Thai Fish Cake Noodle Soup

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We got a lot of snow this week. 40cm to be exact. And I love it. Of course, I feel for all the people inconvenienced by this dramatic weather event. But I do love a good blizzard and I love the opportunity to snowshoe, cross country ski, and generally act like an excitable puppy in a snowbank. But sadly, we’re in for rain followed by a swift drop in temperature. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I despise icy conditions almost as much as I hate cold rain. But there is a silver lining to this yoyoing weather activity. There will be every excuse to huddle over a simmering pot of this Thai Fish Cake Noodle Soup. This baby was made for wet socks and dampened spirits, so let’s dive right in.

Thinly sliced green beans

There isn’t a fish cake on this planet that I wouldn’t devour. But even with my blanketed love of the fish cake oeuvre, Thai fish cakes (tod mun pla) stand out from the crowd. Perhaps because they are significantly different from the fish cakes I grew up with. For one thing, the fish is pureed with curry paste, which was not something we typically did in Nova Scotia. Now, those of you who know about a certain fish stick recipe, know I’m no stranger to plopping fish into my food processor. But this may be a bold move for some of you, so I thought I should mention it and tell you there is nothing to fear. Your food processor won’t have the lingering scent of fish and your fish cakes will have a very pleasing texture. Pinky promise!

Fish cake ingredients in a food processor ready to be pureed
Fish cake ingredients ready to be mixed

I leaned fairly heavily on the guidance of Hot Thai Kitchen when crafting these fish cakes. Pai mentions that you should use a white fish but a fattier variety than I typically work with. I generally work with haddock, sole, halibut, and of course, cod. But basa and monkfish make for better Thai fish cakes. It had been ages since I’d had basa, so it was nice to be reacquainted. Now, if you would prefer to work with a leaner white fish, that is your prerogative but it will likely result in tougher fishcakes.

Frying the Thai fish cakes
Flipping the Thai fish cakes

Once your fish is blitzed with herbs and curry paste, it’s time to stir in a little cornstarch and an egg yolk. The yolk works as a binder, while the cornstarch gives the fish cakes a springy-ness, which is totally a word, by the way. Then it’s time to fry. Traditionally, Thai fish cakes are deep-fried but I think a shallow fry works just as well. You can, of course, be more authentic than I and deep fry your fishcakes. But in terms of texture and flavor, I just don’t think you’re missing much by bypassing the vat of oil. But as always, your kitchen, your rules.

The finished Thai fish cakes

Once your fishcakes are done, it’s time to tackle the stock. You can fry your fish cakes a few days in advance, by the way. They keep very nicely in the fridge for upwards of three days. Now, sadly I could not get my hands on kaffir lime leaves, and galangal for the stock. These are two ingredients that are hard to substitute for, particularly when you know exactly what you’re missing. But such is life. Instead, I more or less cobbled a stock together with the bits and bobs I could find. I took some inspiration from Tom Yum soup but this soup couldn’t be further from authentic. What this stock is though, is tasty, fairly quick, and very hot. I may or may not have maced myself while simmering it.

Thai red chilies in a mortar and pestle about to be bruised

The stock starts off with shallots, garlic, and ginger trying to do its best galangal impression. It’s an imperfect substitute but ginger is delicious in its own right, so let’s not worry about it. To the aromatics, we add the umami bomb that is shrimp paste. This is a fishcake soup, after all, we need to make a seafood-heavy stock. To this flavor base, we add water, smashed lemongrass, and six bruised Thai red chilies. I probably didn’t need to add six. I made a very hot stock, which works for my heat-tolerant household. But feel free to bust the chili quantity back to 2 or 3, to suit your household’s palette.

The stock ready to be simmered

Now, I didn’t want to simmer my stock for long because hangriness is a serious affliction and I wasn’t planning on adding a more established stock to the mix, so I had to double down on the umami. And I achieved this by adding six dried shiitakes and a bottle of clam juice. Seriously, dried shiitakes are a great pantry item to have on hand. They make every stock and soup that much better. And once you simmer them in the soup, you can slice them up and add them as a garnish. A total twofer.

Pouring the finished soup over the rice noodles

Once the stock is where we want it, simply cook some rice noodles and build your bowl of Thai Fish Cake Noodle Soup. Now, I believe garnishing a bowl of soup is a deeply personal activity. But just in case you’re looking for a little guidance, I will tell you what you’re looking at in these photos. My bowl features fresh Thai basil, cilantro, scallions, and thin slices of red onion. I meant to add beansprouts, but they didn’t make it out of the fridge. I swear, every shoot I manage to forget something. This is merely a serving suggestion. Pile anything you want into your bowl and live your truth.

Thai Fish Cake Noodle Soup

So that’s pretty much everything you need to know about this Thai Fish Cake Noodle Soup. This is almost everything you need to survive what I think is the most January of Januarys. Slurpable noodles, sinus-clearing broth, and tender fish cakes to boot, this soup is the silver lining to any bleak midwinter day. Throw in a snow shovel and some road salt and you’ve got yourself a Canadian winter survival kit.

Enjoy!

Thai Fish Cake Noodle Soup

This Thai Fish Cake Noodle Soup features perfectly seared fish cakes perched on a tangle of rice noodles swimming in a chili-heavy seafood stock.
Prep Time 45 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Course Main Course
Servings 4

Equipment

  • 1 Food Processor
  • 1 Large skillet
  • 1 stock pot
  • 1 mortar and pestle

Ingredients
  

Thai Fish Cakes *

  • 454g (1lb) basa fillets cut into chunks
  • ¼ cup fresh Thai basil leaves tightly packed
  • 2 tbsp red curry paste heaping
  • 2 tbsp fresh cilantro coarsely chopped
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp demerara sugar
  • 1 lime juiced
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 100g (3.5oz) green beans thinly sliced
  • neutral oil for frying

Thai Fish Cake Noodle Soup

  • 1 tbsp neutral oil I used canola
  • 2 shallots thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger minced
  • 1 tbsp shrimp paste heaping
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 lemongrass stalk smashed with a mallet
  • 6-7 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 2-6 Thai red chilies ** smashed in a mortar and pestle
  • 1 (236 ml, 8 fl oz) bottle clam juice
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce
  • tbsp honey
  • 1 lime juiced
  • 454g (1lb) rice noodles
  • 1 batch Thai Fish Cakes see above
  • ½ red onion thinly sliced
  • 2 scallions thinly sliced
  • fresh Thai basil leaves to garnish
  • fresh cilantro to garnish
  • lime wedges to serve

Instructions
 

For the Fish Cakes

  • Place the basa, basil, curry paste, cilantro, fish sauce, demerara sugar, and lime juice in a large food processor. Blitz until smooth.
    454g (1lb) basa fillets, ¼ cup fresh Thai basil leaves, 2 tbsp red curry paste, 2 tbsp fresh cilantro, 1 tbsp fish sauce, 1 tsp demerara sugar, 1 lime
  • Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add the cornstarch, egg yolk, and green beans. Mix well until a cohesive mixture forms.
    2 tbsp cornstarch, 1 large egg yolk, 100g (3.5oz) green beans
  • Pour ½ an inch of oil into a large skillet and place it over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering form and add the fish cakes to the pan one by one. Use a tablespoon measure as a guide. ***
    neutral oil
  • Don't crowd the pan. Only add about 6 cakes are at a time. Fry until golden on both sides. About 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a cooling rack suspended over a baking sheet to drain and set aside. ****

For the Soup

  • Heat the oil in a large stockpot until shimmering. Add the shallots, garlic, and ginger. Stir in a generous pinch of salt and saute until softened. Stir in the shrimp paste and saute for about a minute more.
    1 tbsp neutral oil, 2 shallots, 3 cloves garlic, 1 tbsp fresh ginger, 1 tbsp shrimp paste
  • Pour the water into the pot and add the lemongrass, shiitakes, chilis, and clam juice. Bring the mixture up to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Let simmer for 30 minutes.
    6 cups water, 1 lemongrass stalk, 6-7 dried shiitake mushrooms, 2-6 Thai red chilies **, 1 (236 ml, 8 fl oz) bottle clam juice
  • Once the 30 minutes have passed, strain the stock. Remove the shiitakes and discard the remaining solids Return the soup to the pot and stir in the fish sauce and honey. Taste and adjust the seasonings as desired. Finish the broth with the lime juice and thinly slice the shiitakes. Set them aside.
    3 tbsp fish sauce, 1½ tbsp honey, 1 lime
  • When the soup is in the last 10 minutes of it simmering time, place the rice noodles in a large bowl and cover them with a kettle's worth of recently boiled water. Cover the bowl and leave the noodle to soak for 5-10 minutes.
    454g (1lb) rice noodles
  • Once the noodles are tender, drain them and divide them across four large bowls. Cover the noodles with the broth and add 3-4 fish cakes to each bowl. Top the soup with the shiitake slices, Thai basil leaves, red onion, cilantro, and scallions. Serve immediately with limes wedges and cold beer.
    1 batch Thai Fish Cakes, ½ red onion, 2 scallions, fresh Thai basil leaves, fresh cilantro, lime wedges

Notes

* The fish cake recipe is adapted from Hot Thai Kitchen 
** I used six chilis in my soup and it was quite spicy. Feel free to knock it back a bit to suit your heat tolerance.
*** It’s best to form the fish cakes as you are frying them. This way they will keep their shape. It’s easy to form the fish cakes when your hands are damp, so run them under cold water every so often while you’re forming the cakes. 
**** The fish cakes can be made up to three days in advance. 
Keyword basa, chilis, fish cakes, rice noodles, soup, thai basil

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