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Pa-ork Chao
Pickled Fish

Pa-ork Chao
Pickled Fish

In common with ‘prahok’ (fermented fish paste), this is a traditional Khmer technique for preserving fish when they are plentiful and cheap. Before the harvest season starts around December, farmers’ wives, thinking of the busy time ahead, take advantage of this quiet time to make ‘pa-ork chao’ or pickled fish. Typically, this can be served steamed or fried and eaten with fresh vegetables. It can also be used as an ingredient in other dishes.

Did you know …
Frozen pangasius or river cobbler imported from Vietnam is reported to be unhealthy for consumption. Why? Check this out:

Trei Prar
Pangasianodon Hypophthalmus

Trei Keh





Trei pra1 (shark catfish) or salmon1 kg (2.2 lb), scaled, gutted, trimmed, washed, pat dry and cut into 2½ cm (1 inch) thick steaks 
Salt2 4-5 Tbsp – about 100g (⅓ cup)
Romdeng (Galangal)3 2.5 cm (1 inch), peeled, roughly chopped and pounded into a smooth paste 
Tapaè rice4 1 cup - recipe (use sweet glutinous rice as an alternative)
Palm sugar or light brown sugar 1 Tbsp
Large jar with a non-metal lid 


1 - Marinate the fish steakts with salt. Pack the marinated fish tightly into a large sterilised jar (how to sterilise a jar) making sure that you leave at least 2.5 cm (1 inch) empty space above the fish.  To hold the fish down, wedge 2 flat criss-crossed bamboo pieces5 (cut a fraction bigger than the diameter of the jar) inside the jar and press down tightly. 

2 - Cover the jar and store at room temperature in a dry aerated place for 5-7 days (depending on the local climate) or until the flesh become firm and reddish brown. 

3 - If using tapaè rice, start making it 1-2 days after step 2 is started. If using sweet glutinous rice porridge instead, make it on the day when step 2 finishes, allowing it to cool before starting step 4). 

4 - Transfer the marinated fish from the jar to a large bowl and keep the brine in a separate small bowl. Wash the jar and turn upside down on a kitchen towel to dry.

5 - Mix the fish with the pounded galangal. Then add tapaè (or sweet rice porridge without adding the sugar) and the sugar and mix well. Repack the fish mixture into the jar, and use 2 flat bamboo pieces5 as before to press it down tightly. Top with some of the brine to cover the fish and discard the rest of the brine. Again make sure that you leave at least 2.5cm (1 inch) empty space above the fish. The fish must be fully submerged under the liquid to properly ferment. Cover tightly with the lid and store at room temperature in a dry aerated place. Leave to mature for up to 4 weeks.   

6 - To test if it is ready, after 3 weeks, take one piece of fish out and steam or fry with a little oil. It should have a mild tangy taste but not as sour as Jewish/Danish pickled herring. If not, leave it for another 3-5 days and test again. Note: This pickled fish can be stored up to 2 months after it is ready in a cool, dark and dry place - longer in the refrigerator. 

7 - To serve, steam the fish together with whole fresh cayenne peppers or finger chillies. Alternatively, fry it with chopped garlic and sprinkle with some sugar to taste and served with steamed rice. Cucumber, aubergine and long beans can also be served with the fish. 


Other oily fish such as trei po’ (pangasius/river cobbler) or ‘trei keh’ (micronema) can be used as an alternative. These fish are available at both regular supermarkets and Asian grocery stores. However, salmon, mackerel or trout are perfect substitutes, if preferred. 

The amount of salt used dictates the length of time it takes to ferment and how long it will keep. For example, commercially pickled fish typically consists of  1 part fish to 0.15 part salt (i.e. 1 kg/2.2 lb fish to 150g/½ cup salt). This high salt content guaranties that it will keep for up to 6-8 months after it is ready to eat. However, for family consumption, less salt is used; typically 1 part fish to 0.10 part salt (i.e. 1kg/2.2 lb fish to 100g / ⅓ cup) salt.  If preferred, you can even use a lot less (i.e. 1 part fish to 0.05 part salt – or 1kg/2.2 lb fish to 50g/2 Tbsp salt) - which will ferment quicker but won’t keep as long after it is ready to be eaten. 

Galangal can be found at Asian grocery stores. 

4  ‘Babor skor’ or sweet glutinous rice porridge (recipe) is a good substitute for the traditional tapaè rice. This is because you won’t have to wait for 3-5 days to have it ready to use.

If bamboo pieces are not available, you can place a ceramic / glass egg cup or anything similar on top of the fish and use the jar lid to press it down.