A finicky guy's exploits in finding gustatory (and other) satisfaction in his kitchen, his neighborhood, and beyond.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Thai-ish Fish Dish

All right — back to the kitchen!  I've enjoyed my weekend of musings about random topics, but it's time once more to cook.  And those flounder filets I impulse-bought from WF (and mis-identified as snapper in yesterday's post) weren't going to stay fresh forever, so I assessed what I had on hand — pretty much everything, thanks to my obsessive-compulsive grocery shopping — and made a Thai-inspired fish stew out of them.

Speaking of food going bad — and what more pleasant way to start out our week together? — I'd always wondered if Kimchi, which is basically rotten cabbage, could ever get too old to eat.  Well, while scanning the bottom shelf of my fridge, looking for the half a lemon I'd stuck in there somewhere, I found not only the lemon, but the answer to my longstanding question.  Yes, Kimchi can rot beyond the point of edibility.  Far beyond.  I unearthed a tupperware containing the remnants of a commercial batch of Kimchi I'd bought at a Korean grocery about — um, this is kind of embarrassing — 4 years ago.

Anyway, the Kimchi was covered in white fuzzy mold — I first mis-diagnosed it as ice crystals — and smelled like Death's favorite cologne.  If Death were a demented old garlic-eating woman sitting next to you at the opera house in Hades, opening little cellophane-wrapped cabbage candies all throughout a performance of L'Elisir della Morte.

I'm not sure that, even after scalding and scouring with soapy water, that tupperware will ever be useable again.  Maybe babushka-woman can store her cologne in there.

Anyhoo, here's how I made my Thai-ish Fish Dish:

First, I sliced my 1 lb of flounder fillets into strips a couple of inches wide.  
Then I sliced 4 cloves of garlic and half and onion into thin slices and made minute dice of a 1-in cube of ginger.   
How do you make minute dice, you ask?  Well, first, you slice the peeled garlic into very narrow (1/8") slices,
Then you stack these slices and slice them into very narrow (1/8") strips.
Then you slice the strips into tiny dice.  I swear this is very different from chopping the ginger.  Your dish will never turn out if you just chop your ginger.
I assembled things I wanted to use for the saucy base of the dish: 1 can of organic coconut milk, a lemon for juicing, a jar of fish sauce.  (This is obviously not the original jar, but Southeast-Asian packaging leaves a lot to be desired, by American standards, and I had to pour the fish sauce out of the disintegrating, leaky bottle it came in and into this jam jar.
Next, I prepared my veggies.  I sliced a carrot, chopped a piece of celery root into bite-sized pieces,  sliced several stalks of celery with their leaves, and cut a handful of grape tomatoes into halves.
 I melted a couple tablespoons of coconut oil in a big pot over a medium flame.  This picture shows the oil, which is a solid at room temperature, before it melted.
When the oil was hot, I added the chopped onion, garlic, and ginger and sauteed for about 3 minutes.
Then I added my spices — a few cardamom pods, 1/2 t of turmeric, 1/2 t of nigella seeds — and stirred the pot for a few seconds.
Then I added the chopped veggies and stir-fried for an additional 5 minutes.
I dumped in the can of coconut milk and an additional half-can of water, plus a tablespoon of fish sauce, stirred it all up, covered the pan, and let it simmer for 10 minutes.
I tasted the sauce at this point, and it seemed to need more salt, so I added another tablespoon of fish sauce.
Then I added the tomato halves and the sliced fish, covered the pot again, and let it simmer on low for another 10 minutes.
I squoze in a tablespoon or so of lemon juice and added a big heap of chopped coriander leaves, stirred it up, covered the pot, and let it all heat through.  In the meantime, I'd cooked a package of penne in salted water.  (If I'd had some kind of Asian noodle, I'd have used that instead.)
I spooned a serving of the pasta into each of our new midnight-blue shallow bowls (I know it looks black in the picture, but it's really a very deep blue) and then ladled some of the fish stew over top.  At the table, we drizzled hot chilli oil impregnated with Szechuan peppercorns over the dish.  
We split a bottle of a very dark, spicy Delawarian ale with this meal.  Had it not been the only beer available, I never would have chosen such a beverage to accompany my Thai-ish Fish Dish, but it turned out to be an excellent foil.

I hope all your foil is excellent this week, too.


  1. Looks great, as always! That picture of horn lady was sad and scary. I'm glad you replaced her.

    By the way, I was inspired to try your baked bananas this past weekend (inspired = had a hankering) and they didn't disappoint. In addition to the bananas, I included apples and blueberries. I wanted to put in walnuts, but had used them all on a salad the night before - doh! We had the baked fruit for breakfast topped with vanilla yogurt and my whole family loved it! So much so, that the next morning I woke up to find my husband making his own version, which turned out more like a fruit crisp. Also delicious!

  2. Yes, when I realized that the horned woman was not photoshopped — that she was a real person — my heart went out to her and I did not feel right using her for a cheap laugh. So I substituted the mask, which is obviously fake.

    Glad to know my influence as a breakfast-food guru is spreading!

  3. Yum! This dish looks delish. Do you think it would work with a fresh water fish instead?

  4. I think any firm-fleshed fish would work fine. The flavors are strong enough to stand up to something fishier too.

    (I am proud of this recipe....this is one of the tastiest things I've come up with all year. Of course, coconut milk is so delicious, it's almost cheating to use it!)

  5. While I love fish, if I serve it here, I will have to sub chicken for the guys. But I think it will still taste great so I'm putting it on my to-make list.

  6. Hey, Debbie. Maybe you could do as they do in the Thai restaurants and offer your version with a choice of proteins: Tofu, chicken, shrimp, beef, or pork! (Make sure you charge extra for the shrimp option.)

  7. For the tupperware, try a ten percent solution of bleach, the old-fashioned kind like clorox. That will kill any fungus and most smells; and plastic is pretty immune to bleach. I keep a spritz bottle of it next to the kitchen sink, all the raw meat cutting boards get a nice spritzing before being put to dry.

    The fish stew sounds delicious, though I'd use a lime instead of the lemon myself.

  8. Great minds think alike! I wanted lime too, but used the lemon since it already had a slice out of it and a lime was the one ingredient I'd forgotten to buy from WF this week.

    I will have to try your clorox suggestion; that container is still smelling foul in a sickly-sweet way.

  9. This looks absolutely scrumptious. But I am terrified of cooking fish, having been raised in the heartland, where anything but beef is a crime and insult to one's masculinity.

  10. You could also make this with thin-sliced beef or even little veal balls. Of course, it would be quite a different dish, but I think good.

    I would consider it très masculin if you girded your loins, walked right up to the fish counter in your local grocery store, and ordered a pound of fish in your most commanding voice.

    I can just hear their response now: "What part of the cow does the "fish" come from?"

    As I spent some considerable part of my childhood in various parts of the heartland, including Omaha, for god's sake, I can relate to your situation.

  11. I'm not sure I'm prepared for fish in this setting. On the other hand, when I was visiting the USA a Viet-Thai restaurant was one of the best places I ate at, so maybe, one day, if I can gather all the ingredients in this heartland of Europe...

    Also, thank you for the insight into chopping vs. minute dices. I tend to go the dice route anytime I'm supposed to cut something edible, so I didn't realise there was such a huge difference. (The size of my dice varies depending on the commodity, of course.) I think it has to do with the way I was taught to cut onion.

  12. Hahaha! That is *exactly* what the would say. When I get back to KS, I'll have to try this recipe and simultaneously reassert my masculinity, which will be crucial to my reassimilation after a week in France with the beau!

  13. Did I ever mention that I was BORN in Kansas? Manhattan, KS, to be exact, so I can just casually mention that I was born in Manhattan and let them think what they will....

  14. Haha - that's rich! :) I guess that makes you a Fort Riley brat?

  15. You got it! My dad's first duty station as a brand-new 2nd lieutenant. He was also stationed in Ft. Leavenworth, KS, for the year I was in 6th grade. So I can claim a certain amount of authenticity as a mid-Westerner.