Nam prik pla (fish dip)

Time 55 minutes
Yields Serves 2 to 4
Nam prik pla (fish dip)
(Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times)

Chili paste


Heat a wok over medium heat until hot. Add the oil, then the garlic and onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and beginning to brown. Add the chiles and continue to stir-fry until the chiles are softened and everything is well-browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in a tablespoon of chile powder to taste for added heat, if desired. Remove from heat and place in a large mortar. Pound with a pestle until the mixture is reduced to a paste, 10 to 15 minutes. The paste can also be made using a food processor or blender, but the flavor is best using a mortar and pestle. Set the paste aside.

Grilled fish


Heat a grill or grill pan over medium heat until hot. Season the fish with a light sprinkling each of chile powder, fish sauce and lime juice. Wrap the fish in foil and place on the grill (if using a pan, cover the pan with an inverted roasting pan to contain the heat. Grill until the skin peels away easily and the flesh is firm and opaque, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the fish. Remove from heat, skin the fish and separate the meat from the bones, checking to make sure any small bones are removed. Place the meat in a large mortar, and, using the pestle, pound the meat until it is ground.

Boiled cabbage


Cook the cabbage in a small pot of simmering water until softened, about 5 minutes. Drain well and set aside.

Nam prik pla


Heat a wok over medium heat until hot. Add the oil, and when it begins to shimmer, add 1/3 of the chile paste. Stir-fry the paste until fragrant and the paste begins to brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the ground fish and continue to cook, stirring frequently to marry the flavors. Continue to cook for several more minutes, tasting frequently, and continuing to flavor as the fish dip cooks: fish sauce will help to season the dish as if using salt, lime juice will brighten the dish and add a hint of sour flavor, a touch of sugar will sweeten with notes of caramel, and additional chile paste will add more heat.


Remove from heat and place the dip in a serving bowl.


On a large plate or small platter, arrange the condiments: wedges of fresh and boiled cabbage, lettuce leaves, chiles, cilantro and basil, sliced cucumber, bell pepper and lime wedges. Serve the condiments alongside the dip.

Adapted from a recipe by Tui Sungkamee and Jazz Singsanong of Jitlada Restaurant in Hollywood. The fish can be substituted with chicken, tofu, shrimp and even eggplant; simply grill the meat or vegetable, then grind before completing the dish. The dish can also be served with steamed rice if desired.

Noelle Carter is the former Los Angeles Times Test Kitchen director. She left in January 2019.
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