For this curry, Phnom Penh native and Silver Spring resident Vuthy Huot uses salmon instead of freshwater fish. His family prefers the soft, moist, less-fishy qualities of salmon, and its color blends right in with the pale red sauce.
Making the red curry paste from scratch elevates this dish; see the NOTE below.
Serve with rice.
- 1 1/2 pounds skin-on salmon fillets, cut into big chunks (slightly larger than bite-size)
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup homemade or 3/4 cup canned red curry paste (see NOTE)
- 2 cups canned regular or low-fat coconut milk, or more as needed (from more than 1 can)
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- Salt or fish sauce (optional)
- Leaves from 1 small bunch (3/4 ounce) basil (1 cup loosely packed), for serving
- Kaffir lime leaves, for serving (available at some Whole Foods Markets and Asian or Indian grocery stores)
Place the salmon on a plate. Sprinkle it with the black pepper, turning to coat all over. Let it sit for 2 minutes.
Heat the curry paste in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook for about 1 minute or until it is fragrant, then add 2 tablespoons of the coconut milk, stirring until well incorporated.
Add the salmon and turn the pieces gently to coat. Add the remaining coconut milk, stirring gently to combine so the chunks of fish remain intact. Reduce the heat to medium-low; cook uncovered for about 20 minutes, stirring the sauce as needed without breaking up the chunks of fish (a flat spoon works well). If the sauce is bubbling at the edges, reduce the heat to low; that will help keep the fish from overcooking.
Gently stir in the oyster sauce and the sugar; cook over low heat for 10 minutes, stirring only to make sure the sugar has dissolved and is evenly distributed. The salmon should be cooked through and quite tender. Taste for heat; add coconut milk as needed. Taste for seasoning; add salt or fish sauce, if desired.
Remove from the heat. Sprinkle with the basil and kaffir leaves. Serve warm.
NOTE: To make the curry paste (all of which will be used for this dish), soak 13 small, dried red chili peppers in hot water for 15 minutes, then drain, stem and seed them. Discard the water.
Heat a wok over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of coriander and 1 teaspoon of cumin seed; cook for about 5 minutes, stirring once or twice, until fragrant and toasted but not burned. Cool, then grind to a powder in a dedicated spice grinder. Place the following items in a blender: the hydrated chili peppers, 3 tablespoons of chopped shallots, 1/4 cup of finely chopped garlic, 1 teaspoon of finely chopped (peeled) galangal, 2 tablespoons of chopped lemon grass (outer leaves removed) and 1/2 tablespoon of freshly grated kaffir lime zest (optional; the limes are available at some Whole Foods and Indian markets). Puree until smooth, then add the ground coriander-cumin and 1 tablespoon shrimp paste (jarred; available at Asian markets); pulse to form a finely textured paste. The yield is about 1/2 cup.
Adapted from Huot, deputy director/acting Phnom Penh bureau chief of the Khmer Service at Radio Free Asia in Washington.
Tested by Diane Zeleny.
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