Fish Amok is a classic Khmer dish. It’s usually steamed and served in a banana leaf with a little coconut cream on top but I adapted it for us to make at home. Almost every restaurant in Cambodia, from luxury to low-end has it on the menu. The subtle flavors of lemongrass and kaffir lime go perfectly with a flaky white fish. Most food lovers who come to Cambodia fall in love with Fish Amok. I know I did!
The Khmer empire was a powerful state in South East Asia, lasting from 802 AD to 1431 AD. From the 9th to 15th century the Khmer Empire built the temples known as Angkor Wat – about 15 minutes north of Siem Reap. The Khmer cuisine has ancient roots with flavors from Thailand and Vietnam.
Unfortunately, during the 1970’s under the Khmer Rouge, many of Cambodia’s traditional recipes that had been passed on for centuries were forgotten and vanished from the kitchen. Now there is a big movement to restore Cambodian Khmer cuisine to its former glory. Fish Amok is one of the traditional dishes that every family has a different recipe for.
Here are a few Fish Amok dishes I enjoyed in Cambodia. You can see they are quite different
Fish Amok is a healthy, flavorful dish with a beautiful color. Cambodians love this rich and luxuriant dish. It’s often called Cambodia’s national dish and is considered a special occasion dish.
‘Amok’ refers to the process of steaming – it often has a texture that is similar to a custard. Making Fish Amok in the traditional style requires pounding your own kroeung (spice/herb paste). It takes a bit of time but is worth the trouble.
I learned how to make Fish Amok at a cooking class in Phenom Phen. Here you can see me pounding the kroeung (lemongrass paste) in class.
When I tested this recipe at home I couldn’t get a few of the traditional ingredients (no banana leaf, no galanga, no keffir lime) so I improvised. I found my new version was very similar to the recipe we made in cooking class.
The first thing you have to do is make the kroeung. It comes out best with a mortar and pestle but can be made in a food processor. In Cambodia, they use galangal, keffir lime peel, shallots, garlic, lemongrass, red chili, and turmeric. Since I didn’t have galangal I substituted ginger and used regular lime peel. They use Thai bird chili’s which are available in many stores but I couldn’t find it so I used a dried Thai chili. All the ingredients are pounded together until you get a coarse paste.Once that’s done the rest is easy.
In many Cambodian restaurants, banana leaves are used as a bowl. It’s the traditional way. Since I couldn’t find any banana leaves, I used the clay bowls I bought in Vietnam. You can also use a 2 cup pyrex bowl. It has to be able to go into a steamer to cook. I used my vegetable steamer. If you have a steamer basket, unscrew the middle piece to allow the bowls to sit flat.
The Cambodian Fish Amok recipe includes kaffir lime peel which again I used regular lime peel. Also, shrimp paste which I left out but you could substitute anchovy paste. Any white fish can be used. I used cod, but halibut or tilapia would also work.
Some cooks top the amok with coconut cream, but it’s optional. I actually made the coconut cream and then did the entire photo shoot without it. I forgot. Oops! To make coconut cream simmer 1/2 cup coconut milk in a small pan until it thickens, about 5 minutes.Print
A version of traditional Cambodian Fish Amok you can make with easy to find ingredients
- ¼ teaspoon kaffir lime peel
- ¼ teaspoon galangal, julienned
- 40 grams lemongrass, white part only, about 6 thin stalks
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 shallots
- 1 small red chili
- ¼ teaspoon fresh turmeric
- 2 organic egg yolks
- 1 heaping tablespoon lemongrass paste
- 1/2 teaspoon (kaffir) lime peel, coarsely chopped
- 3 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1/8 teaspoon shrimp paste (optional)
- 2 teaspoon palm or coconut sugar
- 2 tablespoon chili paste (I used red curry paste)
- 2/3 cup coconut milk
- ½ lb white fish, cod, tilapia, halibut, cut into chunks
- 2 tablespoons coconut cream, for garnish (optional)
- In mortar and pestle, pound lime peel and galangal into a paste.
- Add lemongrass and continue to pound into a paste.
- Add turmeric, garlic, shallots chili and pound until you get a smooth paste.
- In a bowl, mix together all the ingredients except fish and coconut cream.
- Add fish and marinate 5 minutes. Set up a steamer on the stove.
- Fill two 2 cup pyrex bowl or 2 clay bowls or 2 banana cups with the mixture.
- Put in a steamer and cook for 20 minutes until the custard is set.
- Garnish with coconut cream and red pepper or chili.
- Cuisine: Cambodian
I hope you enjoy this little taste of Cambodia in your kitchen.
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