Updated: Feb 18, 2022
One of the most well known Cambodian dishes, Prahok Katiss is a ground pork curry coconut dip that gets its umami flavour from fermented mudfish preserved in brine!
This is one of Cambodia's most well-known dishes outside of Cambodia. Do a google search on Cambodian cuisine and it's one of the first dishes to pop-up. What is it? How can I describe Prahok Katiss? It's part coconut red curry, part pork stir-fry, part vegetable dip tied together with the umami packed fermented fish paste (prahok). A lot going on, but it all comes together in a spicy sweet salty dish that's served with jasmine rice and an assortment of raw crunchy vegetables.
This is actually a new dish for me. I don't remember my mom cooking this often when we were growing up, nor do I remember eating it at any of my Cambodian friend's homes. Which is why I find it so interesting that many people call this the national dish of Cambodia. All the Cambodian people I grew up with in Edmonton barely ate this dish, despite all the ingredients being readily available to us.
My mom and I decided to see what all the fuss was about and attempt to make it. I've now eaten this dish three times in the last two months! It's super easy to cook and extremely flavourful. You get sweetness from the coconut milk and palm sugar, spice from the red curry paste, salt and umami from the prahok, and sour from the tamarind. Sweet, Salty, Spicy, Sour: the Asian cuisine quadruple threat.
Lets talk about Prahok
Prahok originated as a way to preserve fish in the months when fresh fish wasn't readily available. The fish is salted and fermented into a paste and can be eaten with rice or used as an ingredient in multiple Cambodian dishes. When I think of Cambodian cuisine I think of Prahok. It's unique to our cuisine. I have yet to come across it as an ingredient in any other Asian cuisine. More importantly the creation of Prahok was crucial to the survival of the Cambodian people during times of poverty, war, and genocide.
It is an intense salty, briny, funky umami flavour that adds that little bit of something something to a dish. I have been able to find a less intense sauce version, that I use regularly, in the grocery stores in Chinatown. Anytime I call for prahok in a recipe it will be the Pantai brand preserved gourami in brine.
Lets make Prahok Katiss
1. Rehydrate your dried Ancho Chilies in a bowl with warm water. Depending on the size of your chili this could take up to 30minutes (plan ahead). Once soften finely chop the chilies into a paste.
2. Next roast your pea eggplants in a non-stick pan until they start to develop char marks. Once nicely charred remove from the heat, place in a bowl, and set aside.
3. In a medium sized pot heat coconut milk and palm sugar over medium-high heat. Once the palm sugar has dissolved add in the red curry paste and chopped rehydrated ancho chilies. Stir until curry paste dissolves and chilies begin to soften and break apart in the pan.
4. Add chopped garlic, msg, and prahok sauce. Mix thoroughly until the coconut milk begins to reduce and thicken.
5. Once the sauce thickens add your ground pork and stir until cooked through. This should take around 10 minutes. After the pork is cooked add the tamarind paste and charred pea eggplants.
6. Scoop Prahok Katiss into a bowl. Set the bowl in the middle of a large serving platter with chopped raw vegetables arranged around the Prahok Katiss. Serve with jasmine rice on the side.
Prepping the Vegetables
Those of you that do know a bit about this dish will probably notice that I've omitted Thai eggplants which is traditionally one of the main vegetables eaten with this dip. I personally find raw Thai eggplant bitter, but if you want to try it out you should!
1. Cut the ends off the green beans and blanche in boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Remove from the pot and place in an ice bath to prevent further cooking and this will keep the beans bright green in colour.
2. Slice cucumbers and celery into thick diagonal pieces. Slice bell peppers into square or rectangular pieces. Carefully remove endives to keep their shape for scooping. Chop cauliflower into bite sized chunks.
3. Arrange sliced vegetables on the serving platter around the Prahok Katiss and serve with jasmine rice.
1 lbs Ground Pork
1/2 cup Red Curry Paste
1 Large Dried Ancho Chilie
1 1/2 cups Coconut Milk (full fat)
65 grams Palm Sugar
1/2 tbsp MSG
1/2 cup Prahok Sauce (Pantai brand preserved gourami in brine)
2-3 tbsp Tamarind Paste
2 cloves chopped Garlic
1/2 cup Pea Eggplant
1/2 head of Cauliflower
1 Bell Pepper
3 stalks Celery
120 grams Green Beans
2 cups Jasmine Rice
2 cups water
This dip should taste very intense on its own. It should almost be a little too salty, too umami, and too sweet. This is because we need to take into consideration that we are serving it with plain jasmine rice and fresh raw vegetables which will then balance the intense flavours of the dip. If the dip tastes perfectly balanced on its own, it might taste lackluster when you have it with a bite of white rice and cucumber.