Davidson plums are a distinctive, deep purplish-red fruit from Northern NSW. In this recipe, they lend a uniquely Australian sour tang to a quintessentially Thai dish. If boning and butterflying the mackerel is a little daunting, then Tasmanian ocean trout fillet is an excellent substitute.
- 1 whole Blue mackerel, about 500-800 g, cleaned, butterflied and de-boned
- fish sauce, for drizzling
- 2 basalt or granite stones (see note)
- 1 sheet of paperbark
- grapeseed or rice bran oil, for pan-frying
- picked mint and/or watercress leaves and steamed sticky or jasmine rice, to serve
- 2 cups shredded green papaya
- 2 Thai red bird's eye chillies
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 tbsp dried prawns, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes, then drained
- 2 Davidson plums, halved and seeded
- 6 cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- juice of 1 lime
- 2 tbsp roasted unsalted peanuts, coarsely crushed
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Standing time: 30 minutes
1. Place the butterflied mackerel in a shallow dish, drizzle generously with fish sauce, then refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, heat a barbecue to high. Place the stones on the grill or an old steel cooling rack until very hot. Prepare the smoking container (see note) by placing the mackerel on a plate to one side and the paperbark folded over and laid flat to the other side. Carefully place the heated stones on the paperbark which should immediately start to smoke. Cover and let it smoke for 30-45 minutes, depending on how big your fish is and how smoky you like it. Remove the fish from the smoker and set aside.
3. For the papaya salad, first taste the papaya flesh. If it's overly bitter (lots of sticky white sap is an indication of this) counteract this bitterness by soaking in ice water for about 10 minutes, then drain well. Place the chillies, garlic and soaked prawns in a mortar and pound with a pestle until blended to the consistency of a rough salsa, but not a homogenous paste. Add the deseeded Davidson plum flesh and pound a little more. Add the cherry tomatoes and pound again this time more gently. The idea is that as the tomatoes are crushed, they release their juices to add to the dressing. Add the fish sauce and half the lime juice. Taste the dressing- it should be astringent, piquant and sharp yet have underlying richness from the fish sauce and sweet tomato flesh. Adjust accordingly by adding more lime juice or fish sauce or even a little brown sugar if you feel it is not sweet enough. Transfer the dressing to a large bowl, add the papaya flesh and half the crushed roasted peanuts. Mix it through and taste again, then adjusting accordingly. Transfer to a serving plate and scatter with the remaining peanuts.
4. Pat the mackerel flesh to remove any moisture. Heat a good drizzle of oil in a frying pan over high heat. Cook the mackerel, skin-side down first for 2 minutes or until just golden and crisp, then turn and cook for another 2 minutes. Place on top of the papaya salad, scatter with the picked herbs and serve with steamed sticky or jasmine rice.
• Use only basalt or granite stones for smoking the fish. Be careful not to use sandstone, stones that have cracks in them, or stones that are moist as they can burst suddenly and be very dangerous.
• The smoking container can be anything with a decently fitting lid. Large pots are perfect as are ovens that aren't turned on. If you're lucky enough to have a cast-iron roasting tray with lid even better but use your imagination as anything clean and decently heatproof will do, I've even seen this done in an ice box.
Palisa Anderson and guests explore food memories and cross-cultural connection during Palisa Anderson's Water Heart Food.