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6 ก.ค. 2553

Snake Head Fish Hot and Sour Soup

Gaeng Som Pae Sa Pla Chon - Snake Head Fish hot and Sour Soup

Gaeng Som means sour soup/stew/curry - the word "Gaeng" (แกง) refers to the act of simmering ingredients in a soupy liquid - in English we would call curry, soup, and stew all what Thais call "Gaeng". Gaeng Som has three main types - one from the south which is a Yellow Curry soup and extremely spicy (one of the hottest dishes you can find in Thailand, along with "Kua Kling"), Southern Gaeng Som is usually made with sea bass, or shrims, with and green papaya, or bamboo. Sometimes it is also made with pineapple too. Then there is the reddish tomatoe-soup-like version of Gaeng Som used in Central Thailand, which is a lot milder, normally served with crispy fried catfish, shrimps, or or snakehead fish, and sometimes also with pork, or even tinned sardines or pilchards.

This type is also often served with fried Cha-Om omelette

Lastly there is the speciality of Gaeng Som Pae Sa Pla Chon (or Pla Krapong, Pla Tap Tim, and other fish - Pla means fish). This version is the recipe dealt with in this post. Pla Chon (ปลาช่อน) is the snake head fish, known as "striped snake-head fish" (Channidae - latin Name) in the West. The Pla Chon fish is a very hard skulled agressive fish, similar in appearance and family lineage to the Pla Duk (catfish) but has a much more agressive look to it as far as the head is concerned. Pla Chon can grow extremely large, which then gets a name change to "Pla Chon yaks" (ปลาช่อนยักษ์), meaning "Giant Pla Chon". The word Pla means fish, but the word "Chon" does not mean Snake Head - it is just a name for the fish.

The meat is more dry and tasty with less fat on it than Pla Duk, and is more expensive to buy. It tastes best fried to a crispy golden color and texture. Pla Chon Tord (fried Snakehead fish) is my favourite freshwater fish of all, and Ganeg Som Pae Sae is always my choice (and that ofmost Thais) when going out to a "Suan Aharn" (a suan aharn is an open air garden restaurant , of which there are thousands in Thailand - Suan Aharn is the preferred place for Thais to go when treating their family or loved ones to a meal, or socializing). A Thai suan aharn is not only wonderful atmosphere, but is also generally better food than any tourist orientated five star restaurant and serves Thai specialities which you will not find in Tourist orientated restaurants. These are served in an attractive and special manner.

Traditonally, Gaeng Som Pla Chon is served in a fish shaped hotpot placed on a clay coal fire, which is portable and served individually on the table. You can buy these in Thailand in any general store, and probably in Asian supermarkets close to where you live too. If not you will have to improvise and finde a decent alternative container and do it on the gas flame, which will also work, but it's not as fun to eat and also cannot refill the vegetables whilst it is simmeriing. This is due to the fact that the fish shaped container will be constantly cooking over the coals as you eat, and the act of adding more veg as replacement to that which you have already eaten will thicken the soup and give it an ever increasing tanginess as you go along!

I love to go for the fish whilst still crispy and keep adding veg which softens up as it cooks; The soup is ladled into small personal bowls and refilled time after time. The main vegetable used are "Pak Grached" ( ผักกระเฉด Water Mimosa) (click on link to read my article on this vegetable), White Chinese cabbage, carrots and cauliflower.

Ingredients and preparation method;

One Snakehead fish big enough to fill the fish shaped container (about a 500 gram fish)

a few handfuls of Water Mimosa (you can substitute this for other veg such as celery, but i really recommend to use water mimosa if you can find it, as it is an essential part of the authentic Pae Sa soup), Some white Chinese cabbage, sliced carrot,and cauliflower, and perhaps some green beans. For the curry mixture; Tamarind paste (2 tbspn), 5 cups of water, 3 tbspn of Nam Pla (Thai Fish sauce), 1 tbspn of granulated sugar (or 1 tbspn palm sugar paste), 2 or 3 tablespoons of Gaeng Som curry paste (3 better). The you need some dried chillis (3 to 4), which you should then soak in water. 8 peppercorns, 5 shallots, 3 garlic cloves, some krachai root otherwise known as " Boesenbergia" (Scientific Name:Boesenbergia Rotunda).

How to Cook;

I assume that you have the clay coal roaster and hot pot, if not then you will have to use a fondue pot or the like, which also works. A mongolian hotpot or sukiyaki plate is also adequate, as seen in the below pic. You will notice that in the below pic, the fish has been already sliced. It simply isnt as much fun as when eating in the Suan Aharn outdoor garden restaurant where everyone demolishes the whole fish. But in truth it tastes just as delicious either way.
Gut and scale the fish, slice along the back fin and remove, then slice it along where the dorsal fin was, slice the sides of the fish diagonally (not too deep) and fry it until it is golden and crisp (you can rub salt on it and leave it for an hour first and it will be tastier).
Then take the shallots,krachai, garlic, tamarind paste, palm or granulated sugar and Nam Pla (fish seasoning sauce) and soaked chilis and mix them together, and put on the heat a little. Add the Gaeng Som, and/or shrimp past,e and mix water in (use a little stock cube if you wish, if not use salt) and bring to simmer.Add some kaffir lime juice. (lemon juice can also be used but it is a bit acrid)

you can see that another vegtable has been used - Dork Kae (ดอกแค) , which is a flower.
Then pour the Gaeng Som soup into the hotpot or fish shaped tray on the clay coal roaster and place the fried fish in - the soup will then begin to simmer. place some of the ray water mimosa, chinese cabbage and other veg in the soup around the fish, and serve the rest of the vegetables on a plate for your guests to rip up and refill the soup as the veg gets cooked and eaten up. You will see how the vegetables take up a lot of space when still raw but as they steam in the soup, they reduce and submerge.