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What is “Prahok,” and how is it used in Cambodian cuisine?

Introduction to Prahok: A Staple in Cambodian Cuisine

Prahok is a traditional Cambodian ingredient that has been used in Khmer cuisine for centuries. It is a type of fermented fish paste that is made by mixing small freshwater fish with salt and leaving it to ferment for several months. The result is a pungent, salty, and slightly sour paste that is used to add depth and complexity of flavor to many Cambodian dishes. Prahok is so important to Cambodian cuisine that it is often referred to as the “soul” of Khmer food.

Prahok is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of ways. It can be added to soups, stews, curries, and stir-fries to give them a rich umami flavor. It can also be mixed with other ingredients to make sauces and dips. Despite its strong smell and taste, Prahok is a beloved ingredient in Cambodian cuisine, and many Cambodians believe that a meal without Prahok is not complete.

From Fermentation to Flavor: How Prahok is Made

Prahok is made by combining small freshwater fish, usually of the mackerel family, with salt in a large clay pot. The mixture is then left to ferment for several months, during which time the fish breaks down and becomes a paste. Once the fermentation process is complete, the paste is removed from the pot and pressed through a fine mesh sieve to remove any bones or scales.

The resulting paste is usually dark brown in color and has a pungent, fishy smell. The flavor is salty and slightly sour, with a strong umami taste. Prahok can be made in small batches at home or purchased pre-made from markets and grocery stores throughout Cambodia.

Ways to Use Prahok in Cambodian Dishes: Recipes and Tips

Prahok is a key ingredient in many Cambodian dishes, including the national dish, Fish Amok. To make Fish Amok, Prahok is mixed with coconut milk, lemongrass, galangal, turmeric, and other spices to create a fragrant curry sauce. The sauce is then poured over a steamed fish fillet and steamed again in a banana leaf cup.

Prahok can also be used to make sauces and dips, such as Prahok Ktis, which is a dip made from Prahok, minced pork, coconut milk, and other ingredients. The dip is served with fresh vegetables and rice crackers.

When using Prahok in cooking, it is important to use it sparingly as it has a strong flavor. A little bit goes a long way, and too much Prahok can overpower the other flavors in a dish. It is also important to store Prahok properly in an airtight container in the refrigerator to prevent spoilage.

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Written by John Myers

Professional Chef with 25 years of industry experience at the highest levels. Restaurant owner. Beverage Director with experience creating world-class nationally recognized cocktail programs. Food writer with a distinctive Chef-driven voice and point of view.

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