Khmer Steamed Fish Curry

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

Cook Time: 1 to 1 ½ hours

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Amok is a special dish in Cambodia. At its heart is the kroeung, the Khmer curry paste made of fresh aromatics like lemongrass, galangal, turmeric, makrut lime leaves, and fingerroot (also known as Chinese ginger) that are pounded to a paste in a mortar and pestle. I’ve made it here with ingredients you can find at local Asian markets, along with some “Khmer mom” tips!




3 to 4 stalks lemongrass, outer layers removed and finely chopped
1 (1-inch) piece fresh galangal, peeled and minced
2 fingerroots, finely chopped
2 (1-inch) pieces fresh turmeric, peeled and minced
1 large shallot, peeled and minced
4 makrut lime leaves, stems removed and finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 green Thai chili



4 to 6 dried Thai chilis, soaked in water for about 20 minutes, then drained and chopped into a paste
½ cup coconut cream, plus 1 to 2 tbsp for steaming
2 tsp salt
1 to 2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp shrimp paste
1 egg
1 lb cod or tilapia, cut into large pieces
3 to 4 Chinese broccoli (leafy ends only)
1 handful thinly sliced Thai basil
1 to 2 fresh Thai chilis 

Optional: Banana leaves for steaming



2 makrut lime leaves, stems removed and thinly sliced



– Feel free to substitute cod or tilapia with other firm fish, like salmon.

– You can swap Chinese broccoli with a handful of sturdy greens like kale or pea shoots.

– Makrut leaf stems can be tough: make sure to de-vein them from the stem to the tip of the leaf. (Same with lemongrass stems, make sure to remove the tough outer layers.)

– The recipe makes about 1 cup of kroeung. It keeps in the fridge for up to a week and freezes well.



Use a mortar and pestle to pound all ingredients into a paste.

Khmer mom tips: Chop the ingredients as fine as possible before you start—it’ll save you lots of time later!

And add the garlic and green chili near the end of the pounding process (according to my mom, it keeps them from getting slimy.)

Or: Add all the kroeung ingredients to a blender, adding up to ¼ cup of water to blend into a thick paste.


1. Combine 3 to 4 tablespoons of kroeung, the Thai chili paste, ½ cup of coconut cream, salt, sugar*, fish sauce, shrimp paste, and egg in a large bowl.

Beat to incorporate the egg, then add the fish and let it sit for 10 minutes or so.

*Adjust the sugar to your taste. Khmers prefer things on the sweeter side, but you may want to start with 1 tbsp.

2. Line the bottom of a heatproof glass bowl or ramekin with pieces of banana leaf.

Traditionally, the fish is steamed in “boats” made of banana leaves. I used them to line my bowl. You’ll also get a great dish without the leaves!

3. Add a handful of your greens of choice, then spoon the fish and its sauce on top. Drizzle with the reserved coconut cream, and top with sliced Thai basil and whole chilis. 

4. Steam for about 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.

5. Remove from heat and garnish with thinly sliced makrut lime leaves.

Enjoy with steamed rice!

Recipe by Rainbow Thach

I was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. My family immigrated to the United States when I was five years old, and I grew up in Florida. I was the oldest sibling, so I was expected to cook and help my mother in the kitchen from a very young age. I remember feeling upset when I saw my sister going outside to play, but today I can see how those experiences were the catalyst for my life and work in food. I’ve opened four coffeeshops and a Southeast Asian restaurant in Brooklyn. Food is my art and my love language; it’s my medium for healing and connecting to others. I cook because it’s a reminder of home.

To me, amok is the dish of Cambodia, what I eat the most of when I’m there. It’s a special meal, usually reserved for eating out and special occasions. The gentle steaming gives it a light richness, like a soufflé. Some variations have more sauce or eggs, others might be drier — I like to keep things somewhere in the middle. Khmer cuisine shows influences from its neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam, as well as the large population of Chinese immigrants in the country. Amok’s unique flavor comes from the kroeung, the special curry paste. It’s the base of many Cambodian dishes, from soups to grilled meats, and every Cambodian mother has their own recipe. It’s possible to use canned paste, but making it from scratch is totally worthwhile: use a mortar and pestle to draw out the full fragrance of the aromatics.

RAINBOW (LINDA) THACH is the founder of the cafes Little Skips East and Little Skips South, and the Southeast Asian restaurant Little Mo in Brooklyn. Thach started the first Little Skips in 2009 as a community hub for local artists, musicians and nomads, a space for self-expression and individuality centered around ethically sourced coffee and playful food. A long-time member of the Specialty Coffee Association, she recently launched Little Skips’s fair-trade-certified special Winter Blend, with notes of chocolate-covered blueberries, cinnamon, vanilla, and toffee nut. In 2022, she completed a Permaculture Design Certificate and herbalism training in Guatemala, and is currently working on a new line of adaptogenic, mushroom-based beverages and blends.

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