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Salted Mackerel – Pla Kem

Kasma Loha-unchit, Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Among highly salted fish, my personal favorite is salted mackerel – pla kem. If you like preserved anchovies, you will most likely fall for salted mackerel, too.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Salted Mackerel 1

Vacuum-packed salted mackerel

Salted Mackerel 2

More vacuum-packed salted mackerel

Look for narrow oval steaks of salted king mackerel either vacuum-packed in plastic and either frozen or in a refrigerator, or stuffed in glass jars covered with oil. Pan-fry in a small amount of oil for a couple of minutes on both sides until well-browned and flaky. Drain from oil and sprinkle with thinly sliced shallots, thin rounds of Thai chillies and fresh lime juice. Because it is very salty, only a small bit of the mackerel is mixed and eaten with plain steamed rice. My mother and I share a fondness for salted mackerel and just a tiny piece can help us polish up a big pot of rice, feeling very satisfied!

Salted Mackerel

Salted mackerel

Salted mackerel is also used as a flavoring ingredient, such as in the Chinese steamed chopped pork with salted fish. Use it as you would salted anchovies. It makes a particularly tasty flavoring for stir-fried Asian broccoli, or broccoli rabe (see recipe below). Flake the flesh of pan-fried salted mackerel and toss in with the greens. Instead of salted mackerel, small pieces of fried, dried salted mudfish may also be used.

When working with any kind of dried and salted fish, beware of the strong fishy odors likely to be released during cooking, especially frying. Make sure there is plenty of ventilation in the kitchen to disperse the lingering fumes.


Asian Broccoli with Salted Mackerel (Ka-nah Pla Kem)
Recipe by Kasma Loha-unchit

Prepared Asian Broccoli

Prepared Asian broccoli and garlic

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch Asian or Chinese broccoli (ka-nah)
  • 1/4 cup peanut oil
  • 1 small piece (about 2 oz.) salted mackerel (pla kem)
  • 10 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3-4 Tbs. Thai oyster sauce
  • 2-3 tsp. fish sauce (nam pla), to taste

Method

Starting from the stem-end, cut the Asian broccoli at a very sharp slanted angle 1/2 inch apart to make pieces about 1 1/2 inches long. Peel the bottom of the larger, more fibrous stems before cutting. For pieces with leaves attached, cut the leaves into 2-inch segments. Do not make it a point to detach the leaves from the stems; there should be pieces of stem with some leaf attached. Keep the pieces from the bottom half of the stems separate from the more leafy upper half.

Frying Mackerel

Frying salted mackerel in oil

Fried Salted Mackerel

Fried salted mackerel

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a wok over medium-high heat until it begins to smoke. Fry the salted mackerel in the oil for 2-3 minutes on each side until well-browned. Remove from wok.

Stir-Frying

Stir-frying the Asian broccoli

Asian Broccoli Cooking

Continuing to stir-fry

Increase heat to high and swirl in the remaining oil. When it is smoking hot, add the chopped garlic, stir for 10-15 seconds, then toss in the bottom stem pieces. Stir-fry half to one minute before adding the leafy pieces. Continue to stir-fry until the leaves have mostly wilted. Sprinkle with oyster sauce and 1 tsp. of fish sauce, stir and mix well.

Broken Salted Mackerel

Salted mackerel in chunks

Adding Salted Mackerel

Adding salted mackerel to the stir-fry

Break the mackerel into small chunks and toss in with the vegetable.

Stir-fry a little while longer until the broccoli is tender, but still crisp, and a vibrant green color. Taste and add more fish sauce as needed to the desired saltiness. Stir well and transfer to a serving dish.

Serves 6 with rice and other dishes in a shared family-style meal.

Finished Dish

Asian Broccoli with Salted Mackerel

Close-up of Dish

The finished dish, up close

Notes and Pointers:

A very nutritious bitter green vegetable readily available from most Oriental produce markets, Asian or Chinese broccoli has insignificant flower buds and is prized for its deep green leaves and firm, crisp stems.

Select a bunch with small tender stems. If the stems are large, the bottom half may need to be peeled to remove the tough fibers. Cutting the stems at a very sharp slanted angle helps break up the fibers that run the length of the stalks, giving them a more tender texture. The sauce can also penetrate the vegetable better through the longer cut that exposes the interior of the stems.


Slideshow on Salted Mackerel

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

Salted Mackerel 1
Salted Mackerel 2
Salted Mackerel
Prepared Asian Broccoli
Frying Mackerel
Fried Salted Mackerel
Stir-Frying
Asian Broccoli Cooking
Broken Salted Mackerel
Adding Salted Mackerel
Finished Dish
Close-up of Dish

Salted mackerel in a vacuum-pack, one variety

More vacuum-packed salted mackerel

Salted mackerel, removed from the package

Asian broccoli, cut at a slanted angle, plus chopped garlic

Frying salted mackerel in peanut oil until brown

Fried salted mackerel, browned and ready for the next step

Stir-frying the Asian broccoli and garlic

Continuing to stir-fry the Asian broccoli and garlic

The salted mackerel is broken into small chunks

Adding the chunks of salted mackerel to the stir-fry

Asian Broccoli with Salted Mackerel (Ka-nah Pla Kem)

A close up of Asian Broccoli with Salted Mackerel (Ka-nah Pla Kem)

Salted Mackerel 1 thumbnail
Salted Mackerel 2 thumbnail
Salted Mackerel thumbnail
Prepared Asian Broccoli thumbnail
Frying Mackerel thumbnail
Fried Salted Mackerel thumbnail
Stir-Frying thumbnail
Asian Broccoli Cooking thumbnail
Broken Salted Mackerel thumbnail
Adding Salted Mackerel thumbnail
Finished Dish thumbnail
Close-up of Dish thumbnail

Note: This blog originally appeared on pages 42 to 43 of Dancing Shrimp: Favorite Thai Recipes for Seafood, published in 2000 by Simon & Schuster. All text is Copyright © 2000 Kasma Loha-unchit.

All photographs are Copyright © 2011 & 2013 Kasma Loha-unchit


Written By Kasma Loha-unchit, 2000

Din Tai Fung Bangkok – A Disappointment

Michael Babcock, Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Last February we visited the restaurant Din Tai Fung in Bangkok with great expectations for their Shanghai Dumplings – Xiao Long Bao. Apparently, the Din Tai Fung in Taipei is considered one of the top restaurants in the world and it is known for their Xiao Long Bao, and we adore good Xiao Long Bao. Unfortunately, the restaurant in Bangkok did not live up to our expectations.

Xiao Long Bao

Xiao Long Bao

A Xiao Long Bao

One Xiao Long Bao

(Click images to see larger version.)

Longtime readers of this blog know of our love of Xiao Long Bao. At one point, in 2011, we thought we’d found a great source for them at the then-named Shanghai Happiness Restaurant in the popular MBK (Mahboonkrong) Center. (See Shanghai Dumplings in Bangok.) Unfortunately, when we re-visited this restaurant last year (December 2012), we found the name had changed (to Shanghai Xiao Long Bao) and the Shanghai Dumplings were no longer very good. So we were quite excited to try out Din Tai Fung. [We will revisit this Shanghai Xiao Long Bao later this year – perhaps they just had an off-day.]

Entry Sign

Entry sign

Making Xiao Long Bao

Making Xiao Long Bao

Din Tai Fung is known for “its famous signature xiao long bao.” As you walk in, you are able to watch 3 or 4 of the workers making the Xiao Long Bao in front of you: the dumplings came out looking absolutely gorgeous. In their literature they talk about how a good xiao long bao should have at least 18 folds. When ours came to the table, I actually counted over 20 folds and they looked absolutely stunning.

Din Tai Fung Restaurant

Din Tai Fung Restaurant in Bangkok

Seating Area

Seating area

This particular branch is located in the upscale shopping center Central World in the Ratchaprasong Shopping District. It’s a pretty classy looking restaurant, modern and clean. They raise your expectations very high: a sign as you walk in informs you that “The arrival of Din Tai Fung in Thailand creates new standards in the local dining scene.” This is under the heading: “Ushering in an era of esteemed Taiwanese culinary heritage.”

Condiments

Condiment tray

Place Setting

Place setting

It’s an attractive, modern setting. The place settings were pleasing and each table came with soy sauce, chilli oil, vinegar and pickled ginger. The ginger was our first taste of their food: it was the most bland ginger I’ve ever tasted with almost no ginger flavor whatsoever. I wondered: how on earth do you make ginger so tasteless!

At first glance, we were disappointed by the menu: although there were quite a number of noodle dishes, the rest of the menu didn’t provide many choices. We ordered 5 items.

Xiao Long Bao

Xiao Long Bao

First, the Xiao Long Bao. We ordered  6 for 145 baht (there’s also 10 for 195). The dumplings were absolutely gorgeous on the outside. I counted over 20 folds in each of the dumplings – they looked spectacular. With great anticipation I dipped a dumpling in the sauce with “pickled” ginger, popped it into my mouth and bit down. The dough was excellent: not too thick, not too thin, just right for retaining a good quantity of the juice that squirted enticingly into the mouth when I bit down. Unfortunately, that’s where the positives stopped. The juice itself was bland. The filling itself was even blander. All that work and beauty, undermined by a filling and broth that had virtually no flavor. What a disappointment.

Spinach Tossed with Sesame

Spinach Tossed with Sesame

Another item we ordered was a salad, Spinach Tossed with Sesame. The dressing was pretty ho-hum, nothing spectacular at all; it desperately needed some salt. The overriding impression from the dish had to do with the toughness of the spinach, which I found mystifying. I sometimes cook up the leftover spinach from making Miang Kam in class at home and it always comes out easy to eat: it’s really very easy to cook up spinach so that it’s tender. If my spinach came out as tough as it was in this salad, I’d be embarrassed to serve it; in fact, I wouldn’t serve it.

Century Eggs with Slivered Ginger

Century Eggs with Slivered Ginger

Sliced Duck in Crispy Spring Onion Pastry

Sliced Duck in Crispy Spring Onion Pastry

The next item was Century Eggs with Slivered Ginger. The best part about this dish was the quality of the lovely Century Eggs: they were obviously of very high quality – translucent and delicious. Unfortunately, it was served with incredibly bland ginger: it would have been better served plain.

I thought the most successful of the dishes was the Sliced Duck in Crispy Spring Onion Pastry. The duck was very nicely cooked and the onion pastry was nice and crispy. Still, it was another bland dish that needed more flavor.

Mango Pudding

Mango Pudding

We finished with the Mango Pudding. As you can see (to the left), it’s a lovely presentation. Again, the taste was nothing very special at all.

The cost for our 5 dishes was 565 baht; after 10% service charge and VAT it came to 665 baht for a light meal for two, about $22 at the exchange rate at that time. Certainly, you can find spectacular food in Thailand for less, but this was not outrageous for a restaurant in Central World. Still, it felt like way too much to pay for bland food.

Basically, everything that was served  was bland and could have been enhanced by a little salt. In Kasma’s cooking classes one of the central lessons learned is how salt can be used to enhance and bring out flavor without making a dish taste salty. For whatever reason, the chef here seemed to be salt-averse and this meant  flavor-averse. Without a modicum of salt, everything tasted bland. Even adding soy sauce couldn’t add flavor into the already cooked food – the dumpling filling itself or the duck. The overall impression was of bland food presented nicely.

If you are on a salt-free diet and don’t mind bland food, you might like this restaurant. If you like flavorful food that lights up your mouth with delight, you’ll want to give it a pass.

I normally don’t like to publish something so negative. However, when a restaurant in Bangkok, where you can find some truly great food, claims that their arrival “creates new standards in the local dining scene,”  they had better give you food that delights and impresses. This food did neither.

For me, the best part of the day was finding a Melt Me chocolate outlet on the same floor at Central World. The gelato we had there was the best food of the day. (See my blog: Melt Me Chocolate, Revisited.)

Melt Me Chocolate

Melt Me Chocolate at Central World


Yin Tai Fung
Rajdamri Road, Patumwan
CentralWorld Shopping Centre Level 7 No.4
Bangkok 10330, Thailand
(02) 646-1282

You may wish to visit:


Written By Michael Babcock, August 2013
All opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author only.