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This easy fish amok recipe is for Cambodia’s national dish. Succulent fish is steamed in banana leaves with a luxurious blend of coconut milk, kroeung paste, and a symphony of spices. The result is a deliciously creamy and flavorful curry custard that captures the soul of Cambodian cuisine.
What is Amok Fish?
Fish amok is one of the most emblematic Cambodian dishes, and it’s often called Cambodia’s national dish.
In the Khmer language, the dish is referred to as Amok trei. The word “trei” means fish, while amok refers to being steamed in a banana leaf.
The traditional fish used in fish amok is snakehead fish. This freshwater fish is native to Cambodia’s Tonle Sap River and found in many dishes, including fish amok
To easily make this simple Cambodian fish amok recipe, you can substitute snakehead fish for catfish or tilapia. You want to use a firm, mild, white fish fillet that can hold up well to steaming.
Fish amok is a traditional Khmer dish that is steamed in banana leaves. It consists of succulent white fish marinated in a mixture of coconut milk, kroeung paste, and red chili paste.
The result is a fish soaked in a creamy and flavorful curry custard-like sauce that is spectacularly delicious.
Is Amok Thai or Khmer?
Fish Amok is commonly associated with Cambodian cuisine. Other Southeast Asian countries have similar dishes where fish is steamed in banana leaves.
For instance, in Thai cuisine, “Hor mok Pla” is a fish curry steamed in banana leaves.
While both dishes involve steaming fish in a flavorful coconut-based mixture, they have different
combinations of herbs and spices.
While exploring the local food specialties in Malaysia, we also came across a similar dish known as “Otak-Otak.”
Popular in both Malaysia and Singapore, this dish was made with ground fish and different spices and ingredients.
Fish Amok History
The history of fish amok, or amok trei, is largely unknown and based on speculation.
One version says fish amok was created in the old Khmer Empire from the 9th to 15th centuries. It was a regal dish with a recipe handed down through generations.
Another more likely version claims the dish was created by the people living near Tonlé Sap Lake, with easy access to snakehead fish.
During the murderous Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979, much of the country’s people, heritage, and culture were destroyed.
In recent years, Cambodians have been rediscovering traditional Khmer recipes like fish amok.
Once a special occasion dish, fish amok today is considered a national dish and is easily available throughout the country.
Traditional recipes for fish amok vary, with professional chefs and home cooks adding their own special touch.
To make an excellent Cambodian fish amok recipe at home, you want to get the paste and steaming right.
Make the yellow kroeung spice paste using the traditional method with a mortar and pestle.
And, steam your fish amok in banana leaf baskets for the best results.
Discovering Fish Amok Recipe in Cambodia
Fish Amok was one of the dishes we fell in love with while exploring the local food specialties in Cambodia.
Amok is a favorite dish among visitors and can be found on menus of many restaurants across the country.
While in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia’s capital city, we took a cooking class to learn how to make fish amok.
We made this traditional Cambodian dish using a mortar and pestle. It was steamed in banana leaf baskets that we carefully assembled.
What we loved most about fish amok was its moist texture and depth of sweet, salty, and tangy flavors.
We’re excited to share this Cambodian fish amok recipe and can’t wait for you to also fall in love with Cambodia’s national dish.
Fish Amok Recipe – How To Make Cambodian Amok Fish at Home
Fish Amok Ingredients
- Firm white fish – catfish or tilapia
- Yellow kroeung paste
- Fish sauce
- Granulated sugar
- Red chili paste
- Shrimp paste
- Coconut milk
- Banana leaves
Ingredients For Yellow Kroeung Paste
Ingredients For Garnish
- Coconut cream
- Kaffir lime leaves
- Fresh red chili
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: If you love fish and are looking for other traditional fish recipes with fish from around the world, see our favorites below:
Fish Amok Recipe Tips
When making this Cambodian fish amok recipe at home, use high-quality fresh ingredients.
For rich and aromatic flavors, use fresh herbs and spices, including lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and galangal.
Choose a firm white fish like catfish or tilapia that will hold up in the cooking or steaming process.
Aim for tender fish and a creamy curry mixture, and have fun decorating your fish amok with sliced red chilis.
Fish Amok Recipe Substitutes
An herb and spice mix, Kroeung is one of the most essential ingredients in Cambodian cuisine.
In this simple fish amok recipe, we make our own kroeung paste using a mortar and pestle.
This paste contains lemongrass, galangal, turmeric, kaffir lime, and garlic.
You can skip this step by using this Cambodian lemongrass paste. However, keep in mind this is not the traditional method of making fish amok, though it saves you time.
What Fish to Use For Cambodian Fish Amok
In Cambodia, the traditional fish used for making fish amok is snakehead. It’s a freshwater fish with a firm flesh used in many Cambodian traditional recipes.
If you don’t have access to snakehead fish, choose a firm and mild-flavored fish. Catfish or Tilapia are good options as they are firm and hold well during the steaming process.
Fresh Coconut Cream and Milk
For the freshest flavors and taste, we recommend using fresh coconut cream and coconut milk.
If you don’t have access to fresh coconuts to press your own coconut milk and cream, you can use canned versions.
Where to Find Kaffir Lime?
You can order Kaffir lime leaves on Amazon if you can’t find any in your area. As an alternative, you can use lime zest as a substitute.
The zest from fresh limes creates a similar citrus aroma and flavor to kaffir lime leaves. Use the zest of one lime for every two kaffir lime leaves required in this fish amok recipe.
What If I Don’t Have Banana Leaves?
You can find banana leaves at most Asian grocery stores. If you don’t have any in your area, you can also order banana leaves from Amazon.
Alternatively, though not the traditional Khmer recipe, you can wrap the fish in parchment paper or even aluminum foil.
In this case, cut the paper or foil into rectangular pieces and be sure to seal the edges tightly to prevent steam and liquid from escaping.
To cook your Cambodian fish amok, use a large steamer pot.
What to Serve With Fish Amok
Serve your traditional Cambodian fish amok in a traditional manner with a side of steamed rice. This will bring out the delightful flavors of Cambodia and Southeast Asia.
Fish Amok Recipe Step by Step Instructions
Blend Ingredients for Yellow Kroeung Paste
Finely chop up all the ingredients for the yellow kroeung paste and blend using a mortar and pestle for a smooth paste. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can use a food processor.
Fish Amok Recipe
For Yellow Kroeung Paste
- 2 stalks lemongrass finely chopped
- 1 1-inch piece galangal peeled and minced
- 2 fingerroot finely chopped, substitute with fresh ginger
- 1 piece turmeric peeled and minced
- 5 cloves garlic minced
- 1 large shallot minced
- 5 kaffir lime leaves finely chopped
For Fish Amok
- 1 tbsp coconut cream
- 1 piece of thinly-sliced kaffir lime leaf
- 1 red chili finely sliced for garnish
Yellow Kroeung Paste:
- Finely chop all Ingredients for the kroeung paste. Start by placing the lemongrass in a mortar and pound gently into a paste.
- Now add the galangal and continue to pound. Next, add the fingerroot or ginger and turmeric.
- Place the shallots, garlic, and kaffir lime leaves in the mortar and smash into a smooth paste. If you do not have a mortar and pestle, you can blend it using a food processor.
- Mix the yellow kroeung paste, coconut milk, fish sauce, sugar, salt, and shrimp paste in a large bowl.
- Cut the fish into 1-inch pieces and add to the bowl. Toss well to coat with the paste, then gently fold in the beaten eggs.
- Take the banana leaves and cut 4 rounds with a diameter of about 8 inches (20 cm).
- Fold the banana leaves into baskets using two rounds per basket and use toothpicks to hold in place.
- Fill each banana basket about halfway with the fish amok mixture.
- Fill a large saucepan with 1 inch of water and place a steamer basket inside. Place the filled banana leaves in the steamer basket and cover it with a lid.
- Steam the fish amok gently until the mixture is set, about 20 minutes. Check to see that the fish is firm and the fish cooked thoroughly. The dish should be moist and not dry.
- Remove the banana leaf baskets from the steamer. Decorate with chopped kaffir lime leaves and red chili strips and drizzle with some coconut cream.
- Serve immediately while hot with a side of rice. Enjoy your homemade Cambodian fish amok!
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Claire is co-founder of Authentic Food Quest and a lover of simple and exquisite cuisine. Since 2015, with her partner, Rosemary, she has been traveling the world as a digital nomad, creating content about local food experiences.
Her advice from visiting 45 countries and more than 240 food cities has been featured in Lonely Planet, Business Insider, Honest Cooking, Food Insider, and Huffington Post. She has also co-authored three books, including one in collaboration with Costa Brava Tourism.
An ex-mechanical engineer, Claire is responsible for SEO, keeping the website running, and the fun food & travel videos on YouTube.
When Claire is not eating, she can be found running or cycling. Find out more about Authentic Food Quest