Edwan recently became obsessed with the Gerang Pedas at Lima Blas restaurant, so he set out to make his own version. Will he succeed? Read on...
Perfectly cooked fish, spicy and tart broth. Brilliant.
I was so enamoured by the 'gerang pedas' I had at Lima Blas, I knew I had to make it at home. Gerang pedas is probably more known as assam pedas or masak assam. I wanted to specifically recreate the taste of the one at Lima Blas...
There are many variations to this dish, and feel free to weigh in with your thoughts on what makes a good one. To me the hallmark of this great dish is that tangy and spicy flavour. It shouldn't be too thin as to taste watered down, but not so thick as to resemble a sambal tumis either. There needs to be a perfect balance. The spice needs to be bright and rich, and the heat tempered by the tartness from asam keping or tamarind, and have a lovely, lemony aroma. And of course, the fish - regardless of species used - must be perfectly cooked: moist, juicy and tender, but not to the point that it's mush.
With that in mind, I set out to gather my ingredients. I could have gone the whole shebang and sourced my own chillies and assam or caught my own fish... but since I also thought to make this whole process convenient, I bought what was easiest to source. Just remember to get the best quality you can if you're attempting this. Here are my ingredients:
• 300g Cili boh - get the unsalted variety if you can. Make your own for the best.
• 3 big shallots - thinly sliced
• 5 cloves garlic - crushed
• 2 inches galangal - sliced thin
• 3 stalks Lemongrass - cleaned and sliced
• 1 ginger flower - the bulb halved and the stalk sliced
• 5 - 6 pieces assam keping
• 6 - 8 okra or 1 brinjal cut in thick slices
• Handful of daun kessum/ 'Vietnamese mint'
• 5 ikan kembong
• Salt and sugar to taste
Now let me walk you through the process to re-create the gerang pedas. Here we go...
First off, swirl in some oil in a suitable wok or pot and get it hot. Add in the shallots, garlic and galangal.
Saute this on a medium heat, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes. This allows the sugars in the shallots and the flavours of the garlic and galangal to slowly release, ensuring maximum flavour.
Once the aromatics are soft and browned, pour in the cili boh.
Cook this, still on a medium flame, until the oil seeps out of the mixture. Or 'pecah minyak', as we're all familiar with. Keep on stirring so you won't scorch the mixture. We want the flavours to gradually build up for the grand finale.
Once the oil has come out, pour in the water. Now this is where you decide how thick or thin you want your dish to end up like. I wanted it to be just right, so I poured in about a cup and a half of water. Put in less if you want a super thick and concentrated broth, more if you like yours soupy.
Bring it to a gentle simmer, then toss in the ginger flower and assam keping.
Toss in, too, the daun kessum. The daun kesum is what gives asam pedas a lovely, herby taste. Turn the fire up high and let it come to a boil. Now add in the okra and simmer. This requires about 8 minutes of cooking so the tough fibres break down and you get delicious, tender okra.
It'll also absorb that unctous broth it's simmering in, making it extra tasty.
Lastly, gently put in the fish. I used ikan kembong/mackerel because it has lovely texture and a gentle sweetness to the meat... plus it's dead cheap.
If I had the money, I would totally use Spanish Mackerel/Tenggiri. It's firm, meaty texture and sweet flesh are heavenly in this dish. Stingray, seabass, threadfin and grouper are excellent as well. If it's a big fish, just make sure to cut it into similarly sized pieces so they cook at the same time. Once the fish is in, cook GENTLY. Boiling cooks the fish faster, but you're risking ruining the texture of the fish as it tumbles and turns in the boiling liquid. What you actually want to do is to slowly poach the fish. This method ensures the fish isn't ruined, and also allows the full flavour of the broth and fish to marry perfectly.
As a last touch, season the gerang/assam pedas with some sugar, just to balance out the spice and tartness. And there you have it: a perfect gerang pedas.
The broth is spicy, bright and tart, with tender okra, and perfectly cooked fish. As yummy as I had at Lima Blas restaurant, but in the comfort of my own kitchen. You can have it too. Now excuse me, I'm looking for some hot white rice...