This recipe is a good demonstration of the complexity of Thai cooking: where western cuisines may tend towards simple recipes with only a few ingredients, Thai dishes often feature a dozen or more elements.
- 100 g cooked pork belly or ribs, diced, double blanched (cooked from cold water, twice)
- scraped coriander roots
- 3 cloves garlic
- a little salt
- 1 star anise
- ground white pepper
- oil or pork fat
- 2 tbsp palm sugar
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp light chicken stock
- 3 cloves garlic pureed with salt, pounded, plus 3 cloves, extra
- 5 fresh long or birdseye chillies
- 1 heaped tbsp gapi (shrimp paste)
- 1 tbsp lime or mandarin juice
- 1 apple eggplant
- tamarind water
- pea eggplants
- shredded green mango
Pla fu "crispy fish"
- 100 g flathead
- a little smoked trout (optional)
- large pinch of salt
- pickled garlic, in chunks
- 1 raw salted duck egg yolk
- 1 handful coriander leaves
- steamed rice
- sliced cucumber
- steamed prawns
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.
Soaking time 10 minutes
To make the relish, wash the pork, then dice.
Make a paste by pounding the coriander roots, garlic, salt, star anise and white pepper in a mortar and pestle. Fry the paste in oil or pork fat until golden. Add the pork and palm sugar, and stir until almost caramelised.
Moisten with fish sauce and add the stock. Simmer gently for about 30 minutes, or until pork is tender. (This can be made some time before.)
To make the chilli paste, mince the garlic with salt and remove from mortar and pestle. Pound the chillies and additional garlic in the mortar and pestle with gapi to make a fine paste.
Heat the oil, add the salt and garlic mix and fry over a medium heat until golden. Add the chilli garlic paste and fry until fragrant. Moisten with the braised pork mixture. Simmer for a few minutes. Check the seasoning: salty, sweet, hot and sour. Adjust accordingly.
Finish with a little lime juice. Finely slice the apple eggplant and stir into the relish with tamarind water, pea eggplants and shredded green mango.
To make the crispy fish, preheat oven to 220C. Line a baking tray with foil and place a cake rack on top. Wash the flathead and soak for 10-15 mins in salted water.
Roast flathead on prepared rack for 30 minutes or until quite dry and just beginning to colour.
Remove fish from oven and cool. Blend with the smoked trout and salt in a food processor until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Do not add any hard or dried bits of the fish to the blender as by the time they have pureed the rest of the fish will be over processed. If the fish is ground too fine then it will not 'clump' when it fries; too coarse and the pieces will harden into little pellets.
Heat plenty of oil in a wok to a medium-high temperature. The temperature must be right: too hot will scorch the fish, too cool and the collagen in the fish will not cook quickly enough to hold the fish floss together.
Rain a small handful of the crumbs into the moderately hot oil. Again, you have to be careful: too much added at once will cool the oil and either prevent the collagen from bonding or saturate the cakes with oil. Too little may scorch the fish or make the cakes too brittle.
When it has finished foaming, bring or pull the cake from the opposite side of the wok into the centre. Repeat, pushing into the centre from the closer side. The collagen should now hold the fish cake together and it should smell cooked. Flip over, and when it is slightly golden in colour remove and drain on absorbent paper. Repeat process until all mixture is cooked.
To serve, place a large spoonful of the relish onto a plate. Place a piece of crispy fish on top. Garnish with sliced pickled garlic, chopped salted duck egg and chopped coriander. Serve with side dishes of rice, sliced cucumber and steamed (peeled) prawns.