Is My Blog Burning?, Khao Nam-prik Long Ruea
It took me a while to decide what to make in honor of my own edition of Is My Blog Burning?. Having grown up in Thailand, rice was ever-present in my childhood. It was present at every meal. Yet rice was rarely a star of the meal, preferring to take a humbler role of a character actor—a key factor in a plot yet out of the lime-light. I finally decided on an old Thai dish called Khao Nam-prik Long Ruea, or rice with “embarking” relish.
Khao Nam-prik Long Ruea is our ancient form of picnic food. Story has it that palace cooks devised a way to make portable food that was easy to take on royal boat trips or picnics by pre-mixing the traditional relish “Nam-prik”, with rice and other accompaniments. Each portion was, then, packed into a banana leaf container, et voila, a to-go form of Royal Thai Cuisine.
This being an old Thai dish, there were so many variation of how to make it. My version is exactly how I had it when I was young. The recipe may seem daunting, but I assure the complex flavor and combination of texture will be a fine reward to your efforts. I made one last night for my friends Malik and Ally, and they loved it.
There are a few components to this dish, cooked jasmine rice, Nam-prik relish, crispy fish (Pla-foo), caramelized pork (Moo Wan), salted eggs (Kai-kem) and some fresh vegetables.
Rice (Khao, or Kao)
First you make the rice. Cook 4 cups of jasmine rice until done. The only way I know how to make rice is with a rice cooker, using the knuckle method—as in, rinse once, then add enough water to cover the rice by one knuckle. I haven't a clue how to cook rice without a cooker. Sorry. This bit of knowledge, I'm afraid, has been completely lost from the collective memory of the entire continent of Asia. Really, ask any Asian friend, I assure you, they will be just as clueless as I am without a rice cooker.
After the rice is cooked, however you did it, with or without the cooker, leave it out to dry a bit in the air to keep it from getting mushy when mixed with the other stuff.
This Nam-prik will be the key flavor of this dish. It is very difficult to give a precise recipe for Nam-prik, as your raw ingredients, e.g. dried shrimps, shrimp paste, fish sauce, etc., will all be different depending on which brand you use. I will give you a proportion I usually start with, but you have to trust your own taste and judgment for the final dish.
3 tbsp or dried shrimps
1 tsp of coarse salt
40g of garlic
about 5 bird-eye chillies, preferably red
50g of shrimp paste
about 5 heaping tbsp of palm sugar
juice from about 7 limes
a little fish sauce
You will need a proper Thai mortar and pestle to make this. First, pound the dried shrimps and coarse salt together until fine. You must use a mortar and pestle for this, because a Cuisinart will turn your dried shrimp into rough—teeth breaking—chunks, while a mortar and pestle will pound them into fluffy, fine shreds.
Next, add garlic and chillies and pound into a fine paste. Then, add shrimp paste and pound until mixed well. Then, in goes the palm sugar, then lime juice. Now you must taste, the mixture should be salty first, then sour, with a slight sweet edge at the end. Adjust the taste by adding fish sauce, lime juice, or palm sugar as needed. The level of spiciness should be to your own liking. If it is not spicy enough, then add a few more chillies. You don't need to pound the chillies finely anymore, only bruising a bit will be enough.
Crispy catfish (Pla-foo, or Pla-dook Foo)
I've already given a recipe for Pla-foo here.
Caramelized pork (Moo Wan)
Here you can use a piece of fatty pork belly, or just a loin cut with a bit of fat if you're too scared of pork belly. I'm not going to give precise instructions here, it is too difficult considering that each brand, or even each batch of palm sugar will taste different. But do not fret, making a Moo Wan is not an exact science, and is really not at all difficult to do.
So, you start by taking a lovely piece of pork belly (remove the skin first) or a piece of pork loin with a bit of fat attached, brown that baby in a bit of oil in a hot pan. Set aside. Using the same pan, mix some water with palm sugar and fish sauce, and a few sliced shallots. Start with the ratio of 1 cup of water to ¼ cup of palm sugar to almost 1 tbsp of fish sauce. You will need to use enough water to almost cover your piece of pork. Adjust the palm sugar and fish sauce according to how much water you will need. Heat the mixture to melt the palm sugar, then, taste it. This liquid should taste sweet first, then salty. Add more palm sugar or fish sauce as needed.
When you're done seasoning the braising liquid, put the pork back in the pan. If your pan is not oven proof, then use a gratin dish or something. Make sure that the braising liquid almost covers the meat. In the pan (or gratin dish) goes into the a warm oven, at about 300F or 150C. I usually leave the cover on for most of it except for the last 30-45 minutes. Let the meat braise until fork tender, I would start checking at 2 hours.
When the meat is tender, remove it from the braising liquid and set aside. Reduce the braising liquid by letting it boil on the stove until it caramelized into a beautiful, thick sauce. When the pork is cool enough, cut into cubes or thin slices, top with the caramelized sauce.
Boiled salted eggs (Kai-kem Tom)
You can buy salted eggs from pretty much any Asian market. I like to use salted duck eggs, as the yolks are generally redder and look more appetizing, but salted chicken eggs will do just as well. Some salted eggs come already cooked, while others not. Be sure to ask someone at your market which kind they have.
If yours are raw, then boil them like you do normal eggs. I usually do it for about 15 minutes. Then peel and sliced into quarters and set aside. You will only need about half an egg for each serving.
Fresh and pickled vegetables
Here you can let your imagination run a little wild. Use any vegetable you fancy. In Thailand, cucumbers are often used, as well as other bitter vegetables like apple eggplants. Sometimes green mango are used. In the US, I often substitute tart green apple if green mangos and my local market are not up to par. It is common to use pickled garlic, sliced very thin, as garnish.
Yesterday, I used fresh cucumbers, long beans, and some watermelon radishes. These radishes are gorgeous and somewhat sweet. I adore them.
Serve the rice heaped up in the middle, surrounded by all the accompaniments. Each person at table should take a bit of rice, then a little of everything else.
Kin a-roy na ka