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Grilling Seafood in Thai Cooking

Kasma Loha-unchit, Sunday, September 1st, 2013

The hot tropical climate of Thailand lends itself to outdoor cooking. Grilling (in Thai – yang or pow) is one of the methods used in Thai cuisine. This blog talks a bit about how it is used in cooking seafood (taken from Kasma’s book, Dancing Shrimp: Favorite Thai Recipes for Seafood).

Grilling Fish

Grilling fish in Nong Kai

Fish on Grill

Fish on the Grill in Nong Kai

(Click images to see larger version.)

With charcoal a main source of cooking fuel until recent times, grilling has emerged as one of the most popular ways of cooking. No restaurant is complete without a fired-up grill and no marketplace can exist without a vendor grilling something or another – whether this be catfish on a stick, or skewered meat balls.

Seafood to Grill

Seafood to grill

Restaurant Grilling

Grilling at a restaurant

Along the coast near the capital city, strings of open-air talay pow (“grilled seafood”) restaurants line the beaches, serving up delectable, super-fresh seafood caught the same day. Just about every kind of seafood is tossed on the charcoal grill; some are served simply with a spicy dipping sauce while others find their way into salads, curries and nameless other dishes. The two pictures above were taken at the night market in the coastal city of Hua Hin.

Fish on Grill

Fish grilling on a kettle BBQ

Grilling is always done over real wood coals; sometimes coconut husks and dried palm fronds are thrown in to produce extra smoke, giving the grilled foods a marvelous smoky aroma. To re-create the delectable flavors of Thai-style grilled foods, a charcoal grill or barbecue kettle is essential, along with long-handled spatulas, tongs and basting brushes as cooking aids. Grilling on a gas grill basically produces similar results as broiling, with a subsequent loss of flavor, unless pieces of charcoal or wood chips are also used.

Grilling Basket

Catfish in a grilling basket

Basket on Grill

Using the grilling basket

Seafood may be grilled directly on the charcoal grill, or in a wire cage with handle – also called grilling basket or hinged grill. This device comes round, square, rectangular or fish-shaped and comprises of two wire racks hinged together on one side to hold food between them. The grilling basket is especially useful for grilling tender whole fish with skin still attached; not only does it make turning easy, it keeps the fragile fish from breaking apart should the skin stick to the charcoal grill.

Grilling Bass

Bass grilled in banana leaves

Seafood is also wrapped in banana leaves before placing on the grill. Although the smoky dimension is reduced, the leaves enhance with their own special fragrance, especially if they are lightly charred. The seafood is usually marinated with spices before being wrapped and essentially gets steamed in its own juices. For a smokier flavor, partially unwrap, or cut an opening on the top of the leaf packet, towards the last few minutes of cooking.


Slideshow – A Few Finished Grilled Seafood Dishes from Kasma’s Classes

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

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

Salt-Encrusted Fish
Catfish with Sadao
Shrimp Satay
Grilled Striped Bass 1
Grilled Striped Bass 2

Charcoal-Grilled Salt-Encrusted Fish Stuffed with Crushed Herbs, Served with Hot Thai Chilli-Lime Sauce (Bplah Yad Sai Samunplai Pao)

Charcoal-Grilled Catfish, "Sweet Fish Sauce" and Sadao or Neem Leaves (Sadao Nahm Bplah Wahn Bplah Doog Yahng)

Shrimp Satay (Sateh Goong)

Charcoal-Roasted Striped Bass in Banana Leaf (Bplah Gkapong Pow)

Charcoal-Roasted Striped Bass in Banana Leaf (Bplah Gkapong Pow)

Salt-Encrusted Fish thumbnail
Catfish with Sadao thumbnail
Shrimp Satay thumbnail
Grilled Striped Bass 1 thumbnail
Grilled Striped Bass 2 thumbnail

Here are some other articles on different methods used in Thai cooking.


Note: This blog originally appeared on page 79 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, 2012 & 2013 Kasma Loha-unchit

Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, 2000

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.

Banana Blossom – An Interesting Thai Ingredient

Michael Babcock, Monday, July 15th, 2013

Banana blossoms are one of the many unusual ingredients found in Thai cooking. On the surface, this appears to be an unlikely ingredient – when eaten by itself, it has an unpleasant astringent bite. This taste, however, disappears when accompanied by a creamy coconut sauce and this is how the blossom is often served.

The Thai word for banana blossom is หัวปลี (hua plee).

Banana Blossom 1

Blossom on the plant

Banana Blossom 2

Blossoms at a market

The outer layers of the blossom are a rich purplish red color and are quite tough. The best parts for eating are the light ivory leaves in the center.

To prepare the blossom for use in cooking, the outer red layers are peeled off. Then the inner ivory colored layers are typically cut into wedges and then soaked immediately in water with a bit of salt or lime juice: this is to prevent the sap from turning the heart and leaves black.

Prepping Banana Blossom 1

Opening up a banana blossom

Prepping Banana Blossom 3

The ivory inner leaves

Directly above we see a banana blossom being prepared for use in a Thai dish. Once the dark red outer leaves have been stripped down to the inner ivory-colored ones, we can cut it into wedges.

Prepping Banana Blossom 4

Cutting into wedges

Soaking Banana Blossom

Soaking the inner leaves

If we didn’t soak the leaves in salt-or lime-water, they would turn black (and unappetizing!) from the sap.


Crab Dip

Blossoms with a crab dip

One typical way to serve banana blossoms is as an accompaniment to a dipping sauce, such as Salted Crab Coconut Cream Sauce – Loen Poo Kem. In addition to salted crabs and coconut creme, this sauce may include ground pork, chopped fresh shrimp, tamarind juice, palm sugar, and salt. This tasty, creamy sauce mellows out the flavor of banana blossoms. The way the sauce and the banana blossom combine to create a unique taste needs to be experienced: it can’t really be described. Besides the banana blossom, a variety of other vegetables choices are on the platter accompanying the sauce.

You can learn about salted crab as an ingredient and also try Kasma’s recipe for Loen Poo Kem in her blog: Salted Crab – Boo Kem (or Bpoo Kem)

Mee Kati Noodles

Blossom served with noodles

Banana Blossom Salad

Kasma‘s Banana Blossom Salad

Banana blossoms may also accompany the noodle dish Mee Kati – Rice Vermicelli Cooked in Spiced Coconut Cream Sauce. Again, the creamy coconut sauce coating the noodles tempers the astringency of the banana blossom to make a delicious taste in the mouth.

Banana blossoms are also made into salads in Thailand; Kasma teaches a Banana Blossom and Chicken Salad with Toasted Coconut. Peanuts and Roasted Chilli Sauce – Yum Hua Plee. Once again, coconut cream provides the medium to mellow out the astringency. This salad is delicious and a favorite among many of her students.

Isan Banana Blossom Salad

Isan Banana Blossom Salad

Banana blossoms can also be cooked as a vegetable in a spicy, rich curry sauce.

If you’ve tried cooking with banana blossom but haven’t had luck making it taste good, try the suggestions we’ve made above, or sign up for Kasma’s cooking classes where you’ll learn to make use of many exotic ingredients that are both nutritious and delightfully tasty when prepared right.

In the S.F. Bay Area, we are able to find fresh banana blossoms in many of the Southeast Asian markets and also at the Berkeley Bowl, particularly during the warmer months. If the fresh blossoms are unavailable, banana blossoms are also found already cut into wedges in cans or bottles where they are packed in brine; no need to soak these in salt- or lime-water after shredding. They won’t have a crisp texture and fresh taste, however, like the fresh blossoms to when they are shredded and eaten raw in a salad.


Read more about:

Kasma’s Intermediate Thai Cooking Class #4

Michael Babcock, Saturday, June 15th, 2013

This blog talks about the 4th Intermediate class in Kasma’s 4-session Intermediate Thai Cooking Series, the sequel to her 4-session Beginning Series. The recipes for this class are all items that are commonly consumed as street food: Grilled Chicken, Satay with Peanut Sauce, Green Papaya Salad and Fried Bananas.

I’ve already blogged on the first three classes in the series:

Kasma Pounds

Kasma pounds Som Tam

This class begins differently than previous classes. Both the grilled chicken and the satay need to marinate for a couple of hours so as soon as the students arrive, they are put right to work making the marinades. Once the marinades are done and the meats are absorbing all those wonderful flavors, Kasma talks about the recipes, going over details, new ingredients and techniques.

(Click images to see larger version.)

There are several important and notable techniques in this class. One of the most important is learning how to make Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam). After going over the recipes, Kasma gets out her large wooden mortar and pestle (you can also use a clay, or “Lao” mortar and pestle) and demonstrates how to make her version of this dish, which includes salted crabs and is ped, ped, brio, brio – hot and sour!

Kasma also demonstrates the easiest way to crack open a coconut. For some reason, Western chefs (and even some Thai chefs) commonly teach a method where you drain the liquid from the coconut after piercing the “eyes” with an ice-pick or a Phillips head screwdriver. Some of these methods involve wrapping the drained coconut in a towel and smashing it with a hammer. These actions are unnecessary and make a simple, quick action into a time-consuming mess!

Cracking a Coconut

Kasma cracks a coconut

Scraping a Coconut

Kasma scrapes a coconut

There’s no reason to pre-drain the coconut. Just crack it open over a bowl to catch the coconut water; you can run it through a sieve later to get rid of any bits of shell or meat in the liquid. Rather than smashing the coconut into pieces, it’s really quite easy to use the dull end of a cleaver and crack the coconut into two halves by going around the equator. While those other expert chefs are still waiting for their liquid to drain, you could crack open several coconuts!

Check out our video of Kasma demonstrating this method on our website – Cracking A Coconut: The Easy Way – or on YouTube – Cracking a Coconut.

After it’s cracked open, Kasma shows how to use a small scraper to get coconut shreds to use in her Fried Banana Recipe

Another technique that needs to be explained is how to cut the chicken used for the satay. In making satay, the meat should be cut against the grain into a certain size to facilitate putting the meat evenly on the skewers. The meat is cut into smaller pieces prior to being placed in the marinade: that way more of the surface area will get coated with the tasty mixture.

Kasma Demonstrates

Kasma demonstrates satay

Cutting Chicken

Cutting chicken for satay

Making Satay

Making satay

After the satay has sat in the marinade for a couple of hours, it’s ready to be placed onto the skewer. Kasma demonstrates and then it becomes a communal effort, with Kasma handy to provide feedback and correction as needed.

Much of the cooking in this class is done outside on the grill. Kasma supervises while students baste the meats and turn them over. Kasma uses mesquite charcoal rather than briquets to mirror what is used in Thailand, where briquets are not used. Mesquite tends to burn very hot at the start so it requires frequent turning of the meat so that the outside will not get blackened. The satay is grilled on two smaller grills.

Grilling

Grilling

Sticky Rice Steamer

Sticky Rice Steamer

Both the Grilled Chicken and Green Papaya Salad are from Isan  (or Isaan) (northeastern Thailand). Kasma serves white sticky rice, the preferred rice in the northeast, with this meal, cooking it in the traditional bamboo basket arrangement pictured to the right. (See Kasma’s recipe for Steamed White Sticky Rice (Kao Niow Neung).)

Once students have completed this Intermediate Series, they are eligible to go onto Kasma’s advanced classes. Currently there are 8 evening Advanced Series of 4 classes and 4 weeklong Advanced classes – both evening and weeklong classes cover pretty much the same recipes, with a few exceptions. The Advanced classes open up an entire world of Thai cooking that is unknown to anyone who’s not visited Thailand (and some who have!). Kasma estimates that the restaurants here in the U.S. offer only about 5% of the total number of recipes available in Thai cuisine. The Advanced Classes are a chance to learn about the other 95% and, best of all, to sample how they taste. I invite you to explore the Thai Cooking Class Menus – Advanced Series to see some of the variety that is available in the classes. You can also read my blog on The Best Thai Food in America?, which goes over just one meal in one of the weeklong Advanced classes. I really should take the question mark out of the title!


Menu – Intermediate Thai Cooking Class Series #4

Thai-Style Marinated Grilled Chicken Served with Sweet and Tangy Dipping Sauce (Gai Yang Song Kreuang)

Grilled Chicken

Thai-style Grilled Chicken & Dipping Sauce

Grilled chicken is found all over  Thailand as a street food. The vendors who make and sell Gai Yang, like many vendors, largely hail from northeastern Thailand or  Isan (also spelled Isaan). Kasma’s version has a very tasty marinade that includes coriander seeds and curry sauce – it grills up very nicely and is delicious. I have never seen grilled chicken in Thailand served without a dipping sauce and Kasma’s is no exception. Her sauce uses dried red hot chillies and comes out with a tasty blend of sweet and sour flavors, with a bit of salty as well. It’s a great sauce and any leftover can be refrigerated almost indefinitely.

Hot-and Sour Thai-Style Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam Thai)

Green Papaya Salad

Green Papaya Salad

Is there a more quintessential street food that Som Tam – Green Papaya Salad? The word som means “sour” and tam means “to pound,” for this salad is made in a mortar and pestle. There are other Som Tam salads that do not use green papaya but are made in a somewhat similar fashion.

Green Papaya by itself is fairly bland: it’s pounded lightly to soften it up and help it to absorb the flavors which are salty (from fish sauce), sour (from limes), hot-spicy (from Thai chillies) and also a bit of sweet (from palm sugar). When you order from a street vendor, you specify the flavors you wish to emphasize; Kasma always orders ped, ped, brio, brio – ped being spicy-hot and brio meaning sour  – and she makes her Som Tam the same way. As is often found in Thailand, Kasma includes whole salted crabs, separated into pieces, in her recipe, to provide a bit of salty flavor (you suck the salty brine out of the pieces) and a bit more texture. The result is a fiery, sour delight.

You may enjoy the following:

Chicken Satay (Sateh Gai)

Chicken Satay

Chicken Satay

Pork Satay

Pork Satay

Satay plus Salad

Satay plus Green Papaya Salad

Satay (Sateh) is another quintessential street food. You can find it on the street and in many markets, being grilled over charcoal. Kasma teaches it with two meats: chicken and pork. The secret is in cutting the meat just right as described above. One trick Kasma uses is to put the meat in the freezer until it firms up to make it easier to cut into uniform peaces of the correct size. Satay is nearly always served with . . .

Spicy Satay Peanut Sauce (Nam Jim Tua)

Peanut Sauce

Spicy Satay Peanut Sauce

Kasma’s peanut sauce has many ingredients and takes a while to make and it is the most flavorful peanut sauce I’ve ever tasted. The key to the flavor is the roasted spices (cumin, coriander seed and dried red chillies). The base is coconut milk and ground peanuts.

Kasma prefers not to use peanut butter. As she said in her first cookbook It Rains Fishes: Legends, Traditions and The Joys of Thai Cooking, “Many cookbooks advise you to use peanut butter for making peanut sauces, but I think peanut butter always tastes like peanut butter no matter what you do to it.” Peanut butter is really an American invention, not Asian. Besides, it’s the work of a minute to grind the peanuts in a clean coffee grinder. Since they are ground on the spot, they retain their freshness and flavor. You’ll get a lighter-tasting sauce and the flavor of the peanuts will blend in more intricately with the spice flavors.

If you have leftovers of this sauce, you can serve it on other meats or even on vegetables: steamed vegetables topped with this peanut sauce are delicious.

This is one of the few Thai recipes to truly feature peanuts. Peanuts appear in some curries and salads such as Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad) but are not a very important ingredient in Thai cooking. In fact, peanut sauces, such as this one, actually originated further down the Malay peninsula and in the Indonesian archipelago where they dominate the offerings in food bazaars and streetside stalls as well as in refined restaurants.

It’s a mystery why many recipes that are falsely labelled “Thai” have virtually nothing used in Thai cuisine except peanuts. Check out Kasma’s feature article on Peanuts & Thai Cuisine.

Fried Bananas (Kluay Tod)

Fried Bananas

Fried Bananas

Fried Strawberries

Fried Strawberries

Fried Bananas – Kluay Tod – are another treat found as street food, in markets throughout Thailand and in some restaurants. Kasma’s version uses a secret ingredient to make the batter extremely light and crispy: her version tastes delightful.

In this class she also fried up some strawberries as an extra treat. You can fry many other fruits with this batter and they taste delicious. This is partly because of the batter: there are usually a few scraps of the batter left and students usually eat those random pieces up, as well, because they taste so good.


Slideshow For Grilled Chicken – Gai Yang

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

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

Pounding in a Mortar
Making Marinade
Making a Paste
Marinade Continues
Finishing Marinade
Applying Marinade
Students at Work
Marinading Chicken
Marinading Meat
Grilling
Grilling Chicken
Grilling Close-up
Dipping Sauce
Chopping Chicken
Grilled Chicken

Pounding the marinade for the chicken

Adding dried ingredients to the paste for the grilled chicken

A student pounds the marinade for the grilled chicken

The marinade is coming along nicely, almost done

Just about ready to put the marinade on the chicken

Students put the marinade on the chicken pieces

Students applying the marinade to the chicken

This chicken is ready to marinate!

Marinating chicken and pork for the grilled chicken and satay

Two of the students grill the chicken in the backyard

Grilling the chicken using mesquite

A close-up of the chicken on the grill

Finishing the Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce for the chicken

Chopping the barbecued chicken into smaller pieces for serving

Thai-Style Marinated Grilled Chicken Served with Sweet and Tangy Dipping Sauce (Gai Yang Song Kreuang)

Pounding in a Mortar thumbnail
Making Marinade thumbnail
Making a Paste thumbnail
Marinade Continues thumbnail
Finishing Marinade thumbnail
Applying Marinade thumbnail
Students at Work thumbnail
Marinading Chicken thumbnail
Marinading Meat thumbnail
Grilling thumbnail
Grilling Chicken thumbnail
Grilling Close-up thumbnail
Dipping Sauce thumbnail
Chopping Chicken thumbnail
Grilled Chicken thumbnail

Don’t miss:

I’ve already blogged on Kasma’s Beginning Thai Cooking Series:

You can find out all the necessary details about class times, dates and policies on our website.


Written by Michael Babcock, June 2013

Kasma’s Intermediate Thai Cooking Class #3

Michael Babcock, Saturday, June 1st, 2013

Kasma Loha-unchit has been teaching Thai cooking in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1985. This blog looks at the third class in her 4-session Intermediate Thai Cooking Series, sequel to the Beginning Thai Series (also 4 classes).

I’ve already blogged on the first two classes in the series:

Student Stir-Fries

A student stir-fries as Kasma watches

Kasma’s classes at their best are very much like a group of friends coming together to cook. By the 3rd intermediate class, people are getting to know each other and are more comfortable together. By this class they’ve gotten used to the class format of breaking into groups and taking a recipe from start to finish. If they’re not hooked on Thai food before this class (most people are), this class is bound to do so!

(Click images to see larger version.)

This class also mirrors what will happen in most advanced classes. One of the recipes is typically a snack (in this class it’s Miang Kam – Tasty Leaf-wrapped tidbits) and another recipe is a Thai dessert. I know no place in America other than by going through all of Kasma’s classes where you will get such a complete introduction to various Thai foods and desserts in particular. The food in this class is also trending to spicier than before.

Bai Cha Plu

Bai Cha Plu - Wild Pepper Leaf

One of the strengths of Kasma’s classes is introducing Asian ingredients that are generally unknown to us westerners. In this class the Tasty Leaf-Wrapped Tidbits (Miang Kam) traditionally uses a leaf called bai cha plu – piper sarmentosum – the wild pepper leaf. Since we can find it in local markets, Kasma uses it in the class alongside her usual substitute, spinach leaves. Strangely enough nearly all writers about Thai food (including famous ones who should know better) misidentify this leaf as “betel leaf,” which is  bai plu – piper betel. See Kasma’s blog Miang Kam uses Bai Cha Plu NOT Betel Leaf (Bai Plu)

In this class, Kasma also introduces fresh water chestnut, used in the Tapioca Pudding. Most students have only tasted canned water chestnuts: the fresh one is fresher, crunchier with a natural sweetness.

Chopping Ingredients}

Chopping ingredients for a paste

Prepared Ingredients

Prepared ingredients (paste on right)

In the Intermediate and then Advanced classes, Kasma shows how the same ingredients can be combined in a multitude of ways to make different dishes. In this class, the students learn how to use the mortar & pestle to make a curry paste (Panaeng Curry) from scratch. They learn a delicious stir-fry, which also uses the mortar and pestle to make a paste to be used in the stir-fry. In later classes students get to learn Thai dishes that virtually can not be found in this country elsewhere; some classes will focus on regional cuisine. Kasma estimates that the restaurants in the United States probably offer around 5% of the dishes available in Thailand: in her Advanced Classes, you get to sample a large number of that other 95%.

Fresh Water Chestnuts

Peeling fresh water chestnuts

Stir-frying

Stir-frying can be fun!


Menu – Intermediate Thai Cooking Class Series #2

Miang Kam (Tasty Leaf-wrapped Tidbits)

Miang Kam

Miang Kam - Tasty Tidbits

Assembling Miang Kam 1

Assembling Miang Kam 1

Miang is a Thai word used to describe a whole class of leaf-wrapped food. Kasma has a cookbook (written in Thai) that consists only of various miang that you can make. Miang Kam has to be one of the all time best appetizers anywhere in the world: tasty and fun to assemble. It consists of a number of ingredients cut into pea-sized pieces (these are the tidbits), which are wrapped up in a green leaf: in Thailand they use bai cha plu (see above) but you can substitute with any leafy green – Kasma prefers Spinach when she can’t get bai cha plu locally. (We are lucky enough to have 3 or 4 local markets that often carry the leaf.)

Assembling Miang Kam 2

Assembling Miang Kam 2

In Kasma’s recipe the tidbits are all arranged on a plate so that each person can assemble their own snack. Once each of all of the ingredients are placed on the leaf, a dab or two of sauce is added and the leaf is folded to enclose everything. Then, and this is critical, the entire leaf with all of the tidbits is popped, whole, into the mouth. The magic of the snack is the interaction of all the different ingredients: when done right you get a burst of flavors that light up the entire palate: description can not do it justice.

Miang Kam 2

Assembled Tasty Tidbits

Miang Kam a common snack in Thailand, both at restaurants, where it is often served as Kasma serves it in class, and as a street food, where it is often sold pre-wrapped so that the buyer can just pop it right in his or her mouth.

Kasma’s version is my all-time favorite. There are no less than 10 different ingredients to wrap up in the leaf, including one that I’ve never seen in Thailand – crispy rice pieces – which adds a crunchy texture. Most of the Miang Kam I’ve had in Thailand has had anywhere from 4 to 6 or 7 ingredients.

Panaeng Beef Curry (Kaeng Panaeng Neua)

Panaeng Beef Curry

Panaeng Beef Curry

Kasma’s version of Panaeng Beef Curry is another dish that I prefer over anything I’ve eaten in Thailand: partly because of the beef. In Thailand the beef is not as good as in the United States; in Thailand, for this dish, beef is typically cooked well-done in coconut milk for at least an hour before being added to the curry. Kasma’s version uses skirt steak, which she cooks rare: it comes out tender and tasty.

This is a dry curry using coconut milk where the curry sauce barely coats the meat. The beef version of this dish is especially tasty because it uses several roasted spices: the roasting gives a different and delicious dimension to the dish. In introducing the recipe, Kasma goes over using different meats: when making the dish with chicken, the spices are not roasted; for pork, they are just lightly roasted. Roasted garlic and shallots add another dimension lacking in most other coconut-based curries.

Be sure to view the slide show below.

Spicy Southern-style Stir-fried Shrimp and Squid (Pad Ped Goong/Pla Meuk)

Stir-frying in Wok

Preparing the dish

Seafood Dish

Spicy Stir-fried Shrimp & Squid

Given its name, you would expect this dish to be spicy-hot; and it is. It uses a simple paste, made using the stone mortar and pestle, that includes lemon grass, galanga, garlic, cilantro roots and chilli peppers. Kasma uses both Serrano and Thai chillies in the dish. Sliced shallots are added to provide a different texture along with their distinctive taste. It can be made with any seafood; Kasma uses cuttlefish and shrimp. It’s spicy and somewhat sour and salty. A delicious dish.

Tapioca Pudding with Water Chestnuts and Coconut Cream (Ta-koh Sakoo)

Tapioca Pudding

Tapioca Pudding with Water Chestnuts

This recipe is a kanom wan (sweet snack). Growing up in America, tapioca pudding was an unappetizing confection that deserved the name “Fish Eyes and Glue.” This dessert is another story. It uses small tapioca pearls in a sweet syrup. What makes it so delicious is the addition of a coconut cream sauce that is both sweet and salty: it is the combination of flavors that takes the dish out of the merely mundane and into the spectacular. Served warm, it softly melts in your mouth with the saltiness accentuating and off-setting the sweet. It is truly comfort food!

You can read Michael’s blog on Thai (Sweet) Snacks – (Kanom Wan)


Making Panaeng Curry – A Slideshow

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

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

Roasting Chillies
Roasting Coriander Seeds
Roasted Coriander Seeds
Grinding Spices
Toasten Oven
Shallots & Garlic
Shrimp Paste
Roasting Shrimp Paste
Roasted Shrimp Paste
Smelling Shrimp Paste
Pounding
Making a Paste
Paste with Chillies
Pounded Curry Paste
Cutting Meat
Meat Close-up
Heating Coconut Cream
Adding Paste
Cooking Paste
Cooked Curry Paste
Adding the Meat
Cooking the Meat
Adding Thai Basil
Panaeng Curry Cooking
Panaeng Curry Team
Panaeng Beef Curry
Close-up of Panaeng Curry

Roasting chillies, stove-top

Roasting coriander seeds in a iron skillet

Roasted coriander seeds - Panaeng Curry uses roasted spices

Grinding spices in the "coffee" grinder

Roasting shallots and garlic in a toaster oven

Roasted shallots and garlic, ready for pounding into a paste

Shrimp paste (kapi) is wrapped in a banana leaf

The shrimp paste (kapi) is then roasted over a flame

Roasted shrimp paste (kapi) - ready for pounding

Shrimp paste (kapi) is quite fragrant!

Beginning to make the curry paste with a stone mortar & pestle

The curry paste is progressing

The curry paste with pounded chillies, almost ready

Pounded Panaeng Curry paste, ready for cooking

Cutting the skirt steak for the Panaeng Curry

Close-up of cutting beef against the grain

Heating coconut cream for frying the curry paste

Adding the curry paste to the coconut cream

Cooking the curry paste in the coconut cream

The curry paste is cooked until it is aromatic

Adding the skirt steak to the curry paste & coconut cream mixture

The beef is lightly cooked in the paste mixture

Thai Basil and slivered kaffir lime leaves are added to the pot

The Thai basil has wilted: almost finished!

The 4 members of the Panaeng Curry team

Panaeng Beef Curry (Kaeng Panaeng Neua)

A close up of the Panaeng Curry, ready to eat

Roasting Chillies thumbnail
Roasting Coriander Seeds thumbnail
Roasted Coriander Seeds thumbnail
Grinding Spices thumbnail
Toaster Oven thumbnail
Shallots & Garlic thumbnail
Shrimp Paste thumbnail
Roasting Shrimp Paste thumbnail
Roasted Shrimp Paste thumbnail
Smelling Shrimp Paste thumbnail
Pounding thumbnail
Making a Paste thumbnail
Paste with Chillies thumbnail
Pounded Curry Paste thumbnail
Cutting Meat thumbnail
Meat Close-up thumbnail
Heating Coconut Cream thumbnail
Adding Paste thumbnail
Cooking Paste thumbnail
Cooked Curry Paste  thumbnail
Adding the Meat thumbnail
Cooking the Meat thumbnail
Adding Thai Basil thumbnail
Panaeng Curry Cooking thumbnail
Panaeng Curry Team thumbnail
Panaeng Beef Curry thumbnail
Close-up of Panaeng Curry thumbnail

Don’t miss:

Here is the next Intermediate Class Blogs:

I’ve already blogged on Kasma’s Beginning Thai Cooking Series:

You can find out all the necessary details about class times, dates and policies on our website.


Written by Michael Babcock, June 2013