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3-flavour fish

Saam roht means “three flavors,” which in this case refers to the sauce—it’s sweet, salty, and sour in equal measure. It’s an easy dish that looks impressive—a simple pan-seared fish drenched in a glossy red sauce. 



  • 8 sprigs cilantro
  • 6 cloves (30 g ) garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml ) white peppercorns
  • 1 to 2 Thai chilies, or to taste
  • 1/4 (70 g ) red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons (60 ml ) neutral oil, divided
  • 1/3 cup (65 g ) finely chopped palm sugar, packed
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons (45 to 60 ml ) tamarind paste, store-bought or homemade
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml ) fish sauce
  • 1 pound (450 g ) white fish fillet
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup (38 to 75 g ) all-purpose flour or cornstarch
  • Jasmine rice, for serving


  1. If you’re using fish that is thicker than one inch, preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C ) in case you need to finish cooking the fish in it.
  2. Cut the cilantro sprigs in half, separating the part with leaves from the stems alone. Finely chop the stems, and set the leafy parts aside for garnishing.
  3. Using a mortar and pestle, pound the cilantro stems, garlic, and peppercorns into a fine paste. Add the chilies and pound to form a rough paste. Add the bell peppers and crush gently just until the pepper pieces are smashed and some juices are released.
  4. In a small pot over medium heat, pour in one tablespoon of oil and cook the pounded pepper mixture for about three minutes, stirring constantly. Once the mixture has lost about half of its liquid, add the palm sugar, tamarind paste, and fish sauce. Keep cooking until the sugar is dissolved, then let the sauce simmer for three to four minutes to thicken to the consistency of a thin syrup.
  5. Turn off the heat, then taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. If it is too strong, you can add a splash of water to dilute it; if it is too weak, reduce the sauce a bit longer. Remember that this sauce will go on completely unseasoned fish, so its flavor should be quite strong on its own. Cover the pot while you fry the fish.
  6. Pat the fish dry with a paper towel, then generously sprinkle it with flour, coating the fish on both sides. Shake off any excess flour so you have a thin, even coating.
  7. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, then pour in enough oil so the bottom is thoroughly coated. When the oil is very hot, carefully place the fish, skin side up, into the pan, letting it drop away from you. There should be a loud, excited sizzling as soon as the fish touches the pan. Fry the fish without moving it for two to three minutes, until it is well browned and about halfway cooked. Flip and cook on the other side for another two to three minutes. If you’re using a thick fillet, you may need to finish it in the oven for about five minutes or so. Check the doneness of the fish either by carefully cutting open the center of the fillet with a dinner knife (the flesh should flake easily and look opaque ) or inserting an instant-read thermometer into the center—the internal temperature should be a minimum of 145°F (63°C ).
  8. Place the cooked fish on a serving platter that has some depth to hold the sauce. Reheat the sauce if needed, and if it has dried out while it sat, you can also stir in a splash of water. Pour the sauce over the fish.
  9. Chop the reserved cilantro leaves and sprinkle overtop to garnish. Serve with jasmine rice. Enjoy!

Excerpted from Sabai by Pailin Chongchitnant. Copyright © 2023 Pailin Chongchitnant. Photographs by Janis Nicolay. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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