My family loves Thai food, and whenever we order takeout or dine-in, we pretty much such stick to our favorites. We always order the fresh spring rolls, green papaya salad, a curry of some sort, Pad See Ew and Thai fish cakes with a cucumber relish.
I would never really consider recreating these dishes at home, because I find it’s difficult to recreate the exact flavors and textures, so I usually just leave it to the pros. But because I’m always up for a challenge and because I was craving Thai food, I decided to try my hand at making Thai fish cakes also known as Tod Mun Pla.
I had just finished working the first day of our epic and life-changing five-day Culinary Boot Camp course where the students spend day one learning all about knife skills, organization techniques, hot and cold emulsions and how to butcher a whole fish. We had some extra bass fillets on hand, so I took them home and got to work.
This was a pretty spontaneous culinary adventure, but because I always stock my kitchen with a basic Thai pantry, I was able to make this dish without needing to run out to a Thai market. I get asked by several students on how to best stock a pantry, and to answer this I would need write a whole blog dedicated to this topic (something I’ll work on!), but let’s go over the Thai basics everyone should have on hand to create a balanced flavor compass. Keep in mind the 4 S’s when looking at this list: Salty, Spicy, Sour and Sweet, because all well-balanced Thai food encompasses these 4 harmonious tastes. There are many, many more important Thai staples, but this is a feature of what’s used in the fish cakes and items I always have on hand because they are versatile and cover a small spectrum of the 4 S’s.
Fish Sauce -Salty: This umami bomb is an absolute staple in all Thai (and southeast Asian) cooking because it adds a salty and complex flavor to your food. It balances the sour, sweet and spicy. It’s fairly strong, so you only need small amounts, but it makes a big impact on the overall balance of the finished product.
Thai Curry Paste - Spicy (any color): These pastes are a blended mixture of chilies, aromatic roots, herbs, spices and often dried shrimp. They come in red (made with red chilies), green (made with green chilies) and yellow (turmeric) and their spice levels vary between the different colors. This ingredient is essential when making Thai curries but it’s also a key element to fish cakes. I like to use a dab of Thai curry paste as a meat marinade for maximum flavor. It’s also great for satay!
Limes - Sour: Critical for adding sour to Thai dishes and for balancing the sweet and spicy.
Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce - Sweet: One of my favorite condiments and dipping sauces, this sauce adds a sweet and spicy note to anything and everything. It’s one of the main ingredients in the cucumber relish that accompanies the fish cakes, but it’s also amazing with any fried food such as spring rolls, crab Rangoon and even fried chicken.
Now that you have your list, and understand why all of these ingredients are important to the dish, let’s talk about what Thai fish cakes are. The recipe is based on a puree of lean, white fish, red curry paste, fish sauce, a bit of sugar and egg whites to help the mixture hold together. You then fold thinly sliced green beans into the pureed fish mixture. This is an excellent way of using up previously frozen fish fillets that you don’t know what to do with (defrost them first), or if you’re bored with the same old fish recipes you always make, try this!
Once the mixture has been formed, use a medium-size scoop to portion out the fish cakes.
Lightly oil a flat spatula and press down to form flat cakes (the oiled spatula will ensure there’s no sticking).
Pan fry the cakes on each side until golden brown, and either transfer to a rack or a paper towel-lined tray while you make more cakes.
Platter them up, and serve with a bright, crunchy and crisp cucumber relish. They were so delicious, and completely satisfied my Thai food craving!
Tod Mun Pla (Thai Fish Cakes) with Sweet and Spicy Cucumber Relish
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Yield: 4-6 servings
Active time: 40 minutes
Start to finish: 40 minutes
For the fish cakes:
1 pound white fish fillet such as bass or cod, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons red curry paste
2 egg whites
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 cup green beans, very thinly sliced
Oil for frying
1 lime, cut into wedges
For the sauce:
1/2 cup sweet chili dipping sauce
1/2 seedless cucumber, small dice
2 tablespoons toasted peanuts, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, rough chopped
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1. Place the fish, curry paste, egg whites, fish sauce and sugar in a food processor. Process the mixture until it forms a smooth paste, about 2 minutes. When poked with a spoon, the mixture should be firm and springy.
2. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, and fold in the green beans.
3. Using a medium-size portion scoop, portion the mixture onto a parchment-lined sheet tray. Using a lightly-oiled spatula, press down each mound to form a flattened cake.
4. Fill a wide, heavy pan a quarter of the way with the oil, and heat over medium flame until hot.
5. Fry the fish cakes in batches until golden brown on one side, about 45 seconds. Flip and repeat. Transfer the cakes to a rack set over a sheet tray. Keep warm in a 200° oven.
6. To make the relish, mix together the chili sauce, cucumbers, peanuts, cilantro and fish sauce in a medium-size bowl.
7. Serve the fish cakes on a platter with the cucumber relish and lime wedges.
I know it can be intimidating to make Asian food at home, so join us in our kitchens instead! Every New Year’s Eve, we offer a family-friendly class called Noon Year’s Eve and this year we’ll be cooking up an Asian Adventure including:
- Pork Pot Stickers with Soy Dipping Sauce
- Beef and Broccoli Lo Mein
- Sweet and Sour Shrimp with Pineapple and Steamed Rice
- Ginger Pot de Crème
Yum! Children 6 and older are invited to cook with their parents and guardians, and this class always sells out so don’t wait to sign up here.