Assam Fish


It all started with the annual Achar making during CNY many moons ago.
The then "breadwinner" was complaining so much about not enough pickling sauce for the Achar that I decided to make a lot more of the pickling sauce and we ended up with a pot of sauce.

Not wanting to save it due to space constraint in the fridge, I added fish to it, and a new family favourite is born!
Since then, it became the "force" for the annual painstaking achar bottling event; happily slogging away knowing our efforts will be greatly rewarded.

When we were young, my parents will let us have the fillets (fish meat), and they will chew on the fish head. We felt so sorry that our parents were chewing on bones,  that is until we tried the fish head ourselves.
Let's just say from then on, no more fillets for us.
We should have known, Papa is a gifted cook and foodie.

Since the original recipe originated from a pickling sauce where white distilled vinegar is essential and mainly responsible for the sourness, I do without the tamarind paste all these while.

Serving it as a main dish for 120 people recently, I added tamarind/Assam water to stretch the sauce/gravy and to rightfully called it Assam fish. (otherwise, it would be hot and sour fish)

What I like about this dish is it allows you to adjust the level of sweetness, sourness and spiciness by the amount of sugar, vinegar and chilli you add to the sauce. In another word, stick to the ingredients for the paste listed here and play around with amount to be added in.

This tangy sauce is a perfect canvas for all seafood (prawns, sotong, crabs or clams), one may toss in their favourite vegetables along with some tofu puff (tau pok) to soak up the sauce.
Also, you don't have to stick to Batang fish, I have used pomfret, ikan keke, ikan selah, ikan kambong and most recently; ang goli (sea bream).

Give it a final lift by mixing in available fresh chopped herbs such as kaffir lime leaves, daun kesom (laska leaves) or bunga kantan (torch ginger) toward the last part of cooking.

Like all seafood, care should be taken not to overcooked it and serve it immediately.
This is one dish that leaves my guests happily "intoxicated".
I did warn you.

You will need:

300gm shallots
50gm turmeric
30 dried chillies
5 red chilli

1 thumb-sized ginger, thinly shredded
100ml oil
200ml vinegar
150gm sugar
1 teaspoon salt
tamarind paste (golf ball size and mix with 100ml water)

Your preference of Fish

Choice of vegetables
lady fingers
long bean
tofu puff /Tau Pok
fresh unripe pineapple (cut into slices)

Choice of herbs
Torch ginger flower (bunga kantan)
Kaffir lime leaves

1. Grind the shallots, turmeric, fresh and dried chillies to a fine paste. (remove the seeds from the chillies if you can't handle heat)

2. Pour oil into a heated pot. Stir fry the shredded ginger till light brown, then add in the paste and saute until fragrant.

3. Add the vinegar, sugar and tamarind water and bring it to a boil.

4. Put in the fish, pineapple and tofu puffs. Season to taste with salt and bring it to a boil, toss in the fresh herbs and blanch vegetables. Serve hot.

Cooks' Notes:
1. I like my vegetables looking bright and tender-crisp, so I blanch it to preserve the colour and texture.

2. Eggplants are better deep fried or pan fried rather than blanched.

3. Remove the seeds from fresh and dry chillies if you have a low tolerance for heat.

4. If you like it sipping your gravy/sauce, stretch it by adding more liquid (vinegar, Assam water or simply water)

5. Use one type of fresh herb at any one time, do not mix as it may be too overpowering.

Blanching vegetables
Bring a pot of water to boil, add in salt (salt helps to maintain the colour and improve flavour)
Toss in the vegetables in a pot of boiling water and briefly cooked (about 2-5 minutes). When the vegetables are done, drained and then plunge it in ice cold water to stop the cooking process.
Blanch each type of vegetables separately and blanch lighter coloured one first.

Photographs: by the very talented Joyce Ho

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