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Thursday, June 07, 2012

Spicy Fish Noodle Soup

This recipe is my adaptation of the famous national dish of Burma, mohinga. I am not so shameless as to call my recipe "Burmese-inspired," or "Asian inspired." This is some plain good eating, spicy-hot, made with foods that are available and seasonal, and it's kind of like mohinga.

This dish takes less time to cook than to prep. Just a few notes from the cook:

  1. If at all possible, buy your spices whole, and roast and grind them at home. The difference in freshness is enormous.
  2. Use a small coffee-grinder to grind your spices. Do not use it for anything else.
  3. Dry-roast spices before grinding in a flat-bottomed skillet, preferably cast-iron.
  4. Catfish is the preferred fish for this recipe, but any firm white fish will do.
  5. You can use bean threads, rice sticks, or Chinese wheat noodles. If you can't find any of those, use any kind of pasta, preferably spaghetti.


1 lb catfish filets 1 lb large prawns with shell
2 large yellow onions 2-4 large cloves garlic
10-20 hot Thai chilies to taste 1 can coconut milk
1 2" piece ginger white pepper to taste
salt to taste 2 Tbsp coriander seed
2 Tbsp fennel seed 1 Tbsp cumin seed
2 Tbsp hot red chili powder 1 tsp turmeric
1 Tbsp blachan 1 quart chicken or fish stock
2-3 small zucchinis or pattypan squash, ~1 lb 4 oz asparagus beans or any other robust green bean
4 oz snow peas 4 oz arugula or bok choy or any other leafy green
4 Tbsp oil, preferably peanut oil Optional: raw baby greens

Pour the stock into a saucepan or stockpot, and place on a back burner on a low flame. Keep this simmering till everything is cooked and assembled.

Peel and devein the shrimp, saving the shells. Toss shrimps with white pepper and salt to taste. Halve onions lengthwise, then slice into thin lengthwise slices. Peel the ginger thoroughly (the peel imparts a bitter taste), slice three 1/4" coins from it lengthwise, and toss them into the stock to infuse. Mince the remaining ginger fine. Mince the garlic. Thinly slice the chillies. Put some in the stock and place the remainder on the table to serve with dinner. Dice the squash about 1/2". Slice the beans and remaining vegetables into 1" pieces. Cut the fish into 1" pieces.

Heat a skillet and dry roast the coriander seed, stirring gently. Add fennel seed, stir till it begins to change colour, add cumin seed, stir, and when the cumin releases its distinctive fragrance, turn off and set aside to cool. When cool, grind to a powder.

Pour half the spice powder on the fish, add half the turmeric and chili, and salt to taste and toss gently till the fish is coated with the spices.

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a medium sized skillet, over medium heat. When the oil is shimmering gently, add 1 tsp of the garlic, stir till golden brown, add shrimp shells, stir till pink, then add up to 2 cups water. Turn the heat down if necessary and let cook, stirring occasionally and adding water, until the water is cooked down to about 3/4 cup. Strain into the stock pot and toss the shells.

Heat 1 Tbsp of the remaining oil in the same skillet till shimmering. Add the remaining garlic, stir gently, add 1 tsp of the chopped ginger, stir, then add the prawns. Stir till pink, then add snow peas, leafy greens, salt to taste, stir and remove from heat. The residual heat and the heat of the stock will cook the vegetables to doneness.

Heat the remaining oil in a large saucepan or skillet. Add the onions and stir till browned. Add remaining ginger, stir, add blachan and any remaining spice powders and OPEN THE WINDOWS AND TURN ON THE VENTILATORS! Spoon off about 6 Tbsp of the coconut milk into the pan and stir, lowering the heat if needed. You should have a thin sauce. If not, add more coconut milk, stock from the simmering stock pot on the back burner, and a little water if needed. Add squash and beans and cook for about five minutes or until almost done, adding liquid as needed. Add the fish and let cook for a minute or two, then stir gently. Add more stock as needed to keep from sticking. Add any remaining coconut milk to the stock pot and stir well.

Cook the noodles as directed on the package. Assemble bowls for individual diners, placing raw greens, if using, at the bottom of each bowl, where they will be cooked by the heat of the cooked ingredients. Top with cooked prawns, followed by noodles, followed by fish curry. Pour boiling stock into each bowl and garnish with desired herbs and extra chillies!

Traditionally, mohinga is eaten with fried stuff like chickpea fritters, and eu char kway, the Chinese fried bread, deep-fried shallots, hard-boiled eggs — all those things your doctor tells you you shouldn't be eating. This is why I adapted the recipe.

So? Make and eat shamelessly, only, na?

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