This Cambodian fish cakes recipe makes prohet trei kroeung in Khmer, deliciously light fish cakes that are fragrant with lemongrass and kaffir lime, and have a little crunch courtesy of that fresh lemongrass. Easy to make, these fish cakes are terrific as a snack, appetiser, picnic stuffer, or finger food if you’re entertaining.
Our Cambodian fish cakes recipe makes Cambodia’s take on the fish cakes that serve as a delicious snack food in Southeast Asia. In Cambodia’s Khmer language, they’re called prohet trei kroeung – also written as proheut, prohat, prahat, and prahet, which refers to the form and can describe a patty, meatball or even a sausage, while trei means fish and kroeung is a Cambodian herb and spice paste that we’ll tell you more about below.
There are variants of these fish cakes found right across Southeast Asia – our readers are probably more familiar with the Thai fish cakes – but the kind that we’re sharing here are made with a Cambodian kroeung or herb and spice paste that’s combined with firm white fish, seasoned and fried.
Here’s our recipe for Cambodia’s delicious fish cakes and if you make these and enjoy them please consider supporting the work that we do here by becoming a patron of our epic Cambodian cookbook and Cambodian culinary history on Patreon. This original project documents the stories and recipes of Cambodian cooks for the first time and you can support it for as little as the price of a cup of coffee a month.
Cambodian Fish Cakes Recipe – How to Make Prohet Trei Kroeung
In Cambodia, you’ll mainly find two types of fish cakes on your culinary travels. The most common Cambodian fish cakes, sold at markets and street food stalls across the country, are flat as a pancake and have a chewy, tight texture. You’ll spot big batches of them laid out on a banana leaf in a flat basket or painted enamel tray and you will generally be expected to buy at least half a dozen.
That type of fish cake, which is similar to the Vietnamese fish cakes, are often served with a very loose version of Thai sweet chilli sauce. While they can be delicious served piping hot, if they’ve been sitting out on a market stall for hours they will indeed fit the common cliché of fish cakes being ‘rubbery’.
The type that our Cambodian fish cakes recipe makes are a more sophisticated version, with more ingredients and preparation. While you’ll see similar fish cakes in Thailand and Vietnam sold at market and street food stalls, here in Cambodia this type of fish cake is more commonly found at restaurants and made in the kitchens of middle-class homes.
So how does this Cambodian fish cake recipe differ from recipes for Thai fish cakes and Vietnamese fish cakes? Firstly, while many fish cake recipes use an egg to bind the mixture, the Cambodian recipe does not. The main difference between the Thai fish cake recipes and the Cambodian fish cakes is the curry paste or, here in Cambodia, the herb and spice paste called kroeung, which is more herbaceous than spicy, due to the lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf.
Thai fish cake recipes tend to be made with a red curry paste which, depending on the cook, can be very hot. Chef David Thompson’s Thai fish cakes at his Long Chim restaurant are quite spicy and are even too much for Australian palates used to Thai food.
While researching this Cambodian fish cake recipe I also looked at recipes for Vietnamese fish cakes, as quite often there is some overlap between Vietnamese and Cambodian recipes, especially recipes for dishes from Southern Vietnam and Southern Cambodia.
Interestingly, a Vietnamese fish cake recipe in Australian-Vietnamese chef Luke Nguyen’s beautiful book The Songs of Sapa came from a street food vendor who used Thai-style red curry paste. Of course, being in Vietnam, the cook wrapped the fish cakes in lettuce and vermicelli noodles, making for a very refreshing snack.
The Cambodian fish cake recipe that this makes is much more subtle in flavour than a typical Thai fish cake – and a Vietnamese fish cake that uses Thai red curry paste! – as it is made with the Cambodian yellow kroeung that is redolent with lemongrass and turmeric. This, along with the kaffir lime leaf makes for a more fragrant and more herbaceous rather than spicy fish cake.
I also spotted recipes that used fresh whole Kampot peppercorns in the fish cakes. I’ve never eaten a Cambodian fish cake with whole peppercorns here in Cambodia and I hope this record remains intact. You do not want to bite into a fish cake with whole peppercorns in it.
While many Thai restaurants will serve Thai-style fish cakes with a sweet chilli sauce, a Thai cucumber relish is the more appropriate accompaniment. In Cambodia, a black pepper sauce – a simple mix of pepper (from Kampot, of course), salt and lime juice – that is typically served with seafood is also offered with these Cambodian fish cakes.
Tips for Making This Cambodian Fish Cake Recipe
Firstly, to make this Cambodian fish cakes recipe you’ll need a mortar and pestle. Every Southeast Asian kitchen should have a good-sized granite mortar and pestle for pounding spice pastes. They will probably also have a big wooden mortar and pestle, but that is generally reserved for salads, such as papaya salad.
Many Southeast Asian recipes will recommend you use a food processor, but this modern intrusion into traditional cooking methods is as unwelcome in this recipe as it is for recipes for curry pastes. Using the mortar and pestle technique, we are pounding the flavour into the fish, not ripping apart the texture of the fish.
The slapping technique in the recipe below that’s used after pounding helps to bind the mixture together, so there is no need to use an egg for this purpose.
This doesn’t mean that you don’t have to handle the fish cakes with care. If your fish cakes do fall apart, you may not have pounded or slapped the mixture enough. To firm things up a little, place the tray of uncooked fish cakes in the fridge for around 20 minutes before frying.
Cambodian Fish Cakes Recipe
- 200 g lemongrass stalks peeled, chopped and outer layers discarded
- 1 tbsp galangal peeled and chopped finely
- 1 tsp kaffir lime zest
- 1 tsp turmeric peeled and chopped finely
- 5 cloves of garlic peeled and chopped finely
- 2 shallots peeled and chopped finely
- 300 g white fish fillets whiting or similar, roughly chopped
- 80 g yellow kroeung see above
- 1 bunch spring onions
- 2 tbsp long beans finely chopped
- 1 tbsp palm sugar
- 6 pieces kaffir lime leaves julliened finely
Black Pepper Sauce
- 1 tbsp black pepper ground
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 whole lime juiced
- Place the lemongrass in a well-supported mortar and pound with the pestle until you can no longer see the rings of the lemongrass and it's all mashed up.
- Add the galangal, turmeric and kaffir lime zest and pound until they're incorporated into the mashed lemongrass.
- Add the garlic and pound and then add the shallots and pound.
- The finished paste will still have some fibres from the lemongrass but should otherwise be quite smooth.
- Combine the fish, kroeung, sugar and salt in a mortar and pound until the ingredients are thoroughly combined.
- Slice the kaffir lime leaves and the spring onions. Along with the long beans, mix all the ingredients together.
- Take the mixture out of the mortar and slap the mix several times into a metal bowl.
- Divide the mixture into 6 patties.
- Heat a small saucepan or wok with vegetable oil to 170˚C. Cook the patties for around two minutes, flipping over after 1 minute.
Black Pepper Sauce
- Combine all the ingredients and stir until combined.
Do let us know if you make our Cambodian fish cakes recipe as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.