January is Prahok season in Cambodia. This fermented paste made from salted fish is the most distinctive ingredient used in Cambodian cuisine. Often compared to blue cheese, its flavor goes beyond the pungent smell as nothing can substitute prahok to give substance to the dishes that uses it. Many would suggest anchovies or shrimp paste, but the connoisseur who originate from Cambodia know that it is an irreplaceable condiment. The best prahok is said to come from Siem Riep on the bank of Tonle Sap lake.
The technique and skill required to make prahok is commendable. Commonly used is mud fish but also freshwater fish such as glass catfish aka ghostfish. They are cleaned and packed in ceramic crocks and covered with salt, with a lot of skill involved to get the taste to perfection.
- There are two disctint kinds of fermented fish: prahok and praowk.
- Raw with no chemicals and only salt! Common practice is to put a little bicarbonate of soda around the rim of the crocks to prevent worms getting in.
- Pride in the skill and traditional wisdom: The techniques and secrets that go into making this high-quality and delicious prahok and praowk are a key point of difference. The expert in this trade love talking in great details about the preparations. Locals and foreigners order this delicacy yearly. Thankfully it is easily available and accessible at most Asian grocers.
This classic Cambodian home recipe uses prahok. Enjoy your Cambodian meal!