Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Traditional Khmer Cuisine at The Sugar Palm





While staying in Siem Reap, we wanted to experience traditional Khmer cuisine and were told by our guide Ta to try The Sugar Palm, a five minute Tuk-Tuk ride from our hotel. Warm and inviting, The Sugar Palm occupies the second floor of a classic Khmer style wooden house with subdued lighting, high vaulted ceilings, and most of the seating on a wonderfully breezy wraparound balcony. The ambiance was terrific, with the bar, furniture and dining beds made of dark sugar palm, and the staff walking around barefoot serving authentic Khmer food. One of The Sugar Palm's signature dishes, and a Cambodian classic, is Amok, a steamed fish curry which they served souffle-style. Light and delicious, there is no dish prettier than this delicate fish mousse steamed in a coconut shell or banana leaf bowl, and none so fragrant with its coconut milk, lemongrass, Kaffir lime leaf, and ginger. This dish is a national treasure, and it’s easy to see why. 



Amok Trei (Coconut Fish Curry)
Serves 2

Kroeung (curry paste):
2 dried chillies, soaked
3 cloves garlic
1 shallot
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
3 stalks of lemongrass, trimmed to the tender middle bit and finely sliced
1 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tsp shrimp paste
1 tsp lime zest
1 tsp salt
2 red chilies, finely minced

Amok:
3/4 lb firm white fish, such as cod, diced
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 cups coconut milk
1 tsp shrimp paste
1 egg, beaten

Serving Bowl Options:
4 banana leaves and toothpicks to make bowls
or 2 Coconut Shell halves
or 2 Ramekins

Garnish:
1 tbsp Coconut cream for garnish 
4 shredded kaffir lime leaves
1 tbsp red pepper, julienned


To make the curry paste (Kroeung), pound all the ingredients together with a mortar and pestle or food processor, until all the ingredients have broken down and are quite smooth. 

In a separate bowl, mash the shrimp paste into the coconut milk until it has dissolved, then add the egg and fish sauce. Then add the Kroeung and the fish and mix well.

To make the banana leaf bowls, soften the leaves by dipping them briefly in boiling water, so they're soft and don't crack when being shaped. Then cut them into 9-10" circles, using a plate as a guide. Place two leaves together and mark a square in the middle of the circle — this will be the bottom of the bowl. Then fold each side of the banana leaf, securing the corner with a cocktail stick or staple, until all four sides are pinned and upright. To be extra sure the banana bowls don't leak, you could add a layer of aluminum foil around the outside, them remove it for the final presentation. Or simply use a small ramekin or fresh coconut half to steam the fish curry.

Finally, pour the fish mixture into the banana leaf bowls, ramekins or coconut shells, topping with coconut cream, and steam for about 20 minutes until the mixture is moist and slightly wobbly, but set by the egg. Garnish with some shredded lime leaves and sliced red peppers, and serve with Jasmine rice. Enjoy!