Thai cooking in London, take two
I've been completely snowed under since I came back from my mad 3-week trip. I have at least a whole week of blogs that I have to catch up on—not to mention all the hundreds of work emails that have been threatening to crush me to death.
But I must make an exception today, implored by my dear friend Vanessa, to blog about the day that we shopped and cooked together for our large gang of friends in London. Here's one for you V.
This dinner was something of a sequel to the dinner I cooked a few months back for the London friends. There were some who couldn't make it, and others who would love to join in the cooking. The last time was at Tony and Fahro's lovely riverside condo in trendy Wapping. Undaunted by the state in which we left the Finches' kitchen afterwards, Vanessa volunteered her cute place in Kew for this one.
The day started, as most my Saturdays in London, with a merry trip to Borough. I will blog about Borough separately; that fabulous market deserves a blog all on its own. I will do one very soon, and will post all the pictures I've taken there as well. It will be the feast for your eyes, and, vicariously, your stomach, I promise.
Back to the Thai cooking day. I was running a little late--had far too much fun at the Angel Mangal and ICA the night before, more on that later too—so I took a cab over. I ran into Caro right after I got out of the cabbie and Vanessa very soon thereafter, that's half of my sous chef team already. They were far too serious, mind you, demanding a menu and a shopping list and all that reasonable stuff. I was, however, unable to compose a rational thought until I've had my fill of the marvelously rich latte and an unbelievably flaky and buttery croissant from the café around the corner from Neal's Yard.
After the café, we went over to get me some Jambon Ibérico, the famous black pig ham, for me to munch along while doing the heavy shopping for the dinner. Then we were off to the Ginger Pig, a superb butcher, to get a big slab of pork belly for the Moo Wan. After the rapturous applaud at the last dinner chez Finch, I'm sure Tony would kill me if I didn't make it again.
The Brits are a funny sort, I tell you. I love them, but they are a curious sort nonetheless. The caramelized pork, Moo Wan, is normally used as a side dish, to provide a sweet counterpoint to pungent relishes in Thai cooking, as balance is so critical to a properly done Thai meal. In Thailand, we serve Moo Wan in a tiny bowl, as people would only take a bite or two in between mouthfuls of pungent relishes. In London, I have to cook a whole slab of pork belly, as everyone demands a giant piece or there would be a bloody battle at table. Let this be a lesson to us all: Never get between an Englishman and his belly pork.
So, we ended up with a humungous piece of pork belly. Perhaps Vanessa knows how much that baby weigh, I have no bloody idea. Just HUGE. So big the nice man at the Ginger Pig stared at us quizzically as we, two petite ladies, picked out the biggest piece of belly pork he's got!
Then off we went to look round at the fish mongers, to find the sweetest and plumpest king prawns we could find. We wondered happily around Borough for a few other things, and set off to meet our Max for a pre-cooking meal at Hakkasan.
The lovely lunch at Hakkasan (yes, more on that later) was followed by the mad spree around Chinatown for the rest of the ingredients. Chinatown in London is vastly superior to the one in SF or even Oakland when it comes to Thai ingredients. I found, readily available, fresh wild ginger (Gra-chai), fresh young green peppercorn, babycorn, and so many other fantastic Thai ingredients. I was drunk by the plethora of choices. Luckily we have Caroline's big Volvo to cart our loot back to Vanessa's house in Kew.
The cooking this time was so much smoother than the last, with the skillful aid of Vanessa, Caro and Max. Even Maurice was put to work soon after he arrived.
We had quite a few dishes, starting with Pork Satay with peanut sauce. The satay marinade and the peanut sauce recipe have already been published here. This time, the pork was a shoulder cut from the Ginger Pig, a more tender and flavorful piece of pork you will never find.
Then we moved on to Khao Soi, curry noodle with chicken. Also the recipe has been published already. Vanessa and I decided to make this because we were afraid that we might not have enough food to serve 14 people. Well, we were wrong, but the dish was very well received nonetheless.
For soup we made Tom Kha Gai, spicy coconut milk soup with chicken. This is probably the second most well known Thai soup, after Tom Yum Goong. My version was taught to me by Aunt Chawiwan. I started with a stock of chicken bone and a huge handful each of lime leaves, lemongrass, and galangal. The longer you simmer the stock and infuse the herbs, the better your soup will be. The stock was strained into a different pot, ready for the soup. I cooked some chicken seasoned with fish sauce slowly in the broth, when the chicken was just done, in went some sliced King Oyster mushroom--any mushroom you've got handy would do—and another handful each of lime leaves, lemongrass, and galangal, and coconut milk. (Thanks Carlo!) Be careful not to let the soup boil too vigorously or the coconut milk will curdle. The soup was seasoned with lime juice, more fish sauce if needed, then a couple spoonful of Nam-prik Pao, roasted chilli sauce. I always float a few fresh bird's eye chillies whole in the soup to be crushed in the bowl to everyone's private level of spiciness.
We also made Pad Ped Moo, dry curry with pork and fresh green peppercorn. I can never resist making this when I'm in London, as I have never seen fresh green peppercorn in the US. The dry curry is a sort of stir-fry dish, actually. I use a base of red curry paste, into which I stir fry thinly sliced pieces of fantastic Ginger Pig's pork shoulder and a handful each of lime leaves and the peppercorn. The green peppercorn doesn't look very edible, I admit, but it is important to chomp on a few whole kernels of the peppercorn while chewing on the pork. The combination of flavor will surprise you at first, but it will undoubtedly turn you into a lifelong fan.
Another curry we made was Gang Ped Yang, roasted duck with fresh pineapple and cherry tomatoes. This is a classic red curry that is not so spicy, as it contains the sweetness from the pineapple and cherry tomatoes. I made this to balance the spicier curries at the table.
The relish was a pungent Nam-prik Ma-muang Goong, served with Pla-dook Foo and Moo Wan. The Moo Wan, caramelized pork, I talked about earlier in this blog. The relish was made with the classic relish base of shrimp paste, garlic, and shallots, all pound together to a fine paste in a heavy Thai stone mortar. This time, I seasoned the classic relish, Nam-prik, with fresh green mango. The green mango provided a wonderful tangy fresh flavor, which blended very well with the side dishes of barely cooked king prawns, crispy catfish, and caramelized pork. I used to think that pungent Thai relishes were something of an acquired taste, but not anymore. The London friends were ever so brave with new flavors it became a challenge to me to cook more and more complex dishes to push their palate even further.
It was always such a delight to cook with friends, and none more appreciative than my London friends will be found. I had such a fantastic time. Tony, my huggable Mr.Finch, landed a big sloppy one on my cheek while I wasn't looking, in appreciation of the GIANT Moo Wan.
The Devine Mrs.F, the usually devine Mrs.F, took on the job of portioning out the Moo Wan. She was entirely fair, really, just look at the picture. One plate was hers, the other one belonged to some other poor bloke at the table. You know which was which, no?
I didn't make it back home to Bayswater until past midnight, when my limo known as the Finches' sedan dropped me off, full of food and delirious with compliments. I had to pack that night to catch the train early the next, same, morning. Let me just say, I made it by a hair before the door on my Eurostar carriage closed. Paris, more meetings and more dinners awaited. It was hard to believe, at the time, that I could possibly eat anything more. Well, you shoulda known better by now. More on my dinners, and lunches and breakfasts and elvenses, later. ;-)