Hello everyone. As promised a few months ago, here’s that mysterious fusion dish/recipe that I was talking about and working on. I don’t want to blow my own trumpet (well, sometimes we just can’t contain ourselves, can we?), but this recipe really is quite special and very delicious too (to me at least). Anyhow, should I just start? Ok, here we go.((1))
‘Ladies and gentlemen from far and wide – welcome and please gather close. Today/tonight, I would like to present to you, a new fusion dish that has been long in the making. A dish of East meets West, Lao meets French,((2)) fish meets potato (and panko bread crumbs). It is a dish like no other – not seen nor heard of before, not made nor tasted before neither (as far as I know), and quite easy on the eye too. I present to you:
Lao fish larb croquettes – aka – khao nom larb pa croquette.’
[there’s pause and silence in the room, and the sound of a chirping cricket can be heard outside]
‘Is that it?’, whispers someone in the back.
‘Excuse me kind sir/madam, with all due respect, this humble dish might look simple (and in fact, the larb croquettes are quite easy to make), but they’re a work of art and made with love, so please give them a chance and have a go at making them, because they taste so saab!'((3))
If my memory serves me correctly, my first taste of croquettes was over a decade ago, when I was working in the suburb of Kensington, NSW. Just behind our building was a hidden convenience/takeaway store managed by an Asian lady (Korean, perhaps?), who served during the lunch break, a handful of the most scrumptious golden parcels of piping hot croquettes from the bain maire.
They were golden brown cylinders coated with flaky/crunchy breadcrumbs and inside them was a mixture of delicious sweet-savoury potato and mince meat/veg combo. They were heavenly delicious, and I usually bought a couple in a paper bag, along with a can of coke and would merrily eat them sitting on the bench under a nearby fig tree, burning my lips and mouth with each eager bite, and watching the rise of steam from their core. They were sensational!
Larb on the other hand – I was virtually born with. I was most likely fed larb, along with sticky rice, at the same time as breast milk. As long as I can remember, Lao gatherings/celebrations often involved the preparation/making of and eating larb. And sometimes, I would help by collecting/washing and slicing the herbs/veg. Larb is the national dish of Laos, and it is essentially a savoury and slightly spicy minced meat salad – dressed/seasoned with a selection of fresh herbs and other classic Lao ingredients.
I’ve made both croquettes and larb several times in the past – and not too long ago, I thought about combining these two favourite dishes of mine together. The hybrid turned out to be very good, if I may say so myself – especially when complemented with the just-a-small-amount-and-once-in-while-is-ok unctuous garlicky homemade mayo/aioli.
Fusion food is not new. In fact, it might even be considered as common/ordinary. Strangely enough, as I prepare/start writing this post on Thursday, my partner enters the room and passes me a copy of ‘entice’ magazine (free, issue 18 [brought to you by beefandlamb.com.au]), and as I flick to the first page, I am presented with a gorgeous photo and recipe for Szechuan Beef Pie. Can you believe it? The synchronicity of events astounds me. I flick the pages some more, and there I see – Thai sticky beef mince stir-fry, Persian spiced lamb shoulder, and Indian green lamb curry. Fusion food is all around us, and rightfully so because Australia is an eclectic/multicultural hub, which I cherish.((4))
Larb and croquettes are both easy to make, and there are several variations to them. Larb pa is very popular in Laos and traditionally, river/freshwater fish are used. It is often prepared and eaten raw (‘cooked’ with lemon/lime juice). I have customized the larb pa component in this recipe so that it works in with the croquettes by thinly slicing the fish into slivers and then lightly sauteing them first. The larb pa flavours are evident in the finished croquettes, giving them a distinctive Lao personality, albeit subtle and variegated.((5))
You can customize these croquettes in several ways. You can use sweet potatoes to give them a lovely orange and sweeter body. You can roll them into any shape you like – ball/globe/round, egg/teardrop/ovoid, cylinder/tube, or perhaps even cube if you want. I used panko breadcrumbs but you can use normal bread crumbs or cornflake crumbs (which tastes extra delicious and crunchy).((6)) You can substitute the fish meat with your preferred choice of meat/protein – chicken, beef, pork, venison or tofu should work just fine. Initially, I wanted to add mozzarella cheese inside these croquettes, but thought that this might be an overkill. In retrospect, I think incorporating cheese might work quite well, giving the larb croquettes another flavour, texture and character – maybe Époisses?
To complement the croquettes, I made a simple yet delicious mayo/aioli which I learnt when I was working in a cafe on Oxford Street. It’s hand whisked and laborious, but well worth the effort, and the garlicky mayo weaves its magic with the croquettes very well. You might be thinking ‘larb and mayo – what is the world coming to?’ Normally, larb and mayo would not mix well together, but the larb component in these croquettes are mellow, and although the croquettes taste divine by themselves, they really do taste more wonderful when dipped in the exquisite mayo/aioli.
These croquettes remind me of nam khao balls, arancini balls, and khao nom krok, although all are distinctly different. Making them was a long and fun experience/day, and they’ve inspired me to be creative with other Lao recipes and ingredients too – for example, making/using sticky rice crumbs, and filling the croquettes with other customized traditional Lao recipes. I’m also inspired to adapt larb to make other fusion dishes – for example, larb pizza or larb fresh rice paper rolls, or maybe larb tacos?!
So there you have it – a new modern Lao-Australian fusion dish called ‘Lao fish larb croquettes – khao nom larb pa croquette’. I hope you like them and give them a try. They’re easy to make and they taste so good. Sern saab!((7)) smile
- 1.5 kg of potatoes
- 1 cup of plain flour
- 4 eggs
- pinch of salt
- ground black pepper
- 2 cups of breadcrumbs
- Extra flour for dusting
- 500 grams of fish flesh
- 1 garlic clove
- 2 Asian shallots
- 1 spring onions
- 1 small knob of galangal
- 2 bird's eye chilies
- 1 handful of mint leaves (roughly chopped)
- 1 handful of coriander leaves (roughly chopped)
- 1 handful of Asian basil (roughly chopped)
- 1 lemon/lime
- 1 Tablespoon of oil
- 1 Tablespoon of fish sauce
- 1 Tablespoon of padaek
- 2 Tablespoon of khao khua (ground toasted glutinous rice powder)
- 3 eggs
- 1 Tablespoon of Dijon mustard
- pinch of salt
- ground black pepper
- 1 cup of oil
- 1 lemon/lime
- 1 garlic clove
- Cooking oil for shallow frying the croquettes
- Prepare the potatoes: Wash and peel the potatoes and cut into quarters. Place the potatoes in a large pot/saucepan, and fill with cold water to fully cover them. Bring to the boil over medium heat and cook for about 30 minutes. When they are done, drain and let them cool down. Transfer to a large bowl and mash with a potato masher. Add 1 cup of plain flour and 2 eggs, and continue to mix/mash together to combine the ingredients. Add a pinch of salt and ground black pepper, and combine into the mixture. Cover and let cool down.
- Make the mayonnaise/aioli: In a large mixing bowl, separate the egg yolks from the egg whites (reserve the egg whites for another recipe/dish). Add the Dijon mustard, salt and ground black pepper, and whisk well together. Gradually add a small amount of the cooking oil each time, and continue to whisk fast until the ingredients are well combined together and start to fluff up. Peel the garlic clove, crush and finely mince, and then add to the mixture. Add the remaining oil and continue to whisk until everything is well combined. Wash and cut the lemon/lime into wedges, remove seeds and squeeze the juice into the mixture. Continue to whisk until the mayo/aioli is well combined and fluffy. Adjust the flavour to suit your palate. What your’re aiming for is a delicious smooth/creamy blend. Don’t over-salt.
- Make the larb: Wash the fish fillets, remove all bones and skin (optional). Cut the fish fillets into long strips about 2 cm wide, and then thinly slice the fish strips into fine pieces. Peel and thinly slice the garlic cloves into slivers. Wash, cut off roots and thinly slice the Asian shallots and spring onions. Cut the skin off the galangal, and then julienne and chop the galangal into tiny cubes. Wash and thinly slice the fresh chilies. Wash and remove the mint leaves from their stems and roughly chop. Wash and cut the root and stem off the coriander and roughly chop the leaves. Wash and slice the lemon/lime into wedges (and remove seeds). Put these prepared ingredients aside. In a fry pan, add 1 Tablespoon of oil and bring to low-medium heat. Add the sliced garlic cloves and fry until light brown. Then, add the sliced fish and gently cook/stir through until just done. Turn off the heat and then transfer the cooked fish (liquid and all) to a large mixing bowl. Add the fish sauce, padaek sauce, khao khua and sliced fresh chilies and combine together. Squeeze in the lemon/lime juice. Add the sliced Asian shallots, spring onions, galangal, chopped mint and coriander leaves and gently combine all of the ingredients together. Adjust the taste to suit your palate. What you’re aiming for is a delicious blend of savoury and herbal with a hint of sour and spicy. Don’t over-season.
- Prepare the croquettes (Part 1): You will be using your hands to create the croquettes, so make sure they’re washed/clean and dry. First, add some flour to your hands and rub together. Place about 2 Tablespoon of the potato mixture in the palm of your hands and roll into a ball. Place the ball on a flour-dusted plate or board and flatten the ball to form a round/circular disc. Place about 1 Tablespoon of the fish larb mixture in the center of the flattened potato disc. Gently and carefully bring the opposite edges of the potato disc to meet in the center. Bring the other opposite edges of the potato disc to the center so that the potato mixture envelops/encloses the fish larb mixture. Then, gently pick up the potato/larb parcel and gently roll between your hands to form a neat ball or egg or log (or whatever shape you like). When you're happy with the shape, place it on a flour-dusted plate/tray and repeat the process with remaining potato and fish larb mixtures to create as many croquettes as you can/like.
- Prepare the croquettes (Part 2): In a shallow dish or plate, add the breadcrumbs and spread out evenly. In a mixing bowl, whisk 2 eggs. Pick up one croquette at a time and dip it in the egg mixture first to cover the surface. Then, roll the wet croquette in the breadcrumbs, ensuring that it is evenly coated. Place the finished/crumbed croquette on a large plate/tray, ready for frying. Repeat the process for the remaining croquettes.
- Cook the croquettes: In a fry pan, add enough cooking oil for shallow frying and bring to medium heat. Carefully add the croquettes and cook them until they're delicious golden brown. Ensure the croquettes are evenly cooked by turning them over with metal tongs. When they're done, remove them from the oil and place them to a plate/tray with paper towel and let them drain. Serve the delicious croquettes piping hot with the mayonnaise/aioli and a wedge of lemon. Garnish with herbs and/or vegetables. Sern saab/bon appetit!smile
[]The gorgeous illustrated image of the fish at the top of the post is from here: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=68377&picture=fish-illustration.[]
[]The word croquette is derived from the French word ‘croquer’ which means ‘to crunch’.[]Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Croquette. A nifty piece of info to know for trivia night.[]
[]For our non-Lao readers, and so we are clear, ‘saab’ or ‘sab’ is Lao for delicious.[]
[]Some people might find fusion food weird/strange or even offensive/disrespectful, especially when dealing with a national dish such as larb. I would like to point out that it was/is not my intention to show any cultural disrespect by creating this larb/croquette fusion dish/recipe. If you happen to find this disrespectful, I would like to apologise and state that I created it simply as a culinary experiment/investigation and in hope of contributing to a more delicious future. Besides, it’s 2014, and interracial and intercultural marriages are now so common/accepted/passe, so why can’t inter-cultural recipes be seen in the same light? Evolution (food included) is inevitable and should be seen as a good thing. Staying static or living in the past can be counterproductive and as unpredictable the future may be, it is also the source of our hope. Am I right?[]
[]There are several variations to larb pa, including larb, goy and bon. For these fish larb croquettes, I’ve decided to thinly slice the fish flesh and not finely mince/pound them in order to maintain a textural element with them. I’ve also omitted some traditional and optional larb pa ingredients, including fish broth/stock, snake beans, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, etc.[]
[]Making you own breadcrumbs from excess bread is a delicious way to not waste bread. Simply, bake the bread in the oven at low heat, and then blitz them in a food processor or with a mortar/pestle to the consistency you want. You can store the breadcrumbs in the freezer for later use. Don’t use stale bread because they will result in stale-tasting breadcrumbs.[]
[]’Sern saab’ is ‘please enjoy your meal’ in Lao – similar to ‘bon appetit’.[]