ห่อหมก Hor Mok Talay – Thai Curried Seafood Custard
I think I’d been complaining too much lately about the wretched weather but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who is suffering under the heat. Desperate ends call for desperate measures and you know when you can’t beat ’em, you should jolly well join ’em! Combating the heat with more heat, well sorta! So here I am, whipping up an early week homecooked meal with some of my favorite spicy dishes. It sure feels good after a thorough sweat out eating the dishes and slurping the Tom Yum Goong! As a special treat for myself, I’d made some Hor Mok as well!
I absolutely adore Thai food for their wide array of piquant flavours that could be conjured sometimes within just a small morsel of a snack or a titbit. Spicy, rich, tangy are just some of the qualities Thai cuisine is well known for, which is somewhat an extension to the rest of SEA cooking as well.
Hor Mok is a savory and spicy dish which is not unlike our “otak otak” we are more accustomed to seeing and eating in your region. In fact, it is often claimed that Hor Mok is the main source of inspiration and influence for the northern Malaysian states, particularly that of Penang’s.
In Bangkok, we saw Hor Mok being sold in many places, especially those delis that offer takeaway meals. One fine example is Or Tor Kor Market just next to Chatuchak as shown in the photo above. But they are quite easy to make on their own and here is how you can do it at home!
The ingredients for making Hor Mok is quite similar to those of our otak otak. I guess what makes it taste interesting is the usage of fish sauce and of course Thai red curry paste used to bring out the flavour profile of the dish. Our local rempah paste for laksa lemak is a good substitute if you can’t find Thai red curry paste. Thai basil is customarily used in the dish but I couldn’t get it at our local markets today. So I used coriander instead which is also extensively used in Thai and SEA cooking incidentally .
Practically any seafood can be used to make Hor Mok. The standard version uses fish, which gives rise to “Hor Mok Pla” while a more varied seafood combination that may include shrimp/prawns, squid, crab meat and sometimes even shellfish like clams and mussels would yield “Hor Mok Talay“. My version today uses mackerel and barramundi aka sea bass for the fish component as well as fresh prawns, so I guess that makes mine the talay version!
The process of making the custard paste is pretty straightforward but the sequence of processing the ingredients is important to ensure that the components are well homogenised. The first thing one should do is to crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and give them a good whisk to break up the yolks, not unlike what one would do before making scrambled eggs or an omelette. It is important for the eggs and coconut milk to be at room temperature so that it would be easier for the sugar to melt into the concoction, especially if light brown Thai palm sugar is used, which can be quite clumpy and thus require more time and elbow grease to melt and work it into the mixture. Once the sugar has properly dissolved into the eggs, the rest is quite easy, i.e. just adding coconut milk, the seasoning and aromatics, and of course the seafood and we are ready to steam it!
Texture of the seafood wise, I prefer my Hor Mok to have a bit more bite, i.e. textural profile so that one can still taste the chunks of fish and shrimp, so I just leave the fish meat in its “original texture” as it was scrapped from the skin prior. Prawns wise, I chop the large ones into large morsels, leaving the small ones intact as whole shrimp. If you like a smoother custard, simply blitz everything in a food processor until it forms a smooth paste before folding in the finely sliced chilies, kaffir lime leaves and chopped coriander stalks and leaves.
The Hor Mok need to be poured into vessels before steaming. Traditionally in Thailand, one would see them placed in little handmade cups fashioned out of banana leaves like the ones I’d made. Simply cut the banana leaves into discs using a circular template like a saucer or something. I’d used the cover of a takeaway plastic container for the task. Next give the leaves a good rinse followed by a wipe down to remove any debris or dirt on them. This is very important! Then, the leaf discs have to be blanched in boiling water for a couple of seconds to soften and make them more pliable so that they can be folded into the shapes we want without stressing the fibres resulting in tears.
To make the cups, start by making a fold on the banana leaf to create a pointed edge, before securing it with a toothpick. Repeat the process to make the other “3 corners” of the somewhat squarish base so that the “banana leaf cup” can sit nicely. Finally trim away the excess bits of the bamboo skewers to make the cup look neat and tidy.
Start by laying the bottom of each cup with a portion of chopped cabbage leaves which had also been blanched until they just begin to soften yet still retaining quite a bit of their crunch. The steaming process would soften the leaves further, seasoned by the juices which seep through from the spicy seafood custard sitting above. If basil leaves are used ,they can be added together with the cabbage but without the need to blanch them first.
Next, ladle the curried seafood custard concoction on top of the cabbage until it is almost to the brim. Repeat the process until all the banana leaf cups are filled, carefully placing each filled cup directly into steaming rack. After that, all that is required is some steaming for the custard to set.
One very important process is the garnishing which not only makes the finished product more aesthetically pleasing but also to boost the flavours. Apart from the standard thickened coconut cream, sliced red chilies and kaffir lime leaves, steamed crab meat can also be added, like the version we ate at Or Tor Kor Market.
ห่อหมก Hor Mok Talay – Thai Curried Seafood Custard (8 cups)
2 large eggs
200-250g thick coconut cream, depending on how “soft” one prefers the custard to be
250g seafood e.g. fish, prawns, squid, chopped into a coarse paste
150g cabbage, chopped and blanched for 1-2 min until just soften
2 red chilies, deseeded and julienned
2 kaffir lime leaves, julienned
1 tsp fish sauce
2 tbsp thai red curry paste
1 tsp sugar, preferrably chopped Thai palm sugar
2-3 sprigs of coriander leaves, discard roots, chopped stalk and leaves coarsely
Garnishing & Others
8 banana leaf discs, appro 12-15 cm in diameter each
bamboo toothpicks as required
coriander leaves, julienned kaffir lime leaves and red chilies for garnishing
2 tbsp thick coconut cream, thickened with 1 tsp rice flour, microwave for 1 min for topping the steamed custard
Whisk eggs into a mixing bowl to break up the yolks.
Add Thai red curry paste and sugar, whisk to homogenise.
Add coconut milk, fish sauce, coarsely chopped seafood,chopped coriander, julienned kaffir lime leaves and chilies and mix well.
Fold the banana leaf discs into cups and secure with toothpicks.
Portion out the blanched cabbage and place each portion into each banana leaf cup.
Place 1 1/2 to 2 tbsp of curried seafood custard on top of the blanched cabbage.
Steam over medium high heat for 15-20 min until thoroughly cooked. Test doneness with a bamboo skewer.
Top with thickened coconut cream and garnish with julienned red chilies, kaffir lime leaves and coriander leaves.
Serve immediately with steamed rice and other dishes.