Curried Mousse of Red Snapper in Banana Leaf Recipe (Haw Mok Pla)

A common way to prepare Thai curry is haw mok. Traditionally steamed in banana leaf cups, which imparts a special aroma, nowadays Thai restaurants often times take a short-cut by using aluminum foil, which unfortunately gives a metallic taste. It is also possible to steam the fish puree in small cups or as pictured, in small clay pots (be sure to also see our suggestions for banana leaf replacements). If you visit Thailand look for this delicious creamy blend of fish, curry paste and coconut milk in the open markets.

This recipe is adapted from a recipe in Dancing Shrimp by Kasma Loha-unchit. See also additional Haw Mok tips.

If using canned coconut milk, you will need 2-3 cans (depending on the brand) to yield the 4 cups of coconut cream. Do not shake the cans before opening, as cream will rise to the top. Simply spoon the thickest cream from the top of the cans and use for this recipe. On warm days, you may wish to refrigerate the cans to allow the cream to harden, making it easier to separate from the watery parts. If you are making your own coconut milk, use the thick cream from the first pressing of coconut pulp.

Heat 2/3 cup of the coconut cream in a medium-size saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce for a few minutes until bubbly and the oil begins to separate. Add the red curry paste and fry in the cream to release the herb and spice flavors. Stir well to mix the paste in with the cream. When aromatic (3-5 minutes), add the remaining cream. Season with fish sauce and palm or coconut sugar and simmer until the mixture is smooth and well blended. (The curry sauce should be spicier, saltier and sweeter than "to taste" as its intensity will be diluted later on with the addition of the fish and eggs.) Set aside to cool to room temperature.

In the meantime, make the banana leaf cups by cutting the leaves into circles, using a 6-inch round bowl as a guide. Invert the bowl on a section of leaf and cut around the edge of the bowl with the pointed end of a sharp knife. Cut 20-24 circles, avoiding sections of leaves that are split. Gently rinse to remove any sap on the surface, taking care not to tear them. Using two circles for each cup, place the dull sides (i.e., bottom side of banana leaves, usually lighter in color) of the two leaf circles together, crossing the leaf ribs so that the cup does not tear easily. Make a puckered fold about 1-inch deep and staple with a small stapler, or use a short wooden pick. Go to the opposite point of the circle and staple another fold. Then make two more folds in-between these first two folds, so that you end up stapling four equally spaced points round the circle, forming the four sides of the cup.

Haw Mok ready to eatCut the snapper fillets into small, bite-size pieces, or chop coarsely. Place in a large mixing bowl and set aside. Prepare the kaffir lime leaves, basil (leave leaves whole, flower buds may also be used) and red peppers. Mix a tablespoon of rice flour with 2/3 cup of coconut milk(the remaining light milk in the cans may be used for this step) and heat in a small saucepan over low to medium heat, stirring frequently until the mixture thickens to a smooth, white cream. Set aside.

When the curry sauce has cooled to room temperature, add to the fish a third at a time, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon following each addition, to help the fish absorb the sauce. The mixture will thicken as you beat it with the wooden spoon. Add more sauce and continue to beat until all the sauce has been added and the mixture has become very thick and rich. Add 2/3 of the slivered kaffir lime leaves, reserving the rest for decoration. Select and set aside a dozen of the prettiest basil leaves and toss the remainder into the curry mixture.

Beat the eggs well and fold them into the mixture. Wipe the inside of the banana leaf cups dry and fill with the curried fish mixture, making sure each cup gets an equal amount of fish, herbs and sauce. Decorate the top of each cup by first spooning a small dab of the thickened white cream onto the center. Press a basil leaf onto the white background, topping with a few slivers of red pepper and kaffir lime leaf.

Place the filled cups on steamer racks and steam over medium-high heat for 15 minutes. Avoid stacking two racks to steam at the same time as cups on the bottom rack will tend to collect condensed steam dripping from the top rack, while those on the top rack do not get sufficient heat to cook. It is best to steam each rack separately. As soon as the heat is turned off, lift the lid to prevent cooling steam from condensing down into the cups. Remove cups from the steamer rack onto a serving platter.

Serves 8-10 in a family-style meal with other dishes and plain steamed jasmine rice.

Notes:* Frozen banana leaves are available for purchase in our online Thai grocery, but you may also see our suggestions for banana leaf replacements.

Recipe © 2000 Kasma Loha-unchit; top Image © 2011 Thitikarn Puttachaiyong/; bottom Image © Temple of Thai.

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