So…I bought this…
Why? As I unwrapped it on my kitchen table, I found myself asking that very question.
Well, here’s the deal with this fish.
The plan was the make Mohinga, a fish stew typically served with rice vermicelli and served for breakfast. While I wasn’t sure if I could stomach eating this first thing in the morning in lieu of my oatmeal, I do remember well enough thanks to Auntie May that this was definitely delicious and therefore definitely worth making for any P.M. hour of the day.
Before settling on the recipe that I used, I read a handful that called for making a fish stock out of a whole fish. While I could buy the fish stock frozen, it would have turned out to be just as expensive as buying the whole fish by the time I bought the stock plus the fish required for the recipe itself. Plus, I did it with that lobster last year. This time, it was just a fish. Easy…right?
Not thinking this through completely, I accidentally bought what was probably the most expensive snapper I could find at the market. As I explained this to Mama Buddha, she exclaimed, obviously appalled at the lack of frugality exhibited by her daughter, “This is a poor man’s fish stew. Auntie May used to use whatever was on sale, and you probably could have even gotten fish bones for free from the fishmonger.” Thanks, Mom, but the damage was done, and I had already accepted the fact that this was going to be a rich man’s fish stew.
As I unwrapped the fish, I found myself frozen, knife in hand, as I saw Flounder’s eye staring back at me, thinking, “SELF! Oh. My. God. What did you do? You bought this fish, and now you have to clean it? Do you know what you’re doing??”
A few minutes later, I talked myself down, consulted You Tube, got clinical about it, and imagined myself back in bio lab staring down a frog.
Problem solved, squeamishness squashed.
As I was about to make the first slice, Mama called back and implore me not to waste such a delicious and expensive fish on the soup. I had to admit that she was right, and decided to instead filet the fish, use the bones for the stock and put the rest in the freezer for a later date.
At the end of the day, I ended up using some previously frozen cod for the actual soup. You might just want to start there.
The stock cooked quickly and became this gorgeous color. The whole aforementioned fish ordeal was worth it just for this.
The rest of the dish was definitely a labor of love; I feel like this took a long time, especially compared to what else I made for this week.
Anyway, this is laid out in the order in which you should make things, assuming you want to make the stock from scratch. If you don’t, just use veggie stock and about 2 pounds of frozen fish cut into small pieces.
For the stock:
1 whole catfish, cleaned
1 lemon grass stalk, bruised
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp turmeric powder
8 cups cold water
For the chili paste:
3 lemon grass stalks, white part only, finely sliced
4 whole fresh chilies, seeded if you want it less hot
4 Asian shallots (or European if you can’t find Asian)
4 garlic cloves, diced
1 inch piece of ginger, finely sliced
For the soup:
2 TB oil
1 tsp turmeric
½ red onion, finely sliced
1 stalk lemon grass, finely sliced
1 inch piece ginger, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
2 tsp shrimp paste
1 tsp sweet paprika
2 TB chick pea flour
4 TB fish sauce
2 Asian shallots, peeled
1 can banana blossoms
2 hardboiled eggs, sliced
Noodles, to accompany
Cilantro, to garnish
Friend shallots, to garnish
First, make the broth
1. Add the catfish, lemon grass, garlic, turmeric and water to a large stock pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, skimming any impurities.
2. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 20 minutes. Strain the broth and remove the fish from the bones. Set aside and reserve the broth.
Second, make the chili paste by throwing all the paste ingredients into a food processor and process until smooth. Or, if you desire a workout, use a mortar and pestle to make a paste.
Next, work on the soup.
1. Heat the oil in large stock pot over medium-low heat and add the chili paste and turmeric. Next add the red onion, lemongrass, ginger and garlic. Cook 5-6 minutes.
2. Add the flaked or frozen fish and coat in the paste. Saute over low-medium heat for about 20 minutes. Add the shrimp paste and paprika. Cook an additional five minutes.
3. Return the stock to the pot and place over medium heat. Add the chickpea flour that has been dissolved in a bit of stock and fish sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes.
4. Add the shallots, eggs and banana blossoms.
5. When ready to serve, eat over noodles and garnish with any number of fixins.
Initially I was underwhelmed…thinking all this work was not worth the end result. Maybe by the time I finished everything I was over it. Maybe I was tired of smelling it. Maybe I just wasn’t hungry. Whatever the reason, my mind did a 180 the next day when I ate it for dinner.
Worth it. SO worth it. Tomato agreed and she said she’d DEFINITELY be making it. And she doesn’t cook.
Dear Apple Crisp… I hope you didn’t lose your lunch over the fish pictures. I felt they were necessary to fully convey my experience.