Another month has past and it’s time for another padaek update. To make things easier, from today forward – all future padaek updates will be made on the 5th of each month (because the padaek was first bottled on the 5th of January which you can read here).
I have decided to start marking the surface level of the padaek mixture (this month with 03 indicating March) to observe how much/quickly the fermentation process is working. Visually, I think the padaek mixture has reduced only a tiny bit since the last update (perhaps only a few millimeters?). There is no pungent or bad smell coming from the jar (which is good), although I’ve not yet opened the lid in which case the situation may be different.
Besides the slight reduction in the padaek mixture, I think the overall colour of the fish/rice bran/salt mix might also have changed colour, and it now looks a little paler than before.
After 2 months, my padaek still has not reduced as much as Ting’s 1 month padaek example here. I’m not sure why, but I think it might possibly be because the fish that we used are a different type/size, giving slightly different results/length of time for the fish to “break down”?1
I haven’t yet transferred the padaek mixture into a new smaller pot or crockery jar as advised by Food from Northern Laos. It is still in its original recycled 2 kg olive glass jar and the lid has remained tightly sealed. I think I will just leave the padaek in its current jar to do its job undisturbed. I’m not being unappreciative of wise advice; it’s just that I’m worried I might disturb and contaminate the padaek if I open the jar and transfer it to a new jar/pot. I hope my theory doesn’t backfire on me.
Besides that – there’s nothing else to report. Hope all is well with you all. Have a great day! Over and out.
- Also, I used rice bran and rested the fish with the salt overnight before mixing in the rice bran and bottling it, whereas Ting used wheat bran and I don’t think she rested her mixture overnight before bottling. Just goes to show that there are different ways to make padaek sauce. [↩]
Its time again folks – time to taste test one of my pickled delights – this time it’s grandma’s pickled onions – can you believe it? Today marks the 31st day since they were preserved on the 29th of January which you can read here, and I’ve been so excited to taste/nom them – which I finally did today with glee.
The recipe involved the preparing/soaking of the onions in a brine solution for 3 days before finally preserving them in a glass jar with the malt vinegar/aromatics mixture. This was a time-consuming process but well worth the effort I believe because today, the final pickled onions spoke for themselves (not literally) – the moreish onion balls were beautifully coloured and saturated in intense juicy flavours, and plump and firm and full of crunchiness with every bite.
The pickled onions tasted so damn good – if I may say so myself. They’re perfect bite size balls of moreishness with just the right amount of acidity/sourness/sweetness. They’re plump, firm and packed full of flavours and reminded me why I found them so delicious in the first place.
I sliced them in half and served them on a platter with other store-bought delights, including smoked chicken, Jarlsberg cheese, olives, stuffed baby capsicum and Jatz crackers – a wonderful offering for a great afternoon tea, complemented with a refreshing glass of crystal white wine.
Initially, I took out a dozen of onions to taste/photograph for this post, but after my partner and I started eating them, we couldn’t stop and before we knew it, the dozen were all gone, so we chopped up another dozen and continued to enjoy them without any trouble at all.
Surprisingly, hours later after eating a copious amount, we did not experience any burps or flatulence; so not only are these pickled onions delicious to eat – they’re also socially friendly and are good to go.
If you get the chance folks, be sure to give this recipe a try – it’s fun and easy to make/follow and totally delicious and addictive too.
By the way, happy Mardi Gras! Wherever you are and however you’re celebrating it, have a fabulous time!
“Khao Lao” or “aharn Lao” (Lao food/Lao cuisine) has received considerable interest and recognition across the world in recent years, Australia included. The coverage of Lao food on Lao Food Safari and Luke Nguyen’s Greater Mekong, not only helped put Lao food on the map, but also celebrate the diversity and richness of Lao cuisine. Even so, the big picture of Lao food remains a mystery to many people, including some Lao people, like myself.
Real Lao food is not easy to find and Lao restaurants are still few and far between. Beyond the surface, there’s more to Lao food than “larb”, “tum mark hoong” and ”khao neow”, and the more I search, the more I realise that there’s an art and charm to Lao cuisine.
Across the world, Lao food in its many incarnations remain an exotic cuisine, but the tables are quickly turning. Lao food is gaining more likes and fans, and becoming a force to be reckon with in the modern culinary scene. In this (two part) post, I would like to share some of my research and observations on Lao food today.
What is Lao food?
The delicious cuisine of Laos is unique in character and rich in variety.1 It is sometimes compared to the food of Northern Thailand, Isan and Vietnam, and although it shares similar dishes with these regions, traditional Lao food is distinctly different and diverse.
Historically, Lao food is influenced by cooking traditions from the north (which is now part of China). Neigbouring regions (including regions of Thailand and Vietnam) have also influenced Lao cuisine, and vice versa – resulting in melting pot regions in Isan, Cambodia and Lanna. French colonial influence is also evident in some of the modern food found in Vientiane and Luang Prabang.2
For a small country, Laos is culturally rich – comprising of many ethnic groups, resulting in unique regional dishes, as well as variations of “national” dishes. Being land-locked and bordered by the Mekong River and lush forests; river and forest produce are important ingredients in many Lao dishes. Lao meals are often prepared from scratch with fresh ingredients that are sourced from subsistence farming or fresh produce markets.
Lao food is sometimes described as rustic, earthy, peasant and simple, with flavours that are pungent, fiery, herbal, bitter, astringent, etc. Lao dishes are distinct to its neighbours in several ways, for example; savoury dishes are usually not sweet, and bitter ingredients are often incorporated in dishes including salads and soups.
There is a Lao saying - “van pen lom, khom pen ya,” which translates to “sweet makes you dizzy, bitter makes you healthy”. This saying not only reflects the Lao’s preference for bitter flavours but also their view of food as having healing properties.3
Laos has the highest per-capita sticky rice consumption in the world.4 Sticky rice, known in Lao as “khao neow” is the staple food of Laos and is considered the essence of what it means to be “Lao”, with Lao people sometimes referring themselves as “look khao neow” (children of sticky rice).
“Padaek” (pungent traditional Lao fermented fish sauce/condiment) is a quintessential Lao ingredient and is used extensively in the preparation of many traditional Lao dishes including “larb”, “tum mark hoong”, “jeow”, etc.
“Larb” (spicy minced fish/meat salad prepared similar to ceviche and tartare) is regarded as the national dish of Laos. It is enjoyed across the country, and there are many variations in neigbouring regions and across the world.
“Tum mark hoong” (spicy green papaya salad) is another popular Lao dish with many variations, and it is often served at most Lao meals with accompaniments including grilled chicken, dried fish/beef and fresh vegetables, etc.
Other celebrated Lao dishes include “khao piak sen”, “nam khao”, “jeow bong”, “gaeng nor mai”, “mok pa”, etc – the list goes on.5
Traditionally, Lao food is eaten with “khao neow”, and with the hands/fingers. A portion of a dish is picked up with a pressed/flattened ball of rice and then eaten. Naturally, soups and noodles are eaten with spoons and chopsticks.
Another distinctive tradition is the use of a “ka toke” (round woven bamboo serving platform) to arrange/serve food on. The “prepared” ka toke is customarily placed on the floor where the meal is served and shared with family and friends. In modern homes, the ka toke is often replaced with the dining table, however, the custom is still upheld at temples when monks are served their meals.
A traditional Lao meal typically consists of a soup dish, a grilled meat dish (fish, beef, ox tongue, etc), sauces (“jeow”), a plate of herbs and vegetables (fresh and/or steamed), and a stew or mixed dish (“goy”,“larb”, “mok”, “khua”, etc), and of course a woven bamboo basket of steaming hot “khao neow”.6
Stay tuned for Part 2 of What is Lao food? – coming soon.
- Ok, I admit it – I’m biased about Lao food but for the right reasons. If you ask anyone (Lao or non-Lao) who has eaten Lao food before, they will agree that Lao food is extremely delicious and well worth the effort to find and taste. [↩]
- Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lao_cuisine. [↩]
- Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lao_cuisine. [↩]
- Reference: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/A-Taste-of-Sticky-Rice-Laos-National-Dish.html. [↩]
- For a list of more Lao dishes, go to : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lao_cuisine. [↩]
- Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lao_cuisine. [↩]
“Khao khua” – Lao ground roasted glutinous rice powder is an indispensable ingredient in Lao cooking. It is used in the final stages when preparing “larb” – Laos’s national dish – where it is sprinkled and mixed into the salad, imparting a delicious distinct toasty/nutty/smokey/grainy/sweet/aromatic flavour and texture to the dish.
Among other Lao dishes, “khao khua” is also used to make a popular spicy Lao dipping sauce (“jeow”) for sour fruits, where it is mixed with other ingredients such as chilies, garlic, shallots, sugar, salt, fish sauce, padaek, etc – creating an intense and powerful sweet/spicy/savoury sauce that complements the sour fruits very well.
Back at home, if my memory serves me correctly, my mum and sister made “khao khua” by simply dry roasting/frying raw/uncooked white glutinous rice (Oryza sativa var. glutinosa) grains (usually outdoors) in a wok/frying pan until it turned golden brown, and then grinding the grains with a coffee grinder (or with a mortar and pestle – the traditional way) until it became a fine powder.
I recently discovered a recipe for “khao khua” by Luke Nguyen on SBS food (where you’ll also find other wonderful Lao and Southeast Asian recipes) where he fries the rice grains with kaffir lime leaves and chopped lemon grass which consequently impart a lovely aromatic fragrance to the dry roasted rice.1
I was not aware of this method and thought it sounded wonderful and simply had to try it.
So, in preparation for a larb inspired recipe that I’m working on, I made “khao khua” using kaffir lime leaves and lemon grass as aromatics, as demonstrated by Luke Nguyen, and it worked a treat! The scent of the kaffir leaves and lemon grass are subtle in the final ground rice powder but is obvious enough to make the method worthwhile.
In the following recipe, I used 3 cups of raw/uncooked glutinous rice, but you can use and make as much as you like, and store the finished product in an airtight container/jar in a cool kitchen cupboard or fridge for several months.
The kaffir lime leaves and lemon grass are optional, and if you’re feeling adventurous – instead of kaffir lime leaves and lemon grass, perhaps you might want to try other aromatics such as galangal, ginger, star anise, cinnamon sticks and chilies? I personally haven’t tried these ingredients to make “khao khua” before but I can only imagine how delicious/wonderful they would make the ground rice grains smell/taste.
Also, if you do not have raw white glutinous rice at hand, perhaps you want to experiment with jasmine or other rice grains instead? Again, I’ve only used glutinous rice before, but I trust the results will be quite similar? If you do use non-glutinous rice grains to make “khao khua”, please let me know how it turns out.
Note: If possible, I advice to dry roast/fry the rice grains outdoors. If cooking it indoors, be sure to have your kitchen well ventilated/windows open because the process can cause a lot of smoky smell. Also, when pounding/grinding the rice grains, be careful to not deliberately inhale the rice dust, especially if it’s been infused with aromatics, because it can cause sneezing.
Besides that, have fun making “khao khua” and stay tuned for a special Lao larb inspired recipe coming soon!
- 3 cups of raw white glutinous rice
- 10 kaffir lime leaves
- 1 lemongrass (roughly chopped)
- Wash the kaffir lime leaves. Wash, crush/bruise and roughly chop the lemongrass into 3 cm pieces.
- Bring a wok or frying pan to medium-high heat. Add the glutinous rice grains, kaffir lime leaves and chopped lemongrass to the wok/pan and dry roast/fry.
- Continually stir the rice grains and aromatics until the rice grains turn to a golden brown colour. Do not leave the grains unattended to ensure that they don’t burn.
- When the rice grains are golden brown, turn off the heat and allow the grains to cool down.
- Remove the kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass pieces from the rice grains (optional).
- Transfer the cooled rice grains (and aromatics) into a mortar and pound the mixture until it is a fine powder. This process can also be done by using a coffee grinder. It is ok to have some large pieces of rice grains in the final mixture.
- Once finely pounded/ground, transfer the “khao khua” into an airtight container/storage jar. It can keep in a cool kitchen cupboard or fridge for several months.
- Used “khao khua” in the preparation of Lao “larb”, “jeow” and other classic Lao recipes. Enjoy!
Did you know?
- In Laos, per-capita sticky rice consumption is the highest on Earth at more than 345 pounds (156.5 kg) per year.2
- Reference: http://www.sbs.com.au/food/recipes/sticky-rice-powder-koa-kore. By the way, I think SBS Food is awesome! [↩]
- Reference: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/A-Taste-of-Sticky-Rice-Laos-National-Dish.html. [↩]
As I’ve previously shared, the homemade salted duck eggs were a huge success, and the 32 day preservation time was well worth the wait. After cooking/boiling all the eggs, I was keen to make more and also to experiment with them in recipes.
I found the level of saltiness and infused aromatics of the egg white and the oiliness/creaminess of the egg yolk (even though the whole egg yolk was not fully “salted”) just right for me at around the 32 day mark. Any longer and I think the egg white would’ve been just too salty.
I am also impressed with the colours of the eggs – their surprising china white albumen (in contrast to the stained muted egg shell) and the golden/amber oily egg yolk were very pleasing to the eye.1
You can enjoy cooked salted duck eggs any way you want – sliced in salads or diced/mashed in eggy sandwiches, or as a side dish/accompaniment to classic comfort foods, such as congee/khao tom, etc.
I wanted to experience these eggs in another form, and after having recently stumbled on a salted duck egg pasta recipe here, which the author praised and recommended, I was inspired to make a salted duck egg fusion (Italian/Chinese/modern Australian?) fettuccine dish that used the wonderful flavours of the salted eggs to its fullest potential, with the addition of a few extra/optional ingredients.
The signature ingredient in the following recipe is undoubtedly the salted eggs – both the aromatic concentrated egg white and the decadently creamy/oily egg yolk.
During the cooking process, the diced/cubed egg white releases its briny flavours into the liquid (so no additional salt is necessary for this dish), creating an exceptionally flavoursome creamy sauce. The oily egg yolks also adds to the equation, with its rich buttery flavours and gritty texture, and when served – they appear as gorgeous golden discs nestled in the fettuccine web.
The use of full cream in the recipe helps accentuate the creamy flavour of the egg yolk, making the dish distinctive and wonderful to enjoy. The mushrooms and asparagus are subtle flavours that harmoniously dances with the delicate creamy flavours. The halved cherry tomatoes, basil leaves, and Parmesan flakes add accents that are not overpowering to the palate neither.
The chopped fried bacon pieces on the other hand provide a bold meaty and textural contrast to the dish, making this fettucine dish even more decadent to savour.
Fettuccine with salted duck egg and creamy sauce is truly a delicious dish that you should consider making. It’s quite easy to put together, and you can substitute some of the ingredients with your favourite alternatives.
The combination of salted duck eggs with a creamy mushroom sauce base was a lovely surprise and we enjoyed the dish immensely. Thank you very much Chinkee for the inspiration!
- 4 salted duck eggs (boiled/cooked and peeled)
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2-3 sprigs of basil
- 2 spring onions
- 2 Tsp of olive oil
- 1 bunch of asparagus
- 5 medium mushrooms (quartered)
- 300 grams of fettuccine pasta
- 6 cherry tomatoes (halved)
- 2 rashers of bacon
- 2 cups of full cream
- ground pepper
- Boil the duck eggs for 20-25 minutes until they’re cooked and then soak them in cold water to cool them down. Once they’re cooked and cool, carefully and gently peel off their shells. Cut the peeled eggs in half (length-ways), scoop out the egg yolk with a spoon and place the egg yolk in a bowl and put aside. Slice and dice the egg white into small/medium cubes.
- Grill or fry the bacon rashers until golden brown and then slice them into roughly 2 cm strips and put aside.
- Cook the fettuccine as recommended on the packet until al dente (around 6 minutes), strain and put aside.
- Peel and wash the garlic cloves. Flatten with a knife/cleaver and roughly chop into chunky pieces.
- Wash the spring onions, trim the roots and roughly chop into 1 cm pieces.
- Wash the asparagus, trim the root ends and diagonally slice into 5 cm pieces.
- Wash and halve the cherry tomatoes. Wash and quarter the mushrooms.
- Wash and cut off about 24 basil leaves.
- In a wok or frying pan, add the olive oil and bring to medium heat. When the oil is hot enough, add the garlic and spring onions and gently fry until brown.
- Add the cream, chopped/diced egg white, asparagus, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. Stir/mix gently.
- Add the cooked fettuccine and gently stir/mix through.
- When ready to serve, add the basil leaves, bacon pieces, and halved egg yolks and gently stir through again.
- Serve immediately with shaved Parmesan, a tip of basil leaves, ground pepper and if you prefer, a couple drops of chili oil. Enjoy with a lovely glass of red or white wine. Bon appetit!
Ingredient you’ll need
Did you know?
- Fettuccine literally translates to “little ribbons” in Italian. It is made of egg and flour (usually one egg for every 100 grams of flour).2
- Asparagus is abundantly packed with nutrition, including a range of B group vitamins, vitamin C and potassium. There is also emerging research that asparagus has bio-active compounds like antioxidants, that help protect the body against future disease.3
- I conclude that homemade salted duck eggs are a lot better/tastier than store bought ones because I can control the level of saltiness of the eggs and what other ingredients/aromatics I add into the brine. [↩]
- Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fettuccine. [↩]
- Reference: http://www.asparagus.com.au/index.php/about_asparagus/spearheadingheal/. [↩]
Ding ding! It is time – time to open up the glass jar and inspect to see if the salted duck eggs are ready to eat, that is. Today marks the 32nd day anniversary of when the duck eggs were preserved in their jar, which you can read more about here.
The length of preservation time for salted duck eggs varies depending on the type/size of eggs used, how much salt was added to the brine solution and of course, how “salty” you want the eggs to taste, but around the 30 day mark is a good time to inspect/review them.
Just as well, because today, the cooked salted duck eggs looked and tasted wonderful – full of china white salty egg white/albumen and decadently rich gritty oily amber egg yolk. Mamma mia – they tasted so delicious! More on that later.
To this date, the jar of salted duck eggs has been safely stored and resting in a cool kitchen cupboard, mostly undisturbed, albeit a few inspections now and then.
Interestingly, on the exterior of the jar, especially around the lid, a copious amount of salt crystals had formed, resulting in a saline exoskeleton and looking rather scientific, and worthy of a few close-up snaps! I believe that this occurred because during the preservation process – pressure has caused the concentrated brine solution to expand/rise and seep/escape out of the jar via the lid gaps, resulting in the formation of this awesome delicate alienesque sculpture.
Anyhow, the salt crystallization looks impressive and I believe it is harmless and has not affected the preservation process or eggs in any negative way. I think it is simply a result of excess brine in the jar.
After removing 6 Muscovy and 2 Call duck eggs from the jar to taste test/sample, I noticed that their shells have been stained by the spices/Shaoxing wine mix which did not rub off easily with my fingers. I placed the eggs into a wok of hot water (in which they floated) and gently boiled them on medium-high heat for about 25 minutes.
When the eggs were ready, I placed them in a bowl under a tap of cool running water to cool them down. By this time, the egg shells had taken another new appearance – this time, a light brown/beige complexion, reminiscent of chicken eggs – odd I know.
When the eggs were cooled (cool enough to handle) – for demonstrative purposes, I cutt them in half, lengthways (with their shells on) to reveal incredibly white egg white, and rich golden gritty oily egg yolks on all the eggs.1
The egg white of the Muscovy duck eggs tasted perfectly salty to me, and the egg white of the Call duck eggs tasted slightly saltier. The egg yolk of both eggs tasted amazing! Rich, oily, creamy, gritty and simply delicious/decadent and they were of the most vibrant/alluring amber/orange colour! I believe that the aromatics/Shaoxing brine mix had worked wonders on the egg yolk, giving them an extremely tasty/complex flavour.
Some of the egg yolks had a firm lighter coloured center in them. I believe that this is because the brine solution did not reach their centers completely, and longer preservation time would ensure a complete/consistent texture in all the egg yolks. Although, personally, I’m glad that I inspected and cooked the eggs when I did because I prefer the egg whites to not be any saltier.
The duck eggs were a success and turned out as I had hoped, and I’m extremely happy with the saltiness (not inedibly salty) of their egg whites. They would make perfect accompaniments for any meal, including congee/tom khao, etc, or served quartered as a side dish or used in salads, or cooked with pasta in a creamy mushroom sauce, which is what I did (recipe coming soon).
Homemade salted duck eggs tastes delicious and I hope you can find the time to make them. The recipe is super easy to follow and the results are extremely rewarding too. Enjoy!
- I recommend that you peel the duck eggs first before slicing/cutting them up and serving/using them, to ensure that no egg shells are lodged/hidden in the egg white/egg yolk. [↩]
Red hot chili peppers (“mark pick” or “mark pet” in Lao) of all sorts are a vital component of Lao food – in fact, I can’t imagine what Lao food would be like without them. It is eaten fresh (ouch!) to complement many meals – sometimes dipped in “khapi”/”gupy” (shrimp/crab paste) to accompany Lao soups such as “khao poon” (vermicelli noodle soup) or Lao pho, or simply raw to punch up the already spicy flavours of a larb meal, etc.
Fresh chilies of various varieties, sizes, shapes and colours are often grilled (along with other ingredients) and then pounded with a mortar and pestle to make the famous Lao “jeow” (Lao spicy condiment/dip/relish/sauce) which exists in various forms and served with most meals. Chilies are also dried and then stored for future use, or pounded to make chili flakes and chili powder which are then used in recipes.
I love eating chilis in all its incarnations (my experiences have taught me to enjoy it sparingly), and my personal favourite use of chilies is to transform them (ground chili powder or chili flakes) into a sublime and versatile chili oil – brewed/infused with sliced/diced ginger and garlic – and to heighten the spiciness of the oil, I also add finely chopped fresh red hot chilies into the mix.
The recipe for chili oil is quite straightforward – made from heating cooking oil with dried ground chili powder/chili flakes and chopped garlic, but I’ve added chopped ginger into the equation because I simply adore the taste and smell of ginger and think that it marries extremely well with the garlic and chili, giving the chili oil concoction/condiment a lovely divine aromatic and flavoursome character/essence.
Additionally, you might also want to experiment and consider adding your other favourite herbs and spices, including shallots, onions, whole black peppercorns, cinnamon stick, star anise, a sprig of thyme, slice of lemon peel, etc.
The following recipe is easy to do but a lot of time is invested in the preparation – slicing/dicing/chopping the ingredients by hand neatly which is what I have done and recommend because it looks and tastes so much better.
This ginger and garlic chili oil will add a deliciously rich, spicy and fragrant flavour and colour to your favourite dishes and recipes, including fish head soup, congee, pho, khao piak sen, etc. Use it sparingly (only a teaspoon or a few drops will suffice) and cautiously, and store it in a cool safe place.
- 3 whole heads of garlic
- 1 piece of ginger
- 20 fresh red hot chilies
- 100 grams of ground chili powder
- 750 ml of sunflower cooking oil
- Peal and wash the cloves of garlic and then slice them thinly and neatly into fine pieces. Wash and clean the ginger and slice them neatly into fine pieces. Wash and thinly slice the fresh chilies also.
- In a saucepan, add the sunflower cooking oil. Bring to low-medium heat and then add the chopped/sliced garlic, ginger and fresh chilies. Stir regularly and gently (be careful it does not splatter into your eyes), ensuring the heat is not too high and the contents does not burn.
- When the garlic and ginger have turned to a light golden brown colour, add the ground chili powder.
- Continue to stir the mixture regularly and gently at low-medium heat until the garlic and ginger have turned a lovely light golden colour. Turn off the heat and let the oil mixture cool down.
- When the oil has cooled down completely, transfer the mixture into a large sterilized glass jar/container.
- Seal with a lid and store in a cool safe place. Enjoy sparingly.
Ingredients you’ll need
Did you know?
- The most jalapeno chilli peppers eaten in one minute is 16 by Alfredo Hernandes (USA) at the La Costeña Feel the Heat Challenge in Chicago, IL, USA on 17 September 2006.1
- Allicin, which is naturally released from garlic when the cloves are crushed or chopped, helps strengthen the immune system as well as containing antibiotic and antifungal properties.2
- Reference: http://www.chillisgalore.co.uk/pages/chilli_facts.html. [↩]
- Reference: http://www.garlicaustralia.asn.au//quick-facts. [↩]
Time is always on the run – please slow down. I can’t believe how first time flies and it only seems like a couple of weeks ago that I attempted to make padaek for the first time and posted about it here on the 5th of January. To be precise, it has been 38 days since that date, and the padaek has been resting and fermenting safely, mostly undisturbed in a cool kitchen cupboard since then.
Time has passed frighteningly quick and I’ve inspected the padaek only occasionally and have never opened the jar (since resealing it the second time at least). Surprisingly and to my content, during this time, my kitchen and home has not smelt like padaek or fishy at all – not that I’m aware of at least, or unless my sense of smell has simply become accustomed to it? Anyhow, no complaints so far – which is comforting to hear.
Today, the padaek continues to look good and promising – I believe. It is slowly yet surely starting to look more like padaek/padaek sauce. In the above photo, notice the small amount of liquid/sauce that has formed on the surface of the mixture? Also, notice how the rice bran and Himalayan pink rock salt mix has settled down quite neatly and gently, forming a pretty sedimentary pattern/effect? Looks a bit like an ant farm without the ants, or those bottled coloured sand art.
Anyway, as a visual comparison to Ting’s 1 month padaek photo at Playing with Food, my padaek has not created as much liquid/sauce and the fish mix in my jar does not appear to have shrunk/reduced as much as her example either. I can only hope that my padaek is simply taking its sweet ol’ time in the fermentation process and more liquid/sauce will eventually develop, and the fish mix will reduce/shrink more also. Only time will tell.
I’ve recently received invaluable advice from Food from Northern Laos about my padaek as I’ve inquired, and I have both good and bad news to share. The good news is that the gluey consistency of the rice bran mix that I was concerned about is fine, so that’s a relief to know. The bad news is that there is potentially too much air at the top of the jar and that it should be minimized as much as possible.
I’ve been suggested to transfer the padaek mix to a smaller pot, preferably with dark sides such as a crockery jar. However, I am worried about opening the jar and transferring the padaek to another storage jar/pot now, in case it disturbs/interferes with the fermentation process. Perhaps, I should just leave it alone for the interim and wait and see what it is like in another month’s time?
Anyhow, as promised, here are the photo updates of the padaek in its current jar and state, taken today – 38 days since making it. I hope the padaek mix continues to ferment properly/successfully without any hiccups. I will post another photo update in about another month’s time. It’s still a long wait until I can sample the padaek at 6 months-1 year’s time, and I’m looking forward to the day, although a part of me also wishes that time does not pass by too quickly. Can one ever be content?1
Until next time, hope all is well for you. Wishing you an awesome day/night on Valentine’s day, too, however you celebrate/enjoy it. Peace and love.
- By the way, I’ve recently read online about home-made pineapple-infused padaek. What a wonderful idea/creation! I can only dream how divinely delicious it would taste and smell like. The flavour possibilities of padaek is quite limitless. [↩]
Growing up (a long time ago – although, sometimes I feel like I still am – I mean, we’re continually learning new things, right?), I remember clearly and dearly the wonderful flavours and dishes of my parents’ home-cooking. Both mum and dad were great cooks (and still are), and I was lovingly brought up and fueled with delicious Lao food at home that’s made me me.
One favourite dish that I remember fondly is the Lao fish soup, known in Lao as “tom pa” – served steamy hot – tasting herbal and medicinal - complemented with garden greens and herbs, spices, tomatoes, and finely balanced with soothing/ravishing Lao umami/noah and sour flavours. So saab.
“Tom pa” is often served as part of a meal, usually alongside another Lao fish dish, for example “larb pa”, “bon pa” or “goy pa” – all famous traditional Lao fish dishes that involves a lot of prep time. Usually, the whole fish would be filleted, and the deboned fish flesh would be made into one of the above dishes, and the remaining fish heads, frames and roe, etc., would be used to make an accompanying fish soup. Sometimes, more fish pieces and garden greens would be added to the soup base, to give it more body and character.
In my family, the fish that we ate when I was growing up included carp, redfin, yellow belly, trout and other Murray River fish, which were usually line-caught by my dad, and sometimes by me too.
To me, the best part of a “tom pa” is always the fish head – cooked whole or halved length-ways if it’s big. It would bathe in the bowl, semi submerged and complete with pearl-like eyeballs, fleshy cheeks, gelatinous skin, and sharp fishy teeth (confronting yet intriguing and inviting at the same time).1
I find it a pity to waste perfectly good/edible foods, and enjoy eating unusual meat parts (including off-cuts, offal, etc.), especially if it’s been masterly prepared to maximize its nutritional and flavour potential. Cooking with fish heads is a great example of this, and just as well because fish heads (and frames) are an excellent source of meat, and packed full of tasty piscine essence and goodness. Yes, I love my fish heads – eyeballs and all.
I truly believe that the fish head is an underrated and neglected part of the fish and should be cooked/enjoyed by more people. It is enjoyed worldwide, and such famous fish head creations include fish head soup, fish head curry, and “kabuto-yaki” (Japanese-style char-grilled fish head), etc.
So, when I saw generous-size fresh salmon heads and frames for sale at the fish market for $1.99/kg, how could I resist? I noticed their fleshy checks and bright clear eyes, and had visions of mum’s comforting home-made savoury/sour/bitter Lao fish soups, and knew that it was time to tackle and share this recipe with you.
The idea of cooking fish heads may not be glamourous or appeal to some people, but believe me when I say that fish head soup tastes delicious! If you’re looking to make an appetizing and satisfying fish soup to impress (and possibly frighten) your friends, nothing packs more divine fish flavours than fish heads, and most fish varieties should work just fine.
There are many ways to prepare a fish/fish head soup, and there are a several variations to the Lao recipe too. The following recipe is a simple one with a few key/core ingredients, and of course you can optionally add vegetables/other seafood, and other ingredients to suit your palate.
I created the recipe based on my memory and experience of eating numerous amounts of fish soups when growing up, often prepared by mum. I have added optional extra ingredients, eg: prawns and mushrooms because I just love these ingredients and think that they work exceptionally well in the soup – adding extra flavours and textures.2
Lao fish soups are traditionally savoury with obvious sour (provided by tomatoes, tamarind paste and lemon/lime juice) and bitter (provided by bitter garden greens eg: “puck kang khom”, bitter melon, watercress, rocket, etc.) flavours. The inclusion of other herbs and spices, including ginger, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and lemon grass help elevate the flavours of this soup to another dimension. I personally like to add a squeeze of lemon/lime juice and a tsp of spicy chili oil (recipe coming soon) to the soup when it is served.
“Tom hua pa” is best served piping hot as an accompanying dish to a Lao meal, or it can be eaten as a whole meal in itself with “khao neow” or crusty bread/baguette. It is a soothing and nourishing dish that is equally ideal for both cold and warm weathers.
Please take note to be extra vigilant of the possible fine sharp fish bones/pieces when eating the soup – they can be dangerously sharp and can cause ill discomfort if accidentally eaten. Besides that, I hope you enjoy making and eating your “tom hua pa”, especially the eyeballs!
- 3 Liters of water
- 1 kg of salmon fish head and frame (or other type of fish)
- 6 cherry tomatoes
- 100 grams of rocket
- 10 slices of ginger
- 10 slices of galangal
- 4 kaffir lime leaves
- 1 lemon grass
- 1 tsp of tamarind paste
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 1 spring onion
- 1 coriander
- 1 onion
- 1 chili
- 1 lemon (or lime)
- 4 mushrooms
- 2 Tbsp of fish sauce
- 1 tsp of salt
- ½ tsp of ground pepper
- First, prepare the fish head and frame. Cut the fish head off the body and then cut it in half (length-ways). Cut the fish frame into 5 cm pieces. Wash and clean the fish head and frame pieces thoroughly to remove any excess slime or scales. Be careful of the sharp bones.
- Prepare the vegetables – wash and halve the cherry tomatoes, wash the rocket, wash and slice the ginger and galangal into 10 thin pieces each, wash the kaffir lime leaves, wash and cut the head of lemongrass into thin slices, peel the cloves of garlic, wash the chili, wash and cut the root and stem off the spring onion and coriander, wash and slice the onion into eighths, wash and quarter the mushrooms, wash and slice the lemon/lime into wedges.
- In a pot, add 3 Liters of water, the chopped fish head and frame pieces, ginger, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, garlic, chili, root and stem of the spring onion and coriander, onion, salt, pepper, tamarind paste and fish sauce. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Stir gently occasionally and skim the surface of the broth with a spoon to remove any foam that has developed whilst cooking.
- Add the cherry tomatoes and mushrooms (and other optional ingredients). Adjust the flavours with salt, pepper and fish sauce to suit your liking.
- Add the rocket into the soup just before serving and stir through gently.
- Serve immediately in a large bowl and garnish with finely chopped spring onion and coriander leaves. Squeeze in lemon/lime juice for extra sour flavour if preferred. What you’re aiming for is a balance of savoury and slightly sour fish flavour.
- Enjoy as a complementary dish in a Lao meal, and serve with hot sticky rice or crusty bread.
Ingredients you’ll need
- Seriously, there is no need to cringe when talking about or eating fish heads – the fish head and most of its parts truly tastes divine. I’ve even been told that eating the fish eyeballs will make you see better – although, I still do wear glasses. [↩]
- I recommend that you should try and keep it simple and not add too many other ingredients to the soup, otherwise it might be an overkill and the original fish head flavours might be lost. [↩]