Rahkine Mohinga

Rakhine Mohinga.jpg

Serves about 6

Rakhine State hugs the Bay of Bengal, and mountains on its eastern border cut it off from central Myanmar.  Their coastal location means the residents of Rakhine State cook with ocean-caught fish instead of catfish, like they do in inland Myanmar.  And while geography doesn’t quite explain it, Rakine food uses a sweat-inducing amount of chiles and pepper.  Even the most innocuous-looking fish salads can deliver a punch.  These two elements are on display in the Rakine version of mohinga.  This soup isn’t overpoweringly spicy, but it goes heavy on black pepper.  It’s also brothier than classic mohinga, which helps alleviate some of the heat.

When making Rakhine Mohinga at home, choose any whole, non-oily fish you like.  Whole tai snapper is a good option.  It’s okay if the fish is smaller or larger than 3 pounds.  Ask your fishmonger to gut, scale and cut the fish in half or thirds.  This makes it easier to fit in the pot. (If the fish is kept whole, you’ll just need to bend it to fit into the pot.)  Ginger and galangal (a similar-looking rhizome with a clean flavor) are both classic ingredients in Rakhine Mohinga, though yu can leave the galangal out and double down on the ginger.  What really sells this dish to heat-seekers at the table is sprinkling raw minced Thal chiles and garlic over the top before eating.

 

Broth

3 quarts water

2 yellow or red onions, diced into ½-inch pieces (about 3 1/2 cups)

One to two 3-ounce pieces ginger (unpeeled), thickly sliced crosswise into slabs

2 tablespoons shrimp paste

2 tablespoons minced galangal (optional)

1 ½ tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon turmeric

2 chopped serrano chiles or 2 to 5 Thai chiles, halved

1 scaled and gutted fish (about 3 pounds), such as tai snapper

 

To make the broth, select a large wide pot that will fit the fish comfortably with room to spare. (An 8-quart pot works well.)  Add the water, onions, ginger, shrimp paste, galangal, salt, pepper, turmeric, chopped chilies, and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer fo 15 minutes.  The shrimp paste should break down in the broth.

Carefully lower the fish into the pot.  The fish may not be completely covered in water, but that’s okay.  Bring the pot to a brisk simmer, lower the heat, and cook gently for 8 to 10 minutes.  If necessary, using tongs, carefully turn the fish over or at least rotate it to cook the side that was sticking out of the water and cook for a few minutes more or until the fish flesh pulls away cleanly from the bone, a total of 12 to 15 minutes for tai snapper but longer for catfish.  Using tongs and a spider or slotted spoon, lift the fish out of the broth and transfer to a bowl.  Turn off the heat and let the broth sit on the stove.

When the fish is cool enough to handle, pull off the skin and discard.  Separate the cooked fish from the bones, trying to keep the skeleton (or skeleton pieces if the fish is cut in pieces) intact.  Set aside the cooked fish.  Return the skeleton (including head and tail) to the pot.

Bring the pot to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.  The broth should have a ginger flavor and be on the salty side.  

Strain the broth through a fine-mesh strainer.  You will have about 10 cups.  Give the pot a quick rinse (when it’s cool enough to handle) and return the broth to the pot  Turn the heat to low and cook the broth at a gentle simmer while preparing the soup.

 

Soup

½ cup canola oil

2 cups minced yellow onion

½ cup minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 tablespoon minced galangal (optional)

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

½ cur Tamarind Water (recipe follows)

10 ounces fine rice noodles

 

To make the soup, in a wok or large skillet, heat the oil over high heat.  Add the onions and cook for 4 minutes or until softened.  Add the garlic, ginger, and galangal and stir-fry for 1 minute.  Add the cooked fish, turmeric, and salt, mashing the fish gently with a spatula or spoon to turn it into a coarse paste, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.  If you see any errant bones, pick them out.

Pour the contents of the wok into the broth and bring to a brisk simmer.  Simmer for 5 minutes more or until the flavors start to come together.  Add the tamarind water.  Taste the broth; it should be assertive because the noodles are unseasoned.  If it tastes under seasoned, add more salt.  (At this point, the soup can be cooled and served the next day).

To cook the noodles, bring a pot of water to a boil.  Stir in the noodles and cook, stirring often with tongs or chopsticks to prevent sticking, for 5 to 6 minutes or until softened.  Turn off the heat and let them sit in the water for 3 minutes.  Drain in a colander, rinse under cool water, and give the colander a shake to remove the excess water.  If not serving right away, mix some canola oil into them with your hands to keep them from sticking together.  (You can also cook the noodles in advance and soak them in warm water before serving.)

To serve, divide the noodles among the bowls. In a small bowl, stir together the garlic and chiles.  Ladle the soup over the noodles and serve the garlic-chile mixture, fried onions, and cilantro alongside.

 

Tamarind Water

 

Makes about ⅔ cup

 

¾ cup hot water

1 ½ ounces seedless tamarind pulp

In a bowl, pour the water over the tamarind and let it soak for 5 to 10 minutes, occasionally using your hands or a spoon to squish the pulp and help it dissolve into the water.

Strain through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing down on the pulp to extract more tamarind paste. The water tends to settle, with some of the tamarind solids falling to the bottom of the container. Stir before using. 

Tamarind water keeps for 1 week in the refrigerator and 6 months in the freezer.