My previous posts on Thai cooking were an attempt to generate interest in what in reality is a very mysterious and complex cuisine. I in no way intend to belittle or reduce this beautiful and ancient cuisine into a simple fast food that anyone can make on their first try with American ingredients.
No doubt many Thai dish recipes look simple and have few ingredients making them seem easy. Yes, anyone can slap together even a complex recipe and possibly even manage an edible result.
But, but, but, are we really looking for “edible”? Most food, even “fast food” is edible. If we are going to take the time to learn an ancient cuisine in order to enjoy the depths, subtleties and nuances of amazing flavor profiles that can be achieved in a properly prepared Thai dish…. Shouldn’t we learn as much as we can about the process? I think, YES!
The key to great, consistent, to-die-for, Thai food is two fold:
- High quality authentic ingredients.
- Flawless execution of preparatory technique
Think about it. The bulk of all Thai food is prepared by street cooks that have been making the dishes for generations with local ingredients. That is why Thai cooks can make it look so easy.
Pok Pok the Book
I have been fortunate enough to stumble upon the writings of a man who has done the bulk of the leg work for us. His name is Andy Ricker. His new book, Pok Pok, is the exact type of instructive cook book that one can learn from. The detail and breath of explanation is astonishing. I haven’t been able to put it down since it arrived.
The book has fabulous pictures of, not only the food, but the ingredients. Mr. Ricker describes in detail, how the process works and what the food “should” taste like.
Pok Pok the Restaurant
Not only are Mr. Ricker’s details of Thai food preparation and results, fantastic, but how he arrived at this point makes a captivating story. Mr. Ricker derives the name Pok Pok from the sound made by the mortar and pestle as the cook crushes and combines the meal’s ingredients.
The first Pok Pok was opened in Portland Oregon in 2005. There are now 7 Pok Pok restaurants, 2 Whiskey Soda Lounges and 1 Sen Yai, which recently closed. It served mostly rice and noodle dishes and cocktails.
Yes, they are all dives and dive bars, even the one in New York.
But as this next picture shows, they are very popular…
The Mortar and Pestle
I was wrong that the mortar and pestle could be replaced by a blender or food processor. The blender or food processor cuts and slices the food while the Mortar and Pestle crushes the food releasing essential oils and liquids then blending them into one. There is no substitution. – jughandle
Thai cooks use two different types of Mortar and Pestles. Granite and Clay. The heavy granite one is used mainly for pounding ingredients into pastes. The Clay mortar (also wood is acceptable) is deeper and cone shaped used to make the dishes such as papaya salad. Andy Ricker’s book Pok Pok goes into great detail when to use which mortar, how to use them and what results you should achieve.
Rice – Khao
The center piece of all meals is rice. Usually jasmine or sticky rice. The only exception would be meals served with noodles.
Rice has been the center of Thai cooking for centuries. Even though the dishes don’t name rice, it is implied that rice will be there. Rice is one of the balance points of each dish. Remember that Thai cooking is all about balance. The ying and yang, sweet and sour, hot and cold, soft and crunchy. “Rice doesn’t provide a complement of flavor as much as it completes the flavor” – Andy Ricker.