Thai food can be very inexpensive, especially if you make it yourself – and for me, that’s half the fun. Here in Chicago, you can get good fish at Golden Pacific (on Broadway), or many of the groceries on Argyle Street. Then you can make your own Tod Mun:
Tod Mun Pla (Fried Curried Fish Cakes)
Make the sauce first:
1 T chopped garlic
1 T chopped shallots
1 fresh red chili, 3″ long, minced
1/4 cup rice vinegar
4 T sugar
2 tsp salt
2 T water
1 T peanut oil
1 T ground dry-roasted peanuts
Mash the garlic, shallots and chili to a fine paste in a mortar. Combine the rice vinegar, sugar salt and water in a bowl and place near the stove. Heat the oil in a small skillet and fry the contents of the mortar until golden. Immediately add the liquid ingredients from the bowl, and stir 30 seconds. Pour it back into the bowl, add the ground peanuts, and miz well.
The fish cakes:
1 1/2 lbs whitefish or pike fillets, skin on.
1 tsp salt
2 to 4 T store-bought red curry paste
1 medium egg, beaten
1/2 cup chopped “yard-long” beans (optional)
vegetable oil for deep frying
1 cucumber, peeled and sliced thinly
1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander
Turn the fish fillets skin side down and, holding one end down, scrape all the flesh off with a spoon. Discard the skin. Pound the fish in a mortar a handful at a time, along with proportionate amounts of the red curry paste and salt, until the mixture is fluffy and sticky. When you’re done with all the fish, combine it in a bowl with the beaten egg anf mix well to make a smooth paste. Add the yard-long beans, if desired.
Heat the vegetable oil to 375 degrees in a wok. Have the fish paste and a bowl of water near the stove, as well as a rack to set the finished tod mum on. Make tod mun by dipping your hands in the water, then forming about 3 T of the paste into a flat patty about 1/2″ thick. Fry until they’re a rich golden red in color. Drain on the wire rack.
Serve the tod mun with the sauce, cucumber slices and coriander on the side. Diners spoon some sauce on each tod mun, then top with the cucumber and the coriander.
Note: If you see inexpensive shrimp, you can use them (just call it Tod Mun Gung). Shell and devein the shrimp (simmer the shells in a cup or so of water for 15 minutes to make a shrimp stock to freeze and use in fish soups or gumbo), then chop the meat to a fine paste, and pound in the mortar and continue on as with the fish.
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