For the Laotian New Year this past month, Phet Schwader of Khe-Yo in NYC had his mother come to town to cook with him for a week. We got to watch them cook together, and they in turn shared a recipe for Pouhn-Pa, a dish of poached bass mashed with charred eggplant and chiles. It has the perfect amount of heat and "funk," as Schwader calls it, and is best served with tons of sticky rice.
We were amazed by the large wooden mortar and pestle Schwader whipped out in his kitchen to prepare the dish. However, we understand not everyone may have one at home. If not, pulse the vegetables in a food processor until coarsely chopped, then transfer to a bowl and add in the fish. Flake with a fork and toss until incorporated before continuing with the recipe.
To learn more, read "Word to Your Mother."
Laotian-Poached Black Bass (Pouhn-Pa)
Recipe adapted from chef Phet Schwader, Khe-Yo, New York, NY
Yield: 2 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes
One 2-pound whole black bass, cleaned and scaled
1 tablespoon canola oil
10 kaffir lime leaves
2 lemongrass stalks, smashed and cut into 4-inch pieces
One 2-inch piece galangal root, thinly sliced
4 cups water
3 tablespoons fish sauce, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon sugar
5 small Thai eggplants, stemmed
5 shallots, peeled
5 garlic cloves, peeled
3 green Thai chiles, stemmed
2 jalapeños, left whole and stemmed
2 tablespoons lime juice
Cilantro, for garnish
Sticky rice, for serving
Sliced green cabbage, for serving
Steamed broccoli, for serving
1. Preheat the oven to 375º. On a clean cutting board, cut the fish into 2 skinless fillets, reserving the head and bones. Refrigerate the fillets until ready to use.
2. In a medium saucepan, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the reserved fish head and bones with the kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and galangal. Sweat until aromatic, 5 minutes. Add the water, fish sauce and sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, heat a cast-iron skillet over high heat. Cook the eggplant, shallots, garlic, chiles and jalapeños, turning often, until slightly charred, 5 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to a large piece of aluminum foil set on a baking sheet and fold the edges to form a pouch. Place the baking sheet in the oven and roast until the vegetables are tender, 35 to 40 minutes.
4. Once the stock has finished cooking, strain and return to the pot. Bring to just below a simmer and poach the reserved fish fillets until opaque, 5 to 6 minutes. Gently remove the fillets from the pot and lay out on a plate.
5. Transfer the roasted vegetables to a large mortar and pestle. Roughly mash the vegetables with the lime juice, then season with fish sauce. Add the fish fillets and flake the flesh into large chunks.
6. Spoon the mixture into a serving bowl and garnish with cilantro. Serve with sticky rice, sliced green cabbage and steamed broccoli.