Getting off the very well-trodden tourist trail in
is difficult. But a few weeks ago I managed it on Koh Yao Noi (‘small long island’), off the Andaman coast. Don’t get me wrong, many tourists before me have been there. But not as many as they have Phi Phi, Lanta, Samui and all the other usual destinations. And the number of tourists and tourist attractions are massively outnumbered by the Thai people and signs of normal Thai life. The people are so very welcoming of tourists, but they haven’t changed their lives or their island to suit us. Thailand
The highlight of my trip was meeting Mina. Mina runs the island’s only cooking school and it is without a doubt the best cooking course I’ve ever done. She welcomed me into her beautiful home, surrounded by a lush garden which produces many of the herbs she uses. This is where she showed me her secrets.
|The beautiful kitchen where Mina teaches|
She goes way beyond the standard Thai dishes and taught me things I’ve never before seen on a Thai menu. She cooks with passion and imagination and from the heart. I left elated and hope this will be the first of many visits to cook with her.
|The lovely Mina in action|
This is Mina’s version of Thai fishcakes and it’s heavenly. I have made it twice since, and it has been spot on each time. I’m used to fishcakes being bulked out with potato, breadcrumbs or flour. But these are pure, sweet, delicate morsels of fish, flavoured with a wonderful yellow curry paste (the easiest of the thai curry pastes) and bound only with coconut milk and egg. They are deep fried but when something tastes this good, it’s worth the calories. They make a perfect starter or canapé with a sweet chilli sauce dip.
Time: 40 mins
Rating: Much easier than you’d think!
Serves: Makes 12 balls – Serves 3-4 as a starter or snack
For the curry paste:
3 large dried chillies (soaked in water for at least 30 mins), or if you can’t get these 3 large fresh mild chillies
2 cloves garlic
2 small Thai shallots or ¼ red onion
10 black peppercorns
2tsp turmeric powder (or 3cm fresh turmeric if you can find it)
1 stick lemongrass
1 tbsp yellow curry paste (as above)
300g white fish (barracuda, dory, cod, haddock…up to you)
1 pinch salt
½ tsp sugar
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 kaffir lime leaves
5 tbsp coconut milk (preferably the creamy part at the top of the tin)
Plenty of vegetable oil for frying
1. First make the curry paste. Finely chop the fresh ingredients for the curry paste and combine with the other paste ingredients. Pound/grind into a smooth paste either in a mortar and pestle or food processor.
|Yellow curry paste|
2. Make sure there all the bones have been removed from the fish. Mince finely, either in a food processor or by chopping finely by hand.
3. Prepare the kaffir lime leaves. Cut out the tough stalk from the middle leaving two long halves. With a sharp knife, shred as finely as possible width-ways.
|Shredded lime leaves|
4. Combine all the ingredients for the fish cakes and stir well. You should be left with a moist paste.
5. Fill a wok with oil until it is about 5-6cm deep from the bottom. Heat until it is very hot and a tiny amount of the paste sizzles when dropped in. Spoon out a tablespoon of the mixture and using a second tablespoon, smooth it over to make a neater ball. They don't need to be perfect though, the rustic look suits them. Drop the ball into the oil.
|The mixture ready to cook|
6 .Repeat and cook the fish in batches of 5-6 depending on the size of your wok. Turn them gently while they are cooking. Fry for about 4-5mins until they are nicely browned on the outside.
7. Remove with a slotted spoon and leave to rest on kitchen roll to absorb excess oil.
|Fresh out of the pan|
8. Serve hot with some sweet chilli sauce.