Dish of Mackerel with Papaya
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Mackerel Braised with Papaya
Thailand - Central

Serves
Effort:
Sched:
DoAhead:  
4 main  
****
1-1/3 hrs  
Most
Mackerel is a prized eating fish in Southeast Asia. This dish is traditionally cooked in the embers of the kitchen fire, but that isn't practical for most of us (see Cooking). It's not a dish for a family dinner, but great to unobtrusively demonstrate your leet skillz, if you have taken the time to develop them (see Serving).



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oz
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Mackerels (1)
Lime, large
Salt
Papaya, green (2)
-- Aromatics
Galangal (3)
Ginger Root
Shallots
Garlic
Chili, medium (4)
Cilantro root (5)
Lemon Grass (6)
-- Broth
Tamarind pulp (7)
Palm Sugar (8)
Peppercorns, white  
Stock or Water (9)
Soy Sauce, Dark
Fish Sauce (10)
-- Garnish
Shallots
Cilantro Leaves
Prep   -   (12 min   (exclusive of cleaning Mackerel))
  1. Clean and behead MACKEREL as needed. I also remove the tails so they fit the pan and serving dish better. Wash thoroughly with warm water.
  2. Juice the LIME, then rub Mackerel inside and out with Lime Juice and Salt. Rinse.
  3. Peel GREEN PAPAYA. Slice about 1/4 inch thick and cut into pieces about 1 inch on a side.
Aromatics   -   (30 min)
  1. Cut grungy parts from GALANGAL and slice as thin as you can (see our Galangal page for how to slice it easily). Slice GINGER thick. No need to peel either as they will be strained out. Mix and pound in a Mortar until well bruised.
  2. Peel SHALLOTS and GARLIC. Cut Shallots in half lengthwise and crush Garlic with the side of your prep knife. Cap and core CHILIS and chop coarse. Chop CILANTRO ROOTS Coarse. Toss them all into the Mortar and pound until moderately crushed.
  3. Remove hard outer layers of LEMON GRASS and crush the lower 5 inches moderately with with your kitchen mallet. Cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces and toss into the Mortar mix.
Broth   -   (25 min - 10 min work)
  1. Chop TAMARIND medium. Crush Palm Sugar Crush Peppercorns lightly. Mix together all Broth items in a saucepan and bring up to a simmer for 5 minutes, or until the Tamarind has dissolved.
  2. Stir in the Aromatics mix and the Papaya. Bring back to a simmer for another 5 minutes or so.
Finish   -   (40 min - 15 min work)
  1. Place Mackerels in a flame proof coverable casserole deeper than they are high (see alternatives Note-11). Bring to a low simmer and simmer very slowly for about 25 minutes (15 minutes if fillets).
  2. Meanwhile:   Prepare Garnish. Peel SHALLOTS, cut in half lengthwise and thin crosswise. Chop CILANTRO small. Mix.
  3. Very carefully remove as much of the vegetables as you can into a strainer with a bowl under to catch the broth. Very Carefully lift out the Mackerels using a wide flat turner. Remove as much debris as you can and place them in a fairly deep oval serving platter. Squeeze Broth out of the solids and strain well. Pour a good portion of it over the Mackerels. Keep the rest hot, you will need it all.
  4. Garnish with Shallot mix and serve warm (see Note-12).
NOTES:
  1. Mackerel:   I use 2 Mackerels. This weight is for whole fish cleaned and head removed. You will need to buy about 2-1/2 pounds of whole fish for this weight. You could also make this dish with fillets, using a weight similar to the cleaned and beheaded fish. This would be less artistic, but much easier to serve, and recommended if serving to folks not accustomed to dealing with fish bones on the plate. For details see our Atlantic Mackerel page, and our Mackerel Family for other mackerels.
  2. Green Papaya:   Weight is after peeling and cutting. These are fully unripe papayas. The seeds within are still mostly white and the flesh is a very pale green. Green papayas are widely available in markets serving South and Southeast Asian communities, particularly Filipino. For details see our Papayas page.
  3. Galangal:   This member of the Ginger family is available from markets serving a Southeast Asian community. It is an essential ingredient, and can be found fresh or frozen. It is very hard. For details and method of slicing, see our Galangal page.
  4. Chili:   Around here we all use Red Fresnos, but Holland Red or similar will be fine. Medium hot green chilis could also be used in this recipe. For details see our Chili Page.
  5. Cilantro Roots:   You probably won't be able to find these, even at farmer's markets - they aren't much used outside of Southeast Asia. The best substitute is thick Cilantro Stems (no leaves), and use a little more.
  6. Lemon Grass:   This is an essential ingredient for Southeast Asian cuisines, and has become quite available here in Southern California. For details see our Lemon Grass page.
  7. Tamarind:   We don't bother preparing the Tamarind Pulp because it will all be strained out. Second best is 4 T from a jar of concentrate. For details and method, see our Tamarind Page.
  8. Palm Sugar:   This flavorful sugar can be found in any market catering to a Southeast Asian community, and in some Indian markets. If you don't have it, use an amber sugar like Turbinado.
  9. Stock:   Stock will, of course, make a richer broth than water. Westerners would automatically presume fish stock (but not mackerel), but East and Southeast Asians will often use a stock different from the main ingredient, such as a chicken or pork stock.
  10. Fish Sauce:   This clear liquid is as essential to Southeast Asian cuisine as it was to Imperial Rome. For details see our Fish Sauce - Introduction page.
  11. Cooking:   Traditionally, the dish would be made up in a clay pot, and placed in the embers of the kitchen fire to cook. Today most Thais just simmer it until the broth tastes right. The writer of the pattern recipe makes it up in a covered casserole and leaves it in an oven set at 175°F/80°C for 2 hours so it never comes quite to a simmer. This low temperature keeps the mackerel very tender, the way he likes it, but he admits the Thais don't mind it a little firm, and nor do I. If you don't have an appropriately shaped flame proof casserole, you could make the dish up in a coverable oven proof casserole and hold it in the oven at his temperature for 2 hours, or at a slightly higher temperature for about 1 hour.
  12. Serving:   Here we presume you have cooked the fish whole, or pan dressed as in the photo - serving fillets is much simpler. After presenting the dish at the table, you can use a fork to fillet the fish right from the serving dish. Be careful not to take the fins. When you have placed fish on a dish, spoon out a good amount of the broth over it and some of the garnish. Once you have removed the fillet on the top side, probably in several pieces, just take hold of the backbone at the head end and pull it off so you can get to the second side. Clear the fins away and serve this fillet with broth and garnish as you did the other. When you are running low on broth, pour on the reserved broth you've been keeping warm. You need to provide each diner with a place to dispose of the rib bones they find in the fillet, and you need a dish for the backbones and fins removed while you're serving. Note that I always eat fish with thin chopsticks (Chinese type) which allows me to easily find and remove any bones as I disassemble the fish on my plate.
  13. U.S. measure: t=teaspoon, T=Tablespoon, c=cup, qt=quart, oz=ounce, #=pound, cl=clove in=inch, ar=as required tt=to taste
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