When I was in Cambodia I managed to squeeze in a quick cookery course. I heard that an expat run restaurant around the corner from my hotel ran one (the only one) in Phnom Penh and even though I was only there for three days I had to give it a go. We started the day with a trip to the market, which I've already written of here, before heading back to the rather nice roof top kitchen.
We were being taught by a young Cambodian chef who, coincidentally, had come through the ranks at the Romdeng restaurant I'd visited days earlier. He spoke English perfectly and seemed knowledgable on the subject matter.
The first dish we made were spring rolls - here we grated taro before salting and squeezing to remove the moisture, to this was added grated carrots and peanuts before being wrapped up and deep fried. We were told you had to deep fry on a low heat so the outside didn't burn before the middle cooked. They gave us a recipe book, and I would post the recipe, but I stupidly left it in Cambodia. Hopefully I'm getting another copy though and if I do I promise I'll stick the recipes up.
After we'd polished these off we set about doing some garnishes. Using some scalpel sharp knives we carefully carved a chili and a lump of carrot flowers - including the one above of which I was rather proud.
The final dish was a fish amok. Fish amok is getting on for the national dish of Cambodia and it is red fish curry steamed in a banana leaf. Looking through the recipe book they gave us it mentioned the similarities between Thai and Cambodia food, saying how folk frequently said Cambodian food was just like Thai food. They pointed out that in days gone by the Khmer people ruled the whole region, including Thailand, and so Thai food is in fact derived from Cambodian and not vice-versa.
As mentioned previously I forgot my recipe book so I'll endeavour to relay the ingredients to you, hang on a month though and I should be able to give exact quantities. We made a paste with 3 sticks of lemon grass (for one person!), a small lump of galangal and kaffir lime rind, 2 shallots and 2 cloves of garlic - this made a yellow curry paste. Once this was ground to a smooth paste we added a small lump of shrimp paste, maybe 200ml of coconut cream, a spoonful of palm sugar, an immense amount of salt, a good glug of fish sauce and an egg yolk.
We were given about a tablespoon of mild, dried chillies that had been soaked till soft and were instructed to chop until they were a paste. Once these were added to the mixture, along with a couple of hundred grams of firm white fish, we had a red curry. Fish amoks are steamed in a banana leaf so a quick lesson on how to construct a bowl preceded our attempts which were duly filled with the mixture and placed in a steamer for 20 minutes.
To serve, a little more coconut cream is poured on top and it's finished with shredded lime leaves and red chili. The dish was fantastic, very reminiscent of Thai curries - rich, sweet, spicy, fragrant and salty - and the egg yolk causes the sauce to set during steaming. Not firm like a jelly but like a perfect pannacotta, just enough to hold together when you remove a spoonful, stopping the curry caving back in on the hole.
If you're ever there I'd definitely recommend the course, and do the full day if you can rather than the half day I could squeeze in. The course was at Frizz's and you can read about it here. One thing I found out looking over their website was Rick Stein has been to the same school just recently and it will feature on his new TV series. This series follows on from the recent Med one, doing a s imilar journey but around South East Asia. I can't wait.