Salty and savory Issan laap of fish that can be served either raw or cooked.
In rural Issan, temples are used as schools, with senior monks providing basic spiritual and secular education to youths. Each dawn, the teenage novice monks, attired in orange robes, walk the village streets with their alms bowls to collect food. Their mothers wake up early, often before sunrise, to prepare food for the monks; a meritorious ritual that weaves together spiritual and maternal care.
This Issan laap dish is among the mothers’ favorite offerings for the novice monks. The dish bears an auspicious name and is quick to prepare; it requires few ingredients, most of which can be collected around the house, and a charcoal stove is used to both cook the broth and grill the eggplants.
Whole garlic heads, shallots and eggplants are ash-roasted, covered by the hot charcoals. As the broth is cooking, the fish meat is minced. The hot grilled eggplants, garlic and shallots are added to the fish and minced together. Then, the laap is diluted with the savory broth called naam nuaa (น้ำนัว), along with rock salt, ground roasted rice and ground dried chili.
Just in time, the laap is ready. The mother wraps it in a banana leaf parcel with hot steamed gelatinous rice and herbs. She rushes to the door to await her son, who will open his alms bowl to receive his mother’s handmade food. Without speaking or even meeting her eyes, he grants her a blessing earned by her food and her mother’s love.
This laap can be served either raw or cooked.
Please Note: While Thaifoodmaster does not claim to provide authoritative medical advice, we believe that raw freshwater fish meat consumption is unsafe and should be avoided. Therefore, if you use Tilapia fish meat – or any other freshwater fish – to prepare this dish, we recommend serving it cooked. However, since in Issan it is mostly consumed raw, in the recipe below, we marked the cooking stage of the laap as ‘optional’.
Essential Cooking Skills:
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- 500 g tilapia fish (ปลานิล)
For the savory broth (น้ำนัว ; naam nuaa)
- 2 cups water (น้ำเปล่า)
- 1 stalk lemongrass (ตะไคร้)
- 1 tablespoon seasoned fermented fish sauce (naam pla ra) (น้ำปลาร้าปรุงรส)
Grill charred or roasted ingredients:
- 1 apple eggplants (มะเขือเปราะ) whole, grill charred or roasted
- 5 cloves Chinese garlic (กระเทียมจีน) whole, grill charred or roasted
- 5 pieces shallots (หอมแดง) whole, grill charred or roasted
- 1/2 teaspoon rock salt (เกลือสินเธาว์)
- 1 tablespoon ground roasted glutinous rice (khao khua) (ข้าวคั่ว)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground dried chili (พริกป่น)
Prepare the grill-charred ingredients:
- On a charcoal grill or in a pan, char roast the garlic, shallots and eggplants. Allow to cool, then peel and set aside.
Prepare the fish:
- Clean the fish and fillet the meat, reserving the heads and bones.
- On a cutting board and using a knife, mince the fish meat to a very smooth consistency. As you mince the meat, its consistency will become gooey. Do not use a meat grinder or an electric food processor.
- Add the grilled ingredients.
- Continue mincing and pounding with the knife until they are incorporated into the fish meat. Set aside.
Prepare the savory broth (น้ำนัว ; naam nuaa):
- In a pot bring water, seasoned fermented fish sauce, and lemongrass to a strong boil.
- Add the fish head and bones.
- Skim off any foam and scum floating on top of the stock. Simmer on low heat and reduce to a concentrated stock. Strain and set aside.
Prepare the herbs:
- 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.
Combine the laap:
- In a mixing bowl, bring the minced fish meat to a wet consistency with the savory broth.
- Taste and adjust the saltiness to your liking, using rock salt. It should be salty and savory.
- When you are satisfied with the seasoning, add ground roasted glutinous rice and ground dried chili.
- Add the herbs, and mix.
- Serve raw as is or continue to cook the laap.
Cooking the laap (optional):
- In a pan, over low medium heat, roast the finished laap – including the seasonings and aromatics – until the fish is cooked. Serve warm.