Assam Fish Recipe from Tiong Bahru Market Auntie

Tonight, I wanted to eat some fish and a lot of it and how should I experiment with the tamarind paste I bought last week while spice hunting, the best I can think of is Assam fish, a soupy dish not too heavy and with some tang. A taste of home, close to peranakan roots.

Being away from home for so long, I barely remember how assam fish taste like and even what kind of fish to cook with. It's 9am and still got time to do some research and start scribbling a rough shopping list. The recipe will find its way. Next up is Tiong Bahru market for some brunch and a visit to the fish monger and some recipe gatherings. It's so insightful when you try ask around, soon enough the fishmonger will recommend the type of fish and the auntie beside you will spell out past down recipe word by word, all you have to do is to nod with some 'orhs' and 'ahhs'. There I have it! The assam fish recipe!

Assam fish is an extraordinarily dish that blends fresh aromatics to a paste. A paranakan dish (Nyonya style) with Chinese culinary methods combined with local or Malay spices. Only a few ingredients are used making it a simple one pot dinner. A unique tangy sour note from the tamarind paste makes it special giving depth and lightness to contrast the aromatic, spicy broth. 

Tiong Bahru market auntie's secret is to use large meaty fish, and shallow fry till golden and brought to a boil on high heat till the broth is milky white. This releases fish oil imparting more flavors to the assam soup.

Any firm large meaty fish (head, middle or tail section) 
1 tablespoon tamarind paste, mixed with 1 cup hot water
5 okra
10 long beans, cut to 5cm length
4 tomatoes, sectioned
2 kaffir lime leaves
500 mL water
light soy sauce to taste
5 tablespoon oil

Spice Paste:
2 stalk lemongrass (White portion)
1 inch balacan (toasted until fragrant on a dry skillet)
15 dried chilies - soak the dried chillies in hot water to soften
20 small shallots, peeled
4-5 garlic cloves
2 knob ginger
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon turmeric powder

Method:In a dry skillet, toast balacan till aromatic. Prepare spice paste by combining balacan with spices, pound with pestle and mortar or blend in a food processor. set aside.

Season fish with salt. On a hot pan, add oil, fry fish until skin is golden, transfer fish to a pot or casserole, Pour in water and bring to rumbling boil. Continue boiling fish for 10 mins or until broth turns a light milky white. In the meantime, fry spice paste till fragrant and add the tomatoes and tamarind juice, continue frying till tomatoes are softened, adding kaffir lime leave, okra and long beans, fry for another 5 mins, Add mixture to fish casserole, cooked till vegetables are soften. Season to taste.

Serve fish with some jasmine rice.
-Till next post, ss.

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