For people who care about their food

Thai fishcakes – tod mun pla

Tod mun pla (Thai fishcakes) on a plate with sweet chili dipping sauceThai fishcakes are quite rubbery, but as long as you know to expect that, you can enjoy the delicious flavour of these snacks, which are quick and easy to make.

I was spurred on to make these by my discovery the other day that the BBC Good Food website were suggesting that you could turn salmon fishcakes made the British way into Thai-style fishcakes by throwing in a couple of extra ingredients. I wish I had £1 for every time I’ve seen a recipe claiming to be “Thai” or “Thai-style” just because it’s got a chilli or a bit of lemon grass in it. Tsk.
That is NOT Thai food. It’s Western food with a bit of chilli or lemon grass in it. THIS is Thai food – tod mun pla.

Here’s a proper recipe from Glynn Christian Tastes Royal Thailand (page 25). This is an excellent book which I recommend to you if you’re interested in Thai cooking. (If you can find it – it appears to be out of print now.)

Ingredients

(makes 6-12 fishcakes)

  • 1kg (2¼lb) boneless, skinless white fish
  • 2 tbsp red or green curry paste
  • 4 tbsp plain flour
  • 4 tbsp cornflour
  • 4 eggs
  • 6 tbsp nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
    (Seems a bit of a palaver to carefully pour out six tablespoons. Wouldn’t it be easier to pour 90ml (3 fl oz)?)
  • 2 tbsp palm or white sugar
  • about 250ml (8 fl oz) water
  • 100g (4oz) green beans, finely sliced
  • vegetable oil, for frying

Method

  1. Use a processor to make a paste of the fish. Then add the curry paste, flours, eggs, nam pla and sugar. Slowly add water until you have a thick, sticky paste that holds its shape; you might need more or less, depending on the state of your flour. Fold in the green beans.
  2. Form into small or large patties and either deep-fry or shallow-fry until golden brown; drain and serve with pickled cucumber.

Needless to say, I didn’t follow the recipe exactly. I used about a quarter of the quantities given, which made a generous-sized snack for two. I didn’t have any green beans so I substituted spring onions instead. Also, when I fried up a sample patty to try before frying the lot, both Mr ND and I found that the taste was a little bit bland so I added a finely chopped green chilli. I usually make my own curry pastes (see my recipe for Thai green curry paste) but didn’t have any handy and didn’t have the time or inclination to start from scratch. I’ve never seen a real Thai fishcake made with green curry paste so I just used some red curry paste out of a packet – it was certainly good enough for the purpose.

By the way, these Thai fishcakes are nothing like Western fishcakes so don’t be put off by the mix appearing a bit gloopy, unlike the much drier Western versions. They firm up during the frying process and become quite rubbery – don’t worry, that’s how they’re supposed to be. Unlike the recipe above, I didn’t add any water, as it was quite gloopy enough without it.

Here’s a photo so you can see what the mix looks like before frying, in the hope this’ll give you a better idea.

I shallow-fried mine as it’s much easier to handle and keep the shape of the patties. They’re quite difficult to deep-fry, so I wouldn’t bother. You can serve these with any suitable Thai dipping sauce but the easiest thing is to serve them with a little sweet chilli sauce straight out of the bottle. Mind you, I’d been up all night carving the little fish garnish out of cucumber, so you can’t blame me for cheating a little bit sometimes. 😉

If you try making these, please comment and let me know how you get on. I hope they were aroy (delicious)!

5 Responses to “Thai fishcakes – tod mun pla”

  1. Matt

    Ohhh…so THESE are Thai fish cakes! They look good too! I’m about to make some Thai green curry paste with some chillies I have growing in my window so this’ll be the perfect recipe to try a little of the paste with.

    I am now going to make a sneaky change to my recipe on FFFY to regular salmon fishcakes! (shhh don’t tell anyone)

  2. Not Delia

    LOL! I did wonder whether to say anything or not, but I’d had a bit of a rant about the BBC doing the same. You’re in good company.

    If you want any more info about Thai food, gi’s a shout. 🙂

  3. Amadee T

    This is very funny. You rant about it being authentic Thai or Thai style and yet you yourself omit ingredients, or substitute others. If people are not comfortable using specific ingredients or can not find the necessary ‘Thai’ ingredients to hand or cannot travel to specialised authentic Thai grocery stores, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to substiute and call it Thai “style”. I’m also aware that Thai recipes are handed down from grandmother to grand daughter for example and you will always expect to find variations on a theme, regionally and from family to family. I’ve eaten the same dish prepared by different ‘authentic Thais ‘ and rarely have they tasted the same and I doubt they’d be so anal to suggest their way was the one and only method of preparation, cooking etc.

    Tastes change and international cuisine is available to everyone these days thanks to TV shows, and the internet and now everyone can experiment with various cuisine, thank heavens 🙂

  4. Not Delia

    You’ve missed the point. Yes, everyone has their own way of doing things and most of us use substitute ingredients if desired or necessary. I’m the first to applaud that.

    What I was saying – if you’d read my post correctly – is adding lemon grass, or a bit or chilli, or a chopped lime leaf to what is essentially a Western recipe, doesn’t make it Thai.

    Making a potato-based fish cake with tinned salmon/tuna or whatever, and adding a bit of lemon grass is NOT Thai food. And I don’t think it is perfectly acceptable to call it Thai food. I don’t care at all what other people eat and if they want to eat potatoes with lemon grass that’s just fine by me. But it sure as heck ain’t Thai food, so it would be nice if some of the glossy magazines would stop pretending it is.

  5. Ted

    The two fishcakes dont really have much in common apart from fish, do they?

    Substituting one or two ingredients is one thing. Using a totally different method and a second most important ingredient (potato) thats more or less ignored in Thai cuisine is on a different level altogether. Putting a stick of lemongrass into, say, an Irish stew wouldnt suddenly make it a Thai style dish lol.

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