Last year was a good year for panfish, I had a lot of luck while out on the river and was given a good amount of panfish from a friend of mine. That said I have eaten a ton of pan fish over this winter and this was the last of it. With all that panfish I had to start getting a little more creative with my recipes. I am also trying to include more fish recipes here that don't involve being breaded and fried. I was thinking about doing a panfish chowder of some sort and then I ran across this recipe in one of my folders. A few years ago I was able to get a ticket to a cooking demonstration by Andrew Zimmern. At that demo he made this soup using chicken and it was incredible, I had made it once before using chicken but it wasn't until recently that the idea of using fish came to me.
One thing I wish I had more access to here in Minnesota would be a larger variety of fish and the ability to go salt water fishing but of course that isn't possible. Most of the fish in Minnesota have a very similar taste and texture to me. I know some people would disagree with that but its just my opinion. For the majority of my life there have been two options when it came to cooking fish, beer batter or cracker crumb breading. One of my New Years resolutions was to try and cook the fish I catch in as many different ways as I could and so far I have done a pretty good job with fried crappie spring rolls, bluegill po'boy and butter basted walleye.
This soup is incredibly simple although you do need to be careful at the end when you add the fish. Because the fillets are cut into small pieces and those pieces are thin, the fish cooks very quickly and if you over cook it the pieces fall apart and you will end up with a coconut fish mush instead of a beautiful soup. I have changed the recipe just a bit from its original but it is still pretty authentic. I hope Mr. Zimmern doesn't mind that I used Sriracha I know he isn't a very big fan. Most of the ingredients can be found at your local Asian market or can be swapped out for something else. Give it a try and I hope you enjoy.
Crappie Tom Kha
3 cups fish stock (if you don't have fish stock chicken stock works as well)
1 2 inch piece of galangal or ginger root
1 large stock of lemon grass
3 kaffir lime leaves
2 cans unsweetened coconut milk
1 pound of crappie fillets or any other pan fish cut into one inch pieces
1 tablespoon tamarind paste
1 tablespoon sriracha
juice of one lime
2 tablespoons palm sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
8 oz. shittake mushrooms
3-4 small red Thai chilies
1. cut the lemongrass into 4 inch pieces and smash them with a hammer or the back of a knife. You can slice the lemongrass paper thin and add it to the soup but I prefer to smash up big pieces and cook them, remove the lemon grass before serving. I like the flavor of lemongrass but the texture is always woody to me no matter how thin I slice it.
2. Combine the stock, galangal, lime leaves, sugar, lemongrass, tamarind paste and sriracha then bring to a boil.
3. Add the coconut milk and bring back to a simmer
4. Add the mushrooms lime juice and fish sauce, stir a few times and then add the fish. The fish will only need a minute or two to cook.
5. Serve immediately and garnish with the red chilies and the cilantro. I like to serve mine over a bowl of rice but you don't have to. Enjoy!