Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mok Bha - Lao Style Spicy Steamed Fish Recipe

Mok Bha Duke (Spicy Steam Catfish) Nuggets (diced herbs)
One of my favorite traditional Lao food is Mok Bha. Basically it is steamed fish. What makes this dish amazing is the aroma from the different herbs and spices that are added for the unique flavor. As with any dish everyone makes their own dish differently. I was told the basic ingredients from my mother with a few changes according to how my family eats. As with home cooking and traditional Lao food there are no measurements. You add a little until you feel its right. I apologize ahead for the lack of exact measurement but usually is a few pinches here and there! Try it experiment and if its too salty ... eat more rice!

This recipe can be used with any fish that you like but the most popular fish used is the catfish. To make my life a little easier I buy catfish nuggets from the local grocery store. Feel free to use any fish and feel free to just cut up the fish with the bone in.

This dish is usually eaten with rice, let it be jasmine or sweet (sticky) rice. It also includes a type of rue but in Lao tradition what they do is soak sweet rice until it is so soft that it crumbles when touched. It is taken out of the water and placed in a mortar and pounded until its paste like. This will create the gravy. When this is unavailable flour can be used but it will not be as thick as using the rice, but just as delicious.

Basic Ingredients include:

lemongrass stalk
lime leaves / kaffir leaves
fresh dill
fresh green onion / or shallots or 1/4 of medium onion
chili peppers
fish sauce
chicken broth powder
shrimp paste
flour / rice mixture (paste)

You can chop or slice up all the herbs or you can leave them in chunks. All the ingredients are edible but some people prefer not to eat the lemongrass or kaffir leaves. If you leave them in large pieces it is easier to eat around.

The lemon grass and kaffir leaves give this dish the distint aroma and flavor but it can be left out if you prefer. The MSG is a flavor enhancer and can also be left out as the chicken broth is used to enhance the flavor also. The shrimp paste can be replaced with badaek or fermented fish or it can be left out altogether.

Mok Bha Duke (Spicy Steam Catfish) Strips (chopped and whole herbs)
You basically chop up the herbs and peppers and mix everything in a mixing bowl. Place it in foil and steam. Using an asian soup spoon, one of each is a good amount of each of the ingredient being careful not to over salt (maybe just a pinch) since you are using fish sauce and chicken broth. Wrap it in foil closing it at the top and do it twice. The fish will cook and keep in mind the juices may leak out so be careful when wrapping.

I steam usually for 30 minutes or so making sure the fish is cooked. It should never be dry from not only the fish sauce but its own juices also.

This can be stored in the freezer or in the fridge to be enjoyed another day. Sometimes its even better the next day. Enjoy with jasmine or sweet rice.

Any questions please comment!!

Have fun cooking!

Bay Nan


  1. though the dish looks good. but i am trying to avoid to eat too much spices. Is this fish must cooked in too much spicies or we can make it according to our need. Fishing in Dubai

    1. This dish uses more herbs than spices. If you are referring to the spiciness of the dish, its your own preference. My mother used to make it with no chili peppers for the children but as an adult it loses the authentic taste of the dish. It all to their own preference. ENJOY!!

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    1. Actually you can experiment with any fish, how ever the catfish does not have any scales and was easily available in the old country. Also the fish bones were an issue with any other fish. Now with the availability of the other fish you can try it with any and see which is best. It's just growing up it was always or mostly done with catfish. The best part of the catfish was the fatty belly so that's what I try to look for when grocery shopping. Let me know if you try it and which fish you prefer!