Thai spicy catfish stir-fried with red curry paste is a delightful dish full of bold and delicious flavors! It’s a hearty fried fish recipe full of bold and spicy flavors from curry paste, herbs, and sweet and salty sauces. It’s a simple recipe and is ready in 30 minutes or less!
Some Thai dishes pair well with Thai spicy catfish recipes are Thai shrimp cake with sweet chili sauce and Thai crispy Egg salad yum kai dao. Both are lighter and healthy recipes that are perfect as a side dish to serve as a family-style dinner, along with the catfish recipe.
Catfish is a popular fish eaten thought out Southeast Asia. My family raised catfish in ponds in our backyard and rice fields. When the fish were mature enough for use, the ponds would be drained of water and left with a muddy well full of catfish. We then went to town to play a game of muddy catch of these fish in the mud until all the fish were caught. The best part was cooking the fresh fish for dinner for the next couple of weeks! Fun memory.
What Is Thai spicy catfish stir-fried with red curry paste?
Pad Ped Pla Duk is the Thai name for this recipe. Pad Ped means spicy stir fry; Pla Duk is catfish in Thai. Though it’s traditionally a spicy dish, the recipe is adaptable! Use less curry paste and red bell peppers than spicy peppers to adjust the spice level. Pad Ped Pla Duk is typically served as a main course with jasmine rice.
Traditionally the fish is deep fried in hot oil into catfish strips before stir-frying. But to stay healthier, I'll be pan-frying my catfish pieces and then combining them with the red curry sauce. I fry it a few minutes longer to get the fish on the well-done side, so it doesn’t fall apart in the pan.
In Thailand, catfish are typically sold and cut as tubes with skin and bones attached. This cut helps the fish not to fall apart easily when stir-frying. However, here in the US, fish are mostly sold as fillets with no skin or bones. For this catfish recipe, I used fish fillet.
Ingredients for Pad Ped Pla Duk
- Catfish. Cut the fish into large pieces, 4 inchx3 inch pieces.
- Oil. Use avocado, canola, or vegetable oil. Use enough oil to fry the basil leaves and catfish and fry the curry paste. Add more as needed if the ingredients absorb more oil than usual.
- Thai basil. Use fresh, clean Thai basil leaves. Wash and let it dry completely before frying. Leave the stems and use only the leaves. Use about 20 leaves for frying to use as garnish.
- Red curry paste. Use store-bought or homemade paste. Adjust the fish sauce as needed according to how salty the curry paste is.
- Krachai or lesser ginger, rhizome herbs looking like little fingers in a clump. Its distinct taste and textures add a citrusy, minty taste to the dish. For an authentic taste, this ingredient is a must. kaffir leaves
- Red chili peppers. Use Thai long chilis, Serrano, or red jalapenos for added spice. Red pepper flakes work, too, for an extra punch of spiciness. Omit this, or use it minimally if you want a mild taste. Use bell peppers instead of spicy chilis if you want a milder taste.
- Fish sauce. Use up to 2 teaspoons of fish sauce as needed. Add only 1 teaspoon to the sauce mixture.
- Oyster sauce.
- Sugar. Use white, brown, or palm sugar. Honey or agave is great, too, for sweeteners.
- Water. Use up to ⅓ cup of water or unsalted stock. Coconut milk is an option, too, if you want a creamier taste.
A Note on Some Ingredients and Substitutes
These are suggested substitutes for some of the ingredients in this recipe.
- Krachai. Krachai may be new to you and can be difficult to find. Use ginger instead, but reduce the amount to half the portion asked for in this recipe.
- Kaffir lime leaves. Difficult to find substitutes for these ingredients, but if impossible, use the zest of a lime instead. You’ll need just 1 teaspoon of the zest.
- Catfish. The best types of fish for this recipe are the firm white fish like cod, tilapia, sword, halibut, and sea bass. Shrimp and scallops are excellent substitutes for this recipe as well.
- Red chilis. Traditional Thai recipe uses whole green peppercorns still on the vines. They are difficult to find here in the US. I’ve seen some in a brine glass jar. If you can find some, use those for the extra spice and crunch in this recipe.
How To Make Thai spicy catfish stir-fried with red curry paste
Fry the basil leaves on medium heat for 30 seconds on each side until the leaves are opaque, bright green, and crispy. With a slotted spoon or spatula, quickly remove and place on a plate lined with paper towels. Repeat until all the leaves are done. Fry in batches if necessary. Don’t overcrowd the leaves. Leave to cool at room temperature.
Make the sauce. Combine fish, oyster, and brown sugar in a small bowl and set aside.
Add oil to a large frying pan on medium-high heat, and fry the fish for 3-4 minutes per side or until lightly golden brown. Don’t touch the fillet until ready to flip over to prevent the meat from falling apart. Once both sides are done, carefully remove the cooked fish and place it on a plate lined with paper towels, set aside.
No need to wash the pan. Only lightly scrape the pan of large bits of food with paper towels if you have large chunks of fish fillet stuck to it. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to medium-high heat on a large skillet. Add the curry paste, break it into small pieces, and stir often. Fry for 1 minute or until fragrant. Turn the stove fan on, as the aroma of the frying curry paste will be strong.
Add the Krachai, kaffir lime leaves, and 2 tablespoons of water and stir. Cook for 1 minute. The curry will start to thicken. You're making a spicy sauce here before adding the fish last.
Add the sauce mixture, chilis, and a small amount of water, around 1-2 tablespoons, or if the curry paste is getting too dry.
Add the fresh basil leaves, and stir well for one minute. Taste and season as needed before adding the fish.
Finally, add the fish, gently stir and scoop the curry sauce into the fillet as best your can. Add 1 more water if necessary (1-2 tablespoons). Cook for 1 more minute. Turn the heat off. Place on a serving plate with jasmine rice and garnish with fried basil leaves, sliced cucumbers, and lime wedges. Enjoy this lovely meal with each perfect bite full of delicious Thai flavors!
Helpful Kitchen notes And Expert Tips
- Krachai. These can be difficult to find. But if you venture out to the Asian markets, you will find them there. They are either in the freezer or in brine in a glass jar. Dried or powder is not ideal, but it will get the job done. Hydrate the dried Krachai and use about 1 tablespoon, chopped. For powder, use 1 tablespoon to add to the curry paste during the frying step.
- If using frozen catfish, let the fish thaw completely and pat dry well with a paper towel. Let the fish sit for 15 minutes before frying to let the moisture escape a little more.
- When cooking the fish, some of the meat will most likely flake and fall apart. It’s ok if this happens. It’s a very good thing. Use it and add to the stirfry! These smaller bits absorb the curry sauce well and the tasty flavors of the finished recipe!
What is catfish?
Catfish are freshwater fish found in lakes, rivers, ponds, and creeks. They are a lean yet meaty and low in calories kind of fish and are full of healthy fats and vitamins that are good for our bodies. Catfish also don't have scales but rather smooth gray skin with long sharp whiskers that look like cat whiskers. Thus the name.
Catfish is low in calories and packed with lean protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. It's particularly rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fats and vitamin B12. It can be a healthy addition to any meal, though deep frying adds far more calories and fat than dry heat cooking methods like baking or broiling.
Should I coat my catfish be coated before frying it?
Yes and No. Some recipes may call for the fish to be dredged in a light coat of flour before frying, but not for this Thai stir fry recipe. The meatiness of the catfish adds a wonderful texture to the bold flavors of the curry paste, kra chai, kaffir leaves, and Thai chilis. I find that my dredge fillets change the texture and flavor of the fish for this recipe.
What oil is best for frying catfish?
Use high smoking heat oil, oils that can handle high heat without altering its molecules that can turn toxic to your body. Vegetable, canola, or avocado oils are recommended for frying catfish for a Thai stir-fry dish.
Why is my fried catfish mushy?
Cook in small batches rather than adding all the pieces into a pan. Overcrowding fish fillets will lower the oil temperature, causing the fish to cook unevenly and leading to mushy fish fillets.
More Thai Recipes You’ll Love!
- Nam Jim Jaeow recipe without sugar, a spicy dipping sauce with chili-lime sauce
- 5-minute authentic Thai satay sauce using peanut butter
- Thai basil chicken pad krapao, using green beans
- Thai green mango salad with cashew
- Pad See Eww recipe with Chinese broccoli
- How to make Thai sticky rice
- How to make purple sticky rice
- Thai Gai Yang recipe, a baked lemon grass chicken
** Love a recipe you've tried? Please leave a 5-star ?rating in the recipe card below and/or a review in the comments section further down the page. Or follow me on Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram! **Print