Tort man pla

David Thompon's authentic-tasting Thai-style fish cakes, packed with aromatic ingredients and hot chilli, make a great snack or main course
By David Massey
Tort man pla
  • Rating:
  • Serves: 2 as a main course, 4 as a snack
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes plus 30 mins soaking time
  • Effort: easy


For the red curry paste

  • 5 dried long red chillies, seeds removed
  • 10 small dried red bird's eye chillies
  • 1 large pinch of sea salt
  • 1 tbsp galangal, chopped
  • 2 tbsp lemongrass, chopped
  • 1 tsp kaffir lime peel, grated, (see Cook's note)
  • 1 tbsp Wild (grachai) ginger, peeled, shredded, (see Cook's note)
  • 2½ tbsp garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp Thai shrimp paste, (gapi)

For the sauce

  • 2 fresh long red chillies, seeds removed
  • 1-2 red shallots
  • 6 cloves Thai garlic, or 1 clove regular garlic
  • 2 small coriander roots
  • 80 g white sugar
  • 80 ml vinegar

For the fish cakes

  • 300 g monkfish fillets, or freshwater fish such as pike or zander, roughly chopped (see Cook's note)
  • 75 g red curry paste, (see above)
  • 1 pinches palm sugar
  • 1-2 tbsp Thai fish sauce, (nam pla)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 25 g green snake bean, finely sliced
  • 10 g wild (grachai) ginger, peeled, shredded (see Cook's note)
  • 5 lime leaves, shredded
  • oil, for deep frying
  • 1 handfuls holy or Thai basil, leaves
  • 1-2 dried long red chillies, halved lengthways, seeds removed

To serve

  • boiled kanom jin or other rice noodles, cooked according to packet instructions

Tips and Suggestions

Fresh kaffir limes for the kaffir lime zest can be difficult to come across. If you are lucky enough to find them, take care to avoid grating the white pith which is extremely bitter. Frozen kaffir limes are more widely available. It is easier to grate the limes when they are only part defrosted. If you can't find kaffir limes then substitute 2 kaffir lime leaves or 2 teaspoons of grated lime zest.

Fresh grachai, also known as wild ginger, has an earthy, peppery flavour. It is available fresh in some Thai supermarkets but is more widely available pickled in brine. If using the pickled grachai, drain, rinse, soak in water with a teaspoon of sugar for about 10 minutes then drain again before using.

Any leftover curry paste can be stored in the fridge, covered tightly with cling film, for up to 2 weeks. Avoid freezing the paste as it will lose its pungency and become bitter.

Some monkfish is over-exploited and appears on the Marine Conservation Society's 'Fish to avoid' list. Check with your fishmonger that the monkfish you are buying is sustainable.


1. For the red curry paste: soak the long and small chillies in cold, salted water for 10-15 minutes, until softened. Drain and squeeze out as much water as possible (you may want to wear gloves).

2. Pound all the ingredients together in a pestle and mortar to a smooth paste. Alternatively blend in a blender, with a splash of water to loosen the mixture. Smell the paste and adjust the ingredients until you have a mellow and fully rounded paste.

3. For the sauce: soak the chillies in cold, salted water for 10-15 minutes, until softened. Drain and squeeze out as much water as possible (you may want to wear gloves).

4. In a pestle and mortar, pound together the chillies, shallots, garlic and coriander roots with a generous pinch of salt to make a paste. Transfer the paste to a small saucepan and mix in the sugar, vinegar and 80ml of water.

5. Bring to a simmer over a medium heat and simmer until reduced to a fairly thick syrup. Adjust the quantities of sugar and vinegar until the sauce tastes sweet, sour and slightly hot.

6. For the fish cakes: blend the fish and curry paste together in a food processor. Dissolve the palm sugar in the fish sauce and blend into the fish. Add the egg and blend again until thoroughly incorporated.

7. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl, form the mixture into a ball then pick it up and throw it back into the bowl. Repeat this slapping process several times until the mixture becomes slightly sticky.

8. Mix in the beans, grachai and kaffir lime leaves and shape the mixture into small discs, about 1.5cm-thick.

9. Heat the hot oil in a wok or deep fat fryer to a medium heat then deep-fry the fishcakes for 1-2 minutes, until lightly golden. Remove and coat with the sauce.

10. Deep fry the basil leaves (take care as they spit when added to the oil) and dried chillies until crisp. Remove and scatter over the fish cakes. Serve straight away with the rice noodles.

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