Last year, Mark Wiens and I had a meal together in Bangkok, and this dish, called yum pla duk foo, was one of the many things we enjoyed. If you missed that video, here it is.
In this video, I declared that I can't think of another dish that I prefer to this dish, which is a bold statement. And after thinking about it some more, I still stand by that. It is one of my, and my brothers', all-time-favourite dishes. The fish is fluffed up and fried until golden and crispy. The savoury crunch is contrasted by the fresh tart green mango salad—it's truly a match made in heaven and there are no other dishes quite like it.
Traditionally this dish uses Thai charcoal-grilled catfish (pla duk yang), which is widely available on the streets of Thailand. But considering what we're doing to it, it really doesn't matter much which kind of fish you use, and indeed Thai people routinely use various other types of fish when the catfish isn't available. In this video I go with tilapia which is a versatile, inexpensive white fish I usually have in my freezer. This method also works with shrimp, FYI!
SAFETY NOTE: After watching the frying of the fish, you may feel intimidated to try it, and I felt the same way the first time I made it! Let me assure you though that AS LONG AS you take the precautions I mention, you will be fine. So: LEAVE PLENTY OF ROOM for the oil to bubble up so it won't overflow and catch fire (that would be bad!!). My rule of thumb is: don't fill the oil any more than ⅓ of the depth of the pot/wok, and the oil only needs to be about 1-inch deep so you don't need a lot! For maximum fluffiness, I mentioned that the oil should be about 400F (like my second round of frying in the video) but if you feel a little scared by the aggressive oil bubbling, you can drop the fish at 375F and it won't be as aggressive (like my first round), and either of them will be delicious. While we're on this subject, it's always a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, so something to think about if you don't already have one!
Watch The Full Video Tutorial!
All my recipes come with step-by-step video tutorials with extra tips not mentioned in the blog post, so make sure you watch the video below to ensure success - and if you enjoy the show, please consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. Thank you!
- Thai chilies, to taste
- 2 Tbsp finely chopped palm sugar
- 2 Tbsp fish sauce
- 2 Tbsp lime juice
- ½ shallot, thinly sliced
- 1 heaping Tbsp dried shrimp, chopped
- 1 sour green mango, julienned (see note)
- 2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
- 250 g fish meat of any kind
- A pinch of salt or 1 tsp soy sauce
- 3 Tbsp roasted peanuts
- Oil for frying
Note: When choosing mango, "sour" is more important than "green". So as long as the mango is very sour, it might be softer or yellower (like mine in the video) you'll be fine.
Cut the fish into chunks, season with soy sauce or salt, then steam for 5 minutes until the meat is fully cooked. If you don't want to steam the fish, you can cook the fish however you like, as long as you don't create a browned crispy crust on the fish (poach, bake, even stir-fry in a pan on low heat). When done, let the fish cool off so you can handle it more easily.
While the fish is cooking and cooling, make the mango salad. In a mortar, pound Thai chilies until there are no more big chunks (chili skin is fine), then add the palm sugar and mash until it's a muddy paste. Add fish sauce and lime juice and swirl until the sugar is completely dissolved. Transfer to a bowl, and stir in the dried shrimp, shallots, and mango. Let sit while you fry the fish.
Once the fish is cool enough to handle, transfer it into a muslin-lined bowl. Wrap the cloth around the fish, twist it to secure the fish in the cloth, and squeeze the fish as hard as you can to get rid of as much liquid as possible (this is why you want to let the fish cool, if it's too warm, you won't want to squeeze hard!).
Transfer the fish to a mortar and pestle, then pound it until it's fluffy and there are no more chunks.
Heat about 1 - 1.5 inch of oil in a wok or a deep pot over high heat to about 400°F, and please read follow the safety notes above! Tip: It will be easier for you to fold the fish if you use a wider pot or wok for this, so you can get to it more easily. Note: for the amount provided in this recipe, you can make 2 batches of fried fish in a pot that is about 9 inches in diameter.
Once the oil reaches temperature, sprinkle about half the fish into the oil, and the oil will bubble aggressively. Use a skimmer to push the edges in to clean up the edges of the fish, then let the fish fry until golden. I like to occasionally push the fish down so the top is submerged, which will help the fish brown more evenly. Once the fish is golden brown, you can fold the fish over into a half circle or whatever shape you like, but this is not necessary. Once the bubbling of the fish starts to slow down, and the fish is golden all over, lift it from the oil with a slotted skimmer and shake the fish several times to remove the oil that is lodged inside the fish. Place on paper towel to drain.
Place the fish on a serving plate and sprinkle with roasted peanuts. Stir chopped cilantro into the mango salad, then serve the mango salad beside the fish. Serve with jasmine rice. Enjoy!