A salty-sweet, water-based chuu chee dish that features a thick, almost dry sauce. The deep burnt-red and shiny chuu chee sauce clings to the skin of the crispy mackerel, gold-colored from frying the fish in pork lard. The aromatic profile of the chuu chee complements the mackerel’s rich, full-bodied flavor.
Although chuu chee is usually made using freshwater fish, saltwater fish, especially mackerel, is featured in chuu chee dishes prepared along the coasts of the Central Plains. This is especially common during the rainy season, when the mackerel is plentiful and of excellent quality.
Short mackerel (ปลาทูไทย), Thailand’s favorite fish, can be prepared in various ways – this is a versatile fish. It can be grilled, fried, boiled or steamed. But, since it spoils faster than any other fish, only those who live by the sea can enjoy fresh mackerel; inland residents must settle for steamed, preserved mackerel. As soon as the fish is caught, it is cleaned and cooked to lock in its ocean flavor, which can then be unsealed and reconstituted by frying the fish.
The preservation process is called ‘steaming’ and, in fact, the fish are placed in round woven bamboo steamers called kheng (เข่ง), in which they are counted and sold in the markets. In reality, the mackerel is cooked in boiling brine and kept in the kheng baskets, where they are left to dry up.
The mackerel can be used either fresh or steamed. You can leave the head and tail on the fish or remove them. Either way, the fish is fried in pork lard until its skin is golden and crispy.
For the paste:
The chuu chee paste is based on a standard phrik khing paste with the addition of white peppercorns and grated coconut flesh. Omitted from the paste is the kaffir lime zest. In addition, I follow Lady Plean Passakornrawong’s (ท่านผู้หญิงเปลี่ยน ภาสกรวงษ์) pattern of increasing the amount of garlic and coriander roots for chuu chee curry pastes. The grated coconut flesh added to the paste provides richness and sweetness that thickens the dish in flavor and texture.
The chuu chee paste is fried in a small amount of the residual pork lard left from frying the mackerel. Care is taken not to burn the paste, but to fry it gradually, frequently deglazing the pan, and installing the dish with the proper ratio of steam to smoke. Once the chuu chee paste has lost its rawness, I like to season the dish. Seasoning the chuu chee when it’s almost dry retains the chuu chee sounds – the fish sauce blasts fragrant smoke as it hits the hot pan, and the palm sugar melts into a caramel that, along with the pork lard, makes the dish shine. After that, we account for the final viscosity adjustments before lowering the fried mackerel into the pan. The sauce should be wet and thick enough to adhere to the fish.
Coriander leaves and kaffir lime leaves.
|White peppercorns (S1)||Kaffir lime zest|
|More coriander roots than usual|
|More garlic than usual|
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- 6 pieces steamed mackerel (ปลาทูนึ่ง) (or 4 larger fish)
- fresh mackerel (ปลาทูสด) or
- pork lard (น้ำมันหมู) for frying the fish
For the curry paste:
- 7 pieces dried 'bang-chang' red long chili (พริกบางช้างแห้ง) deseeded and rehydrated
- 1 teaspoon sea salt (เกลือทะเล)
- 1 tablespoon lemongrass (ตะไคร้) thinly sliced
- 1/2 tablespoons galangal (ข่า) thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon coriander roots (รากผักชี) scraped, washed and chopped
- 1 tablespoon Thai garlic (กระเทียมไทย) thinly sliced
- 1/4 tablespoon shallots (หอมแดง) thinly sliced
- 1/4 tablespoon fermented shrimp paste (kapi)(กะปิย่างไฟ) grilled
- 1 teaspoon white peppercorns (พริกไทย) (S1) roasted and grounded
- 1/3 cup grated peeled coconut flesh (มะพร้าวขาวขูด)
- 1 part fish sauce (น้ำปลา)
- 1/2 part palm sugar (น้ำตาลมะพร้าว)
- kaffir lime leaves (ใบมะกรูด) sliced into hair-thin juliennes
- coriander leaves (ใบผักชี)
Prepare the curry paste:
- An overview of the curry paste ingredients.
- De-seed and rehydrate the dried chilies.
- In a mortar and pestle, pound the chilies with salt into a fine paste.
- Gradually add the other ingredients, from the driest to the wet.
- Last, add the grated coconut flesh and pound the paste until it is smooth with a rounded aroma.
- Remove the chuu chee curry paste and set it aside. Wash the mortar and pestle with about one cup of plain water and reserve the liquids.
Prepare the mackerel:
- Clean the fish. You can use either fresh or steamed mackerel. You can also either keep the heads and tail on or remove them altogether.
- In a pan, melt pork lard and fry the fish until its skin crisp up and is turns deep golden in color then set aside.
Cook the chuu chee:
- Using some of the residual pork lard from frying the fish, fry the curry paste; use water to deglaze the pan when necessary, making sure the paste is properly cooking.
- When the paste is cooked and loses its rawness, add the fried mackerel.
- Stop the frying with plain water and the liquids collected from cleaning the mortar and pestle. Keep the consistency thick and sizzling, but make sure it is not burning.
- Start by seasoning the salty element using fish sauce.
- When you are satisfied with the saltiness, add the palm sugar at the ratio indicated.
Adding the fried mackerel:
- Add the fried mackerel to the pan and gently roll them in the broth until they are fully covered. Do not stir vigorously!