“Please make the sweet carrot dipping sauce to go with the fish cakes”, Peter asked when he saw me preparing to road test Marion’s Kitchen Thai Fish Cakes mix. “The recipe is on page 53”, he added helpfully.
Now clearly my man was way ahead of me, already salivating at the idea that we were having Tort Man Pla (Thai fish cakes), dipping sauce, steamed Jasmine rice and salad for Sunday dinner.
I always prefer to cook from scratch, but noticed the Thai Fish Cakes and the Marion’s Kitchen Food Range at the supermarket earlier in the week, so decided to try them. I had 500g of market fresh flake fillets ready to go and Marion had kindly provided almost “all the essentials in one little box”, therefore the only other ingredient needed was an egg white.
The recipe in question is from Marion: Recipes and Stories from a Hungry Cook (Plum/Pan MacMillan), the newly released cookbook by MasterChef participant, Marion Grasby.
The Sweet Carrot Dipping Sauce on page 53 of the book is quick and simple to prepare, just a matter of combining quantities of white sugar, white vinegar and fish sauce, and gently simmering until the sugar dissolves. I added some finely grated carrot, baby ones that I pulled up from our vegetable garden, and allowed the sauce to cool.
Marion suggests serving a Chilli, Cucumber and Coriander Sauce with the fishcakes; the recipes for both this sauce and the fish cakes are on page 62. That sauce is a combination of white sugar, white vinegar and fish sauce; with the addition of fresh chopped chilli and coriander, as well as finely diced cucumber.
Inside the little box are four sachets: Red Curry Paste, Kaffir Lime Leaves, Sweet Chilli Syrup and Fish Sauce. To make the fish cakes, I cut the flake fillets into cubes and popped them into a food processor together with the red curry paste, a little salt and the egg white. Then I added the drained kaffir lime leaves and processed the mixture for about three or four minutes.
The next process of shaping the patties was the messiest part, but Marion’s suggestion of working with damp hands was a great help. I placed the fish cakes onto a marble board lined with baking paper. Then it was just a matter of briefly shallow frying them in peanut oil, draining on a paper towel, and they were ready to serve.
The verdict: the fish cakes were easy to prepare and had that lovely “squelchy” texture, but the mixture only made twelve fish cakes, nowhere near “up to 20”, and we would have liked more of a chilli bite and more intense coriander and kaffir lime flavour. Overall, however, it was a success.
Why did I use the Marion’s Kitchen mix when I had the book? Simple, I purchased the mix first and then bought the book on impulse at the weekend after Peter and I flicked through the pages in the store. We loved the look and quality feel of the book and quickly found a dozen or more recipes that we wanted to try in the near future (Roast Duck and Pineapple Curry, Haw Mok Plaa Steamed Fish in Banana Leaves, and Coconut and Kaffir Lime Panna Cottas with Strawberry Lime Syrup, among them).
Marion was a top contender in MasterChef 2010 and certainly a favourite at our place. Refreshingly, MasterChef is mentioned only briefly, though Marion writes that she is still pinching herself that the program had given her the chance she needed “to make all the little dreams … come true”.
With 80 or more much loved recipes, snippets and stories of Marion’s life and travels in Darwin, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Queensland and South Australia, and beautifully vivid photographs by Sharyn Cairns, Marion: Recipes and Stories from a Hungry Cook is more like a treasured family album that the author has generously shared.
Marion very graciously points out, “The recipes in [her] book are not simply recipes … plucked out of thin air. Each recipe has a little story about me, where I’ve been and the people I love. It’s not a cheffy, fancy sort of food book. Mainly because I’m not a cheffy, fancy sort of person. I’m a home cook and incredibly proud of it”.
The book may be geared for the home cook, however with Marion’s background studies in gastronomy, and the influence of a Thai mother who is a trained chef, even the most experienced cooks and chefs will be tempted to indulge.
With the exotic flavours of Darwin’s Parap and Mindil Beach Sunset Markets still on my palate, Marion’s Som Tom (Green Paw Paw Salad) is next on my list of recipes to delve into.
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