Grilled catfish laap presents the oily and inherently muddy-tasting freshwater fish within a clean and solid flavor profile. The catfish is first grilled, which adds the much-needed smoke element to complement the fish’s fattiness and helps mask the fish meat’s muddiness.
The fish meat is further deodorized by deploying an aromatic paste – but instead of being used to apply sharp freshness to the dish, the aromatics are roasted before being pounded. This helps to echo the smoke element of the grilled fish and strengthens the umami by introducing reducing sugars from the caramelized shallots.
Moreover, the smoke element is further introduced with the nuttiness of the ground roasted rice.
Please note: When frying the skins, trapped moisture can cause them to explode violently; if possible, sun-dry the skin prior to frying or use a low-heat oven or dehydrator to dry the skins as much as possible. If the above options are not available to you, use a pan with a cover for safety.
Essential Cooking Skills:
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- 400 g grilled catfish (ปลาดุกย่าง) medium size fish
- 5 pieces shallots (หอมแดง) thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons dried Thai bird’s eye chili (phrik kee noo) (พริกขี้หนููแห้ง) fried whole
For the roasted aromatic paste:
- 3 stalks lemongrass (ตะไคร้) bruised
- 5 slices galangal (ข่า)
- 5 pieces shallots (หอมแดง)
- 5 cloves Chinese garlic (กระเทียมจีน)
- 5 pieces kaffir lime leaves (ใบมะกรูด)
- 1 part fish sauce (น้ำปลา)
- 1/4 part seasoned fermented fish sauce (naam pla ra) (น้ำปลาร้าปรุงรส) optional
- 1 part lime juice (น้ำมะนาว)
- 1 1/2 tablespoon ground roasted glutinous rice (khao khua) (ข้าวคั่ว)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground dried chili (พริกป่น)
- Prepare a fresh batch of ground roasted rice.
- Clean, marinate and grill the catfish.
- Separate and collect the meat and skin, discarding the head and bones. Set aside.
- On a cutting board and using a knife, mince the fish meat to a smooth consistency. Do not use a meat grinder or an electric food processor.
Prepare the aromatic paste:
- In a pan and over very low heat roast together with the bruised lemongrass stalks, galangal, shallots, garlic, and hand-torn kaffir lime leaves.
- Roast until the shallots caramelize, the garlic is slightly charred, and the galangal is still moist. Remove from the heat, cut the lemongrass into thin slices.
- Make a semi-fine paste by pounding the grilled aromatics in a mortar and pestle. Set aside.
Prepare the rest of the ingredients:
- Fry the dried bird’s eye chilies, starting with cold oil, until crisp and shiny. Set aside.
- Thinly slice the shallots lengthwise along the growth axis. Set aside.
- Slice the fresh kaffir lime leaves into hair-thin juliennes. Set aside.
- Thinly slice the spring onion. Set aside.
- Roughly chop the coriander leaves. Set aside.
- Pick small young mint leaves and use them whole. Set aside.
- Slice the sawtooth coriander into wide juliennes. Set aside.
Combine the laap:
- In a mixing bowl, add the aromatic paste to the grilled catfish meat.
- Using your hand, mix and squeeze the fish meat to allow the meat to blend with the paste – and also to ensure that there are no remaining fish bones.
- Add the wet ingredients: Add fish sauce.
- Add lime juice.
- Ass fermented fish sauce (optional).
- Using your hand, combine the meat with the seasoning, this time using a crumbling mixing style rather than squeezing.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking. It should be slightly sour over salty.
- When you are satisfied with the seasoning, add the sliced shallots and fried chilies. Keep some of the fried chilies for garnish.
- Add the kaffir lime leaves.
- Mix and crumble the fish meat.
- Add the dried ingredients – the ground roasted rice and the ground chilies – and continue crumbling the fish meat.
- Add the herbs.
- Serve alongside the crispy fish skin. Garnish with fried chilies.