I am always interested in experimenting with new ways of processing food. Recently, we were doing a minor fish harvest, more to see the reception to our fish and to reduce the population in the fish ponds. With the natural setting of the pond, the fish have been reproducing and for the overall betterment of the fishes in the pond, it was necessary to reduce the population. During this exercise, we managed to harvest about 100 lampan with many more left in the pond. This fish has been flourishing in the pond and to reduce competition for space, this fish was harvested along with the red tilapia.
Lampan is a fish that is very susceptible to the oxygen content in the water as well as to the quality of the water. This fish is my gauge for the oxygen content. Should the oxygen content be low, they are the first to react and will be at the water surface. They can die within one day if the oxygen content is low. If the water quality is low, they will also be the first to die. By comparison, the keli or the haruan is very hardy and can survive in low quality water and mud. Apart from the fish pellet, they love eating the water grass and plants so when I was cleaning the fish, I noticed a lot of "green" in their "stomach". With the natural setting of the fish pond, this has helped them to flourish and breed.
We sold some of the Lampam at the Sunday market and the remaining I decided to process into dried salted fish. This fish has many small bones and as with many fish that has a lot of bones, it taste great but eating them could be challenge. Previously, I had turned them into dried salted fish and when fried till crispy, is very tasty. This time around, I decided to do a variation of it - you could almost say a gourmet version. The fish has a lot of fat, like many of the trout family (salmon is one fish that is from the trout family along with rainbow trout and many others) hence when it is fried, it doesn’t become hard but is more malleable. You will also see the fat turn into oil, staying on the surface of
With the abundance of herbs to create a marinade, I decided to use lemon grass (serai) and kaffir lime leaves (daun limau perut) along with coarse salt to create the marinade. The lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves were pounded in a mortar pestle to release the juices and aroma. Alternatively, you can also blend but this would mean adding water to the ingredients before you can blend it and this can cause the salt to dissolve faster and seep into the fish faster than the lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves, making it more salty and less aromatic. I like my fish to taste of salt but not overly salty which would necessitate the dried fish to be soaked to remove some of the salt before cooking but which would also cause for the herbal taste to leak out.
I enjoy having this fish fried to a crisp and eating it with ulam and sambal belacan (chillies and shrimp paste mix) along with rice. Sometimes, I even eat it on its own or with a salad accompaniment. The taste of the lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves gives it a great taste twist. Because it is crispy, you can just munch on it without worrying about the bones sticking to your throat. You just chew them down.
So, next time you want to have dried salted fish, make some and use the abundance of herbs and natural seasoning that we have in Malaysia and create your own gourmet version of salted dried fish.