno chili.
- Substitute fresh Makrut lime leaves with of Angkor Makrut Lime Leaf Flakes
- Substitute Thnot Sugar with a little less than half teaspoon of granulated sugar
- Substitute Fresno chili with any moderate heat red chile
Every time I make Amok, I am taken back to happy childhood days. I can vividly see the smiling faces of ladies, laughing, telling jokes, and teasing each other while pitching in to prepare the ingredients. Sounds of chopping, cutting and the pestle pounding against the mortar; crushing the lemongrass, spices and herbs into Kroeung paste. I was always the quiet ‘coconut scraper girl’. While most of my friends would rather be doing something else, I loved being in the kitchen, even though I was given the most boring job. I loved hearing the ladies describe me as an aspiring chef, but they also warned me it’s a laborious task.
Amok takes a considerable amount of time to prepare. For this reason, the dish is usually made only for special events such as weddings and holidays. Many moms and grandmas would pitch in; bringing along their own cutting boards, knives and mortar and pestle. Each step of this dish is prepared from scratch without modern kitchen tools, and without refrigeration to prepare ahead. Each lady is assigned a specific task that needs to be ready at the appropriate step/time to add to the dish.
Creating Kroeung from scratch begins with manually slicing and pounding all of the ingredients with a mortar and pestle until they turn into a smooth paste. This same technique was done many generations before us. This process took hours to complete. With the mortar and pestle only a small amount of kroeung can be made at a time.
Collecting the coconut cream begins by husking the coconut, cracking the shell and collecting the coconut water for refreshing treat, which I loved. Then, small pieces of the coconut flesh are softly scraped into a large around tray, taking care that none of the brown part of the shell gets into the tray. A small amount of warm water is incorporated with the collected flesh, squeezed by hand, then filtered through a cloth to produce coconut milk.
The live snakehead fish get a good whack on the head before they are cleaned, filleted, skinned, and sliced into thin strips. The last step is to mix all ingredients together and then gently fold in the fish taking care to not break apart the fillets. The mixture is then thickened by gently stirring with two chopsticks rolling back and forth between the palms of your hands, while the other end of the chopsticks are in the Amok mixture. This is also the task I was allowed to help with, but I never got to finish because it took time and patience. When the mixture reaches the desired thickness it is portioned out into a banana leaf bowls that were made from scratch as well. Then it goes into a steamer over the wood burning stove.
I imagine if Amok is prepared the way we used to do in Cambodia, it would take a person all day. Thinking of it this way, I have no doubt that whoever is making Amok must love cooking and is cooking for love.