Gaeng Som Pae Sa Pla Chon - Snake Head Fish hot and Sour Soup
Lastly there is the speciality of Gaeng Som Pae Sa Pla Chon (or Pla Krapong, Pla Tap Tim, and other fish - Pla means fish). This version is the recipe dealt with in this post. Pla Chon (ปลาช่อน) is the snake head fish, known as "striped snake-head fish" (Channidae - latin Name) in the West. The Pla Chon fish is a very hard skulled agressive fish, similar in appearance and family lineage to the Pla Duk (catfish) but has a much more agressive look to it as far as the head is concerned. Pla Chon can grow extremely large, which then gets a name change to "Pla Chon yaks" (ปลาช่อนยักษ์), meaning "Giant Pla Chon". The word Pla means fish, but the word "Chon" does not mean Snake Head - it is just a name for the fish.
The meat is more dry and tasty with less fat on it than Pla Duk, and is more expensive to buy. It tastes best fried to a crispy golden color and texture. Pla Chon Tord (fried Snakehead fish) is my favourite freshwater fish of all, and Ganeg Som Pae Sae is always my choice (and that ofmost Thais) when going out to a "Suan Aharn" (a suan aharn is an open air garden restaurant , of which there are thousands in Thailand - Suan Aharn is the preferred place for Thais to go when treating their family or loved ones to a meal, or socializing). A Thai suan aharn is not only wonderful atmosphere, but is also generally better food than any tourist orientated five star restaurant and serves Thai specialities which you will not find in Tourist orientated restaurants. These are served in an attractive and special manner.
Here is a video of a live example of the Pla Chon Yaks
Anyway back to Pla Chon Pae Sa Hot and Sour soup and how to make it;
Traditonally, Gaeng Som Pla Chon is served in a fish shaped hotpot placed on a clay coal fire, which is portable and served individually on the table. You can buy these in Thailand in any general store, and probably in Asian supermarkets close to where you live too. If not you will have to improvise and finde a decent alternative container and do it on the gas flame, which will also work, but it's not as fun to eat and also cannot refill the vegetables whilst it is simmeriing. This is due to the fact that the fish shaped container will be constantly cooking over the coals as you eat, and the act of adding more veg as replacement to that which you have already eaten will thicken the soup and give it an ever increasing tanginess as you go along!
I love to go for the fish whilst still crispy and keep adding veg which softens up as it cooks; The soup is ladled into small personal bowls and refilled time after time. The main vegetable used are "Pak Grached" ( ผักกระเฉด Water Mimosa) (click on link to read my article on this vegetable), White Chinese cabbage, carrots and cauliflower.
Ingredients and preparation method;
One Snakehead fish big enough to fill the fish shaped container (about a 500 gram fish)
a few handfuls of Water Mimosa (you can substitute this for other veg such as celery, but i really recommend to use water mimosa if you can find it, as it is an essential part of the authentic Pae Sa soup), Some white Chinese cabbage, sliced carrot,and cauliflower, and perhaps some green beans. For the curry mixture; Tamarind paste (2 tbspn), 5 cups of water, 3 tbspn of Nam Pla (Thai Fish sauce), 1 tbspn of granulated sugar (or 1 tbspn palm sugar paste), 2 or 3 tablespoons of Gaeng Som curry paste (3 better). The you need some dried chillis (3 to 4), which you should then soak in water. 8 peppercorns, 5 shallots, 3 garlic cloves, some krachai root otherwise known as " Boesenbergia" (Scientific Name:Boesenbergia Rotunda).
If you cant get gaeng Som curry paste you can use red curry paste solong as you can find the Krachai root, but i have found the product already for you on amazon dot com (ad left)
In addition you need a tablespoon of "kapi" (Thai shrimp paste) which you can buy from amazon on below link. Shrimp paste is used in most Curry pastes in Thai cookery, so it is worth buying and keeping in stock. Actually if you have a pestle and mortar, you don't really need the curry paste as the above ingredients can be enough for your own home made curry paste.
If you take this option then mash the ingredients together with a pestle and mortar and use as the curry paste.
Pantainorasingh brand Thai Shrimp Paste - 13 oz
How to Cook;
I assume that you have the clay coal roaster and hot pot, if not then you will have to use a fondue pot or the like, which also works. A mongolian hotpot or sukiyaki plate is also adequate, as seen in the below pic. You will notice that in the below pic, the fish has been already sliced. It simply isnt as much fun as when eating in the Suan Aharn outdoor garden restaurant where everyone demolishes the whole fish. But in truth it tastes just as delicious either way.
Gut and scale the fish, slice along the back fin and remove, then slice it along where the dorsal fin was, slice the sides of the fish diagonally (not too deep) and fry it until it is golden and crisp (you can rub salt on it and leave it for an hour first and it will be tastier).
Then take the shallots,krachai, garlic, tamarind paste, palm or granulated sugar and Nam Pla (fish seasoning sauce) and soaked chilis and mix them together, and put on the heat a little. Add the Gaeng Som, and/or shrimp past,e and mix water in (use a little stock cube if you wish, if not use salt) and bring to simmer.Add some kaffir lime juice. (lemon juice can also be used but it is a bit acrid)
In the below pic you can see that another vegtable has been used - Dork Kae (ดอกแค) , which is a flower.
Then pour the Gaeng Som soup into the hotpot or fish shaped tray on the clay coal roaster and place the fried fish in - the soup will then begin to simmer. place some of the ray water mimosa, chinese cabbage and other veg in the soup around the fish, and serve the rest of the vegetables on a plate for your guests to rip up and refill the soup as the veg gets cooked and eaten up. You will see how the vegetables take up a lot of space when still raw but as they steam in the soup, they reduce and submerge.
Squid Brand Fish Sauce
Suan Aharn (สวนอาหาร)- Open Air Garden restaurants are the best way to eat out in Thailand, and the place to get the best Gaeng Som Pae Sa Pla Chon!
Here is a pic of a typical arrray of dishes eaten by Thai people when out to dinner at a Suan Aharn
If you are in Thailand and wish to try this and other dishes like those in the pic above first hand in a "Suan Aharn Thai" then here are some adresses for you
Bangkok Nontaburi Suan Aharn Thai Isan (this is where the above pic came from)
31/123 Thanon Liang Mueang Nontaburi, Talad Khwan, Ampher Mueang Nontaburi.
31/123 ถ.เลี่ยงเมืองนนทบุรี ต.ตลาดขวัญ อ.เมือง จ.นนทบุรี
458 ซอยลาดพร้าว 94 ถนนลาดพร้าว แขวงวังทองหลาง เขตวังทองหลาง กทม.10310 โทร 0-2530-4060-4
Duen Yee looks very nice and homely and has many different areas with varied atmospheres.
Country side home style;
Suan Aharn Klang Na
Proprietor - Kun Winay 089535 5836, 08 7066 087
Sapan Sung District, Bangkok
คุณวินัย 08-9535-5836, 08-7066-087
เขตสะพานสูง, BKK, Thailand
ถ้าไปไม่ถูกโทรสอบถามเส้นทางได้ที่ เบอร์ คุณวินัย 08-9535-5836, 08-7066-0873
Anywhere you are in Thailand will have a Suan Aharn nearby - love riding on my motorbike in the provinces and stopping by the wayside in the country and eating at the endless number of small country outdoor restaurants known as Suan Aharn - beautiful bouganville trees and flowers around you, to sit at a hand made wooden table made from tree stumps and eat real fresh home made classic Thai garden restaurant food.
You can't beat it.