Thai Fish Cakes (Tod Mun Pla)

Thanks to Miranti’s blog The High Heel Gourmet, I’ve been getting into homemade Thai from scratch. It is very different to my usual Italian stuff, but just as delicious in a completely different way. With the batch of thai red curry paste I made, I tried to make thai fish cakes using Miranti’s recipe. Her recipe is special as it doesn’t use any flour or eggs to bind the fish cakes, just fish. She describes how you are supposed to knead the fish until it obtains the texture of playdough. The first time I tried the fish cakes I used frozen panga fish fillets to make the fish paste, and no matter what I tried I couldn’t get it to that texture.

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I also deep-fried the fish cakes, and in hindsight I think the oil was too hot (180ºC/350ºF).

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The resulting fish cakes didn’t stay together very well and ending up being small with a big ‘beard’ of crunchy fish. This is not how they are supposed to look. I am not sure to what extent this was caused by the wrong texture of the fish paste and/or by the oil temperature. They still tasted great, so I was encouraged to give it another try.

In the meantime, I have made my own fish paste successfully by using trout instead of panga. It was very easy!

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For my next try I used store-bought fish paste from the Asian market, and fried them in only about 1.5 cm (1/2 inch) of oil of about 160ºC/320ºF. The fish paste is fresh fish paste, not fermented, and is sold frozen.

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Although the store-bought fish paste wasn’t like playdough, the fish cakes were perfect! The combination of the dipping sauce (thai sweet chilli sauce made from scratch, mixed with cucumber, crushed peanuts, and cilantro) and the fish cakes made with freshly made red curry paste, long beans, and chiffonaded kaffir lime leaves was absolutely divine. I will definitely make these again.

It may require some experimenting and practice to get these right, but once you do, it is actually not such a lot of work even though everything is made from scratch.

Ingredients

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For the fish cakes, about 16 pieces

500 grams (1.1 lb) fresh fish paste (from an Asian market) or fresh water fish to make your own fish paste

2-4 Tbsp kaeng kua basic red curry paste

125 grams (4.5 oz) long beans or grean beans

2-3 Tbsp chiffonaded kaffir lime leaves

1 Tbsp fish sauce

sugar (optional)

oil for frying

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For the dipping sauce

120 ml (1/2 cup) vinegar (I used rice vinegar)

120 grams (2/3 cup) sugar

1 tsp salt

1/4 – 1/3 cup crushed peanuts

1/4 – 1/3 cup sliced cucumber

1-2 fresh red chillies, minced

chopped cilantro, to taste

Preparation

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To make the sauce, combine the vinegar, sugar, and salt in a saucepan.

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Bring to a boil and allow to boil for about 1 minute.

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Allow to cool to room temperature.

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While the sauce is cooling, take the fish paste or make your own. For my first try I used frozen panga fillets that I cut into pieces…

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…and then ground into fish paste in the food processor, adding some salt water.

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I’ll try this again without adding salt water with the lower oil temperature to see if that will work better. The resulting fish paste did look good, even though it wasn’t like playdough.

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Put the fish paste in the food processor if using store-bought. Add the curry paste to the fish paste.

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Process until well mixed.

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Cut the long beans into small pieces, about as long as the beans are thick.

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Add the beans and the chiffonaded kaffir lime leaves to the fish paste…

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…and add the fish sauce.

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Stir to mix. (Do not use the food processor for this, as we don’t want the beans and lime leaves to be pureed.)

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Fry a bit of the mixture to taste whether it needs more seasoning with fish sauce and/or sugar (or possibly more red curry paste).

Allow the mixture to firm up in the refrigerator while you finish the dipping sauce.

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Add the peanuts, cucumber, chilli, and cilantro to the vinegar mixture. Remove the seeds and membranes from the chillis if you like it less hot.

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Stir to mix.

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To fry the fish cakes, heat about 1.5 cm (1/2 inch) of oil in a non-stick frying pan. Heat the oil to 160ºC/320ºF. Make cakes using two spoons and lower them into the oil.

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Fry them for 2-3 minutes per side until golden. Drain excess oil on paper towels.

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Serve the fish cakes hot with the dipping sauce.

Wine pairing

The sweet and sour and spicy dipping sauce (as well as the spiciness of the fish cakes) requires a hefty white wine with some sweetness and good acidity, like a Mosel riesling that is halbtrocken or feinherb (semi-dry) or even an auslese or spätlese that is not dry at all.

Flashback


Peperonata is a classic Italian side dish with bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes. It is good with light meats such as chicken, rabbit or even frog legs. It is simple to make, healthy and very tasty. Instead of eating it as a side, you could also serve peperonata as pasta sauce over penne rigate, or even as a topping for crostini.

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21 thoughts on “Thai Fish Cakes (Tod Mun Pla)

  1. one of my favorite thai dish! We have a Thai restaurant here in Seattle called fish cake factory and they made all kinds of cakes including this traditional one!

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  2. Thrilled you are experimenting and ‘coming our way’ 🙂 ! I make Thai fish cakes at least once a fortnight and absolutely love them! They are meant to look like your fish paste ones – ie, like a medium sized thickish ‘rissole’. Oft they are served without a dipping sauce, just with cucumber and raw onion ‘chunks’ on the side. I finely chop the fish as if for ‘beef tartare’ – I think the mixture is easier to manage that way?! My drink choice perchance differs: beer is classic of course, but since I do not use the beverage too oft, I like a heavier white with a herbal body . . .

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  3. It’s good that you didn’t give up with this recipe. I have made Thai fish cakes once and I also used a food processor to get the right texture.

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  4. Like Eha, I find mincing with a chefs knife the most effective way to make a fish paste, no added water or oil, just aromatics. If the mixture is too tight egg white is the best solution. It’s worth persevering!

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  5. I’ve not made these myself but I have enjoyed restaurant versions…. It was much more the unusual texture that made these enjoyable for me…. must have something to do with the ‘playdoh’ consistency of the raw mix?

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  6. Hat’s off to you, Stefan, for continuing your trek into Thai cuisine. Your cakes in which you used the frozen fish paste look so very good, as Shanna said, a crispy exterior with a delicious center. I doubt that I’ll ever make them but you’ve piqued my curiosity. I’ll be looking for them on menus whenever we go Thai for dinner.

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