A Cambodian style Smoked Mackerel Salad

This is a recipe of memories, inspirations and substitutions.

The original recipe came via Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey, his trip around S E Asia to cook and eat old favourites and discover new ones (I’d like his job!!). The series and book are a delight, the recipes are mouth-wateringly good –  the flavours of lime, lemongrass, galangal, the heat of chillies the sweet of coconut milk.


Combine this with a food memory, of meals at a local Thai restaurant that would start with appetisers, Thai style Hors d’oeuvre if you will. You could choose from bowls of fried cashew nuts liberally salted and with slices of red chilli; or a platter to share – a melange of vegetables and condiments all there to awaken your tastebuds and build up to the main meal. The platter would be artfully arranged with portions of finely sliced shallots, ginger, chillies, lemongrass, garlic, Taking a pinch of each and rolling them in a lettuce leaf. And then there was my favourite Hors d’oeuvre a combination of sweet and sour –   a dish of smoked fish and pink grapefruit.

And I’ve always wondered what the smoked fish was and this is where Rick Stein and David Thompson come in; Stein recreated a Cambodian salad “Spicy green mango salad with smoked fish and a sweet and sour dressing” back home using smoked mackerel.  Now combine this with a dip into David Thompson’s Thai Food,  where he writes of Ma Hor and Miang’s of ground fish served with fruit. And off we go!


So we have the memories and the inspirations, now for the substitutions. The original recipe calls for a green mango, but I can’t get green mangoes locally. Besides let’s think local and not bother importing green mangoes. A quick search online and I read about using apples as a replacement. Now I realise the two things are very different in flavour and texture, but having now made this salad several times I’m convinced the switch to apple works and works supremely well.

The only special ingredient that this recipe calls for is Fish Sauce, quintessentially SE Asian in flavour, it seems to be used in everything giving a background flavour – omnipresent of you will. Use it in small amounts or it will overwhelm. I buy it from a local Asian food shop or when in here in France from Grand Frais supermarket, so it’s widely available. Once opened store it in the fridge and it will keep for an eternity.

Fish Sauce

If you like fish, raw veggies, Tha style salads, give this a go. It bursts and pops in your mouth. Flavour abounds. It makes a great starter or a main.  More bonus points or convincing needed? It’s pretty cheap, very quick and probably healthy 🙂 I say probably as you do fry the fish, but don’t be tempted to skip this bit, it makes ALL the difference in terms of texture and flavour. Talking of the fish I buy locally smoked Mackerel when I’m at home in Hastings but I realise not everyone is as lucky as I am so not to worry the ones you buy prepacked in the supermarkets are still excellent.

You can prepare the fish earlier but this salad needs to be made just as you are about to eat and the amounts here serve two as a large starter.

Njham svay trey heu – Cambodian Smoked Fish Salad

Ingredients –

  • 1 filet (2 pieces) of smoked mackerel, skinned
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 1 green sharp apple (not a sweet red one) cored, peeled and grated
  • 1 carrot, peeled and grated
  • 1 large or 2 small shallots, peeled and finely sliced
  • 1 red chilli, finely sliced
  • A handful of dry roasted/fried peanuts, roughly chopped
  • Dressing –
  • 2 tsp palm sugar (or soft brown sugar)
  • 1 tbs fish sauce
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • A few leaves of Thai sweet/holy basil or coriander to serve

Method –

  • Flake the mackerel into small pieces.
  • Heat some vegetable oil in a wok or frying pan until hot
  • Add the mackerel to the oil and cook for 1 to 2 minutes until the fish is crispy.
  • Drain the fish on some paper towels to take the excess oil away, and leave to cool.
  • In a small bowl make the dressing by adding the sugar, fish sauce and lime juice – whisk them so they are combined.
  • In a salad bowl add the fish, grated apple and carrot, the sliced shallot and chilli
  • Now add the dressing a bit at a time and mix it into the fish and salad. Don’t drown the salad just coat it.
  • Sprinkle some fresh Thai Holy Basil or Coriander over the top to serve.



  • Fish sauce is like salt to any other culture, but you’re right with your warnings! I remember the first time I ever used it, a memory not easily forgotten. I always try an ingredient before adding it blindly (after the chili paste incident) to make sure it’s OK and to be able to adjust, but this one took me by surprise! Pungent barely describes it! I had thought about tossing it out and omitting the hideous flavour, but it’s absolutely required in SE Asian cooking. Now it proudly occupies a prominent position in my fridge door.

    • I find it fascinating what one culture sees as the norm and the other sees as odd or has to adapt to. They reckon that when you land at Heathrow and get the tube into London you smell milk/dairy – something the S E Asian’s are unused to!
      Hope you have a super day Eva !

  • This sounds gorgeous Claire. Cheap, very quick and ‘probably healthy’ sounds good to me! Love the sound of grated apple in the mix, especially with the crunchy peanuts and Thai basil. Big yum! Can’t get smoked mackerel easily around these parts, but I’m thinking it could be good with smoked trout too.

  • It seems we are both into Asian foods lately. Your salad sounds good…will have to use smoked trout as I don’t see mackerel in the markets.

  • Ooh I’m going to look out for some smoked mackerel at the weekend as I already have fish sauce! Have to confess to a huge crush on Rick Stein (and the sadly departed Chalky). Big Man is aware that should I bump into RS I may have to elope with him 😉

  • Massive fan of Rick Stein … he make simple and uncomplicated dishes … visit his place in Padstow – The Seafood Restaurant the year before he started with BBC. Amazing food – we stayed up on his other hotel, the bistro … I’m going to do this.
    I miss a photo of the finale dish … how could you miss out on that ????? *smile – your photos here are very VERY good. Just a tip .. if you don’t have fish sauce at home .. chicken bouillon works excellent good..

    • It seems we are not alone vivi ! I’ve never eaten at hi splace, I’m sure it was wonderful!
      And yes we are missing the final photo, I didn’t like the way it came out – will be making it soon when I get home so I could add it to the post….
      Great tip about fish sauce, if I want to make something vegetarian I use soy sauce as a substitute

  • Oh, Claire. What are we to do with you? Last night, I gave you a Pasta Pass but now you expect a Salad Save? I know you must eat but you need to be on those slopes, not blogging about what you eat. Don’t make me come over there!
    (Great salad, by the way. 🙂 )

  • Absolutely wonderful salad reminding me I better dig out my Rick Stein book for a search!! Would you believe a repeat of this series is just now part of our socalled ‘food porn Thursday’ on my fave TV channel! This seems a delightful fusion as I don’t remember smoked mackerel [which I love] being used in Cambodia [have no problems getting it here in Oz]. . . the use of apple is also new. So onward to an exciting trial 🙂 ! [Yep, miss Chalky also!].

    • Loving the idea of food porn Thursdays !! They repeated the series recently on the BBC and I caught a couple of them on iplayer – lovely programmes!
      I can’t remember what fish they used in the programme but he substituted the mackerel when he got home, as you say plenty of fish in the sea 🙂
      RIP Chalky…..

  • What a voluptuous recipe! Enthralling flavors in each bite! Just the dinner we need to chase the winter chills away!

  • I love the way you made the substitution recognizing that importing items isn’t always a sound idea. The apple makes a nice crunch to the salad which I think would be very welcome! This recipe sounded to me like it skipped well into spring and on its way to summer, Claire. I think you must be dreaming of the garden while you’re still in the kitchen! 🙂 Your photography, as always, is just so appealing. oxo

    • You know it Debra, I am dreaming of the garden – its a case of itchy fingers, not long now though 🙂 And thank you for your kind words and compliments, x

  • First off, I was utterly SMITTEN by that first image!! What a beautiful light strikes those limes! 🙂 THEN there’s the recipe, which looks simply delicious! (and deliciously simple!)

  • I haven’t had mackerel since I lived in the UK but we do have access to salmon. I love the lime, sugar, fish sauce combination.

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