The Basic Thai Dipping Sauce: Nam Jim (Nam Pla Phrik, Nam Jim Gai, Nam Jim Jaew and Nam Jim Seafood)

Thai basic dipping sauce, Nam Jim 11

Talking about Thai eating culture without mentioning the traditional dipping sauce is quite incomplete. We have an eating culture that by design caters to everyone’s palette. We’re actually not a food Nazis like many other countries’ food cultures. And no, I don’t count myself in with my peers. I am a semi recipe Nazi ;) heehee.

That’s may be one of the reasons why, even when our culinary heritage has been ruined left and right by someone who “claims to know” Thai food either by visiting our country decades ago or because they “eat Thai food at least once a week, if not more”, we still let them do it without importing an elephant in to step on them.

We do adjust a dish’s taste to suit everyone’s palette, with the sauce as the primary adjuster, and we have “Poung Phrik, พวงพริก”, a set of condiments and seasonings, on the table as a secondary adjuster. If you’ve ever been in a noodle shop in Thailand, you might be familiar with this set of four seasonings: ground dried red chili flakes (Phrik Pon), granulated sugar, fish sauce and chilies in vinegar.

Thai Condiments for taste adjusting, Poung Phrik 1

 

This set of condiments on the table might vary depending on the type of food they serve in that particular restaurant. For a pork noodle restaurant, for example, the fish sauce might be in a bottle on the table and one of the quartet is replaced with crushed roasted peanuts. For a boat noodle shop, the sliced red chilies in vinegar might turn into crushed red chilies with garlic in vinegar or, worse yet, crushed yellow chilies in vinegar, (boasted as the hottest…and it is!)

Thai Condiments for taste adjusting, Poung Phrik 2

The “one dish” shop or the “made to order” kind of food (usually serving drunken noodles, Pad See Ew, or rice topped with an omelette, or rice topped with some stir fried meat and holy basil) would replace the fish sauce with “Nam Pla Phrik”, the fish sauce with slice bird’s eye chilies and lime juice.

Thai Condiments for taste adjusting, Poung Phrik 3

The “Khao Soi” shop will have the red chili flakes stir-fried in oil instead of the dried red chili flakes. I’m only scratching the surface of the “Poung Phrik” culture here. (Please, look down below for the Thai translation in the Glossary)

We don’t believe that the chef, regardless of how many Michelin stars he/she has received in the past, would cook EVERY DISH to please everyone’s palette, especially the level of heat from chili. Most French chefs who come to Thailand can’t help but get mad at the Thai customers who always ask for “more sauce on the side, please”. Can you imagine the frustration for the chef? If they weren’t bald to start with, they would have pulled their hair out until they’re bald by the end anyway.

Their hair will start to grow back when they understand about the “Poung Phrik Culture”. By the way, Thai don’t consider that they have Poung Phrik Culture.  It’s the sarcastic name used by my favorite pastry chef, who’s Thai but makes all the pastries in her shop, “Let Them Eat Cake”, with the traditional French method, which is very specific about all the ingredients and sauce quantities. She gets so frustrated with Thai customers who keep asking her to “customize” their orders, that she coined the phrase Poung Phrik Culture, to describe their behavior.  (Ahem, they are eating dessert, for Christ’s sake! Just eat it!)

I will tell you the varieties of “Poung Phrik” when I write the blog about the various noodles served in Thailand, which I plan to post later this year once I’m done with the curry paste posts.

Why do I say that Nam Jim is the “premium” dipping sauce? It’s not premium by the ingredients, but by virtue of the fact that the sauce is made just for the dish. Thai like a variety of tastes: salty, sour, sweet and spicy. If the food only offers one or two accents, Nam Jim or Nam Chim is going to cover all the rest. Nam Jim sauces are mostly a combination of all the four tastes.

Nam Jim could be a make-it or break-it for a restaurant business in Thailand, believe it or not. If you’ve ever seen a restaurant row in any beach city and one restaurant has many more customers than the others, you can suspect that the popular one serves a better Nam Jim, because barbecued seafoods don’t need much more than fresh seafood to start and a good dipping sauce. That’s how important Nam Jim is in Thai cuisine.

So, let’s introduce you to “Nam Jim”, the Thai dipping sauce. The first and most popular is the “Nam Pla Phrik”. As you may know, Nam Pla is fish sauce and Phrik is chili. This is not difficult to guess what’s in it. The unpronounced ingredient is lime juice.

Ingredients for Nam Pla Phrik

Fish sauce 1-2 tablespoons

Lime juice 2-4 teaspoons

Bird’s-eye chili, sliced or crushed (depending on how you want to eat them) 1-10 pods

The amount of chili used depends on the size of the chili and how spicy you like it. The one sold in Thailand is small, about 1” long with 1/4” in diameter or smaller (That’s the killer chili, so be careful.) The type they sell here is about 1 1/2”- 3” long with 3/8” in diameter. I only use…(err, if I ever use it at all) ONE!

You just mix them all together. Yield is between 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup

The top right one is the "Nam Pla Phrik"

The top right one is the “Nam Pla Phrik”

Nam Pla Phrik is the most common “Nam Jim”. you can add this to an omelette, stir fried meat with holy basil (Pad Ka Praw), stir fried meat with onion and chili (Pad Phrik), Pad See Ew, Drunken Noodles (Pad Kee Mao), Fried fish and many, many more.

I would say this is good for the stir-fried dishes (but not limited to) because it adds the salty and sour taste together with the spicy or hot from the chili. Some people want it just for the sake of having it nearby with every meal.

The next one is also very popular outside the country. This is the famous “Nam Jim Gai” or “Nam Jim Kai” (I prefer to use “Gai” for the chicken and “Kai” or “Khai” for the egg. The pronunciation is quite similar so I have to differentiate them in my karaoke Thai here). The sauce is for grilled chicken, but it is actually widely known as Thai sweet chili sauce.

I was so surprised to discover this sauce in a sealed tiny plastic disposable container (like a mini jam container) as part of the multiple sauces, butter and jam offering on the table in the South Pacific! I’ve found it again in south of France, too.

It is a versatile dipping sauce for grilled meat and fried food. It also can be mixed with crushed peanuts and cucumber, like the sauce I used for Tod Mun. The sauce in my last post, Thai grilled chicken, Gai Yang, is also another appropriate dish for this sauce.

This type of sauce is supposed to be thick and syrupy, with flakes of fresh red chili floating in it. You can choose the level of spice by selecting the type of the chili and adding the seeds and membrane, or not (seeds and membrane are where the heat resides most in the chili pod, but the shell also contains some heat as well).

Thai sweet chili sauce, Nam Jim Gai 2

Of course, my option for seeds and membrane is NONE.

Thai sweet chili sauce, Nam Jim Gai 1

You can make a bigger batch, put it in a jar or bottle and store it in the fridge. Normally you might see the chili floating on the top. That’s why you have to shake the bottle before use.

Thai basic dipping sauce, Nam Jim 10

Some people will put corn starch or tapioca starch in it to settle the chili flakes. I found that awful! I won’t do it. I just boil the contents down if I want a thicker syrup. This set of ingredients are for small portions, about half a cup. I normally make a big batch and store it in the fridge for use the whole year.

Thai basic dipping sauce, Nam Jim 12

Ingredients for Nam Jim Gai (Thai Sweet Chili Sauce)

Fresh red (only red) chili I used the red Jalapeño chili and take all the seeds and membrane out.  3 pods, chopped

Fresh garlic, crushed or minced 1 teaspoon

Pickled garlic, chopped 2 tablespoons

Brine in the pickled garlic jar 1 – 2 tablespoons

Vinegar 1/2 cup

Granulated sugar 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon

Salt 1 teaspoon

Thai sweet chili sauce, Nam Jim Gai 3

Method for Nam Jim Gai

1) Crush the chilis and garlic in a food processor

Thai basic dipping sauce, Nam Jim 1

2) Put vinegar, sugar and salt in a pot and bring it to a boil

3) Add the crushed red chilis and garlic and bring it back to a boil.

Thai basic dipping sauce, Nam Jim 2

Let it boil for a while until the contents are reduced and the chilies are all cooked. Takes about 2-5 minutes depending on the total volume of liquid in the batch.

Thai basic dipping sauce, Nam Jim 3

4) Store in clean jars.

Another Nam Jim for grilled chicken I mentioned in the last blog is “Nam Jim Jaew”, the hot, sour and spicy dipping sauce for grilled meat and sticky rice. This is a Northeastern versatile dipping sauce. The sourness of the sauce is from tamarind pulp. The chili is ground dried chili flakes. I also add a pinch of sugar just to substitute for the MSG, which is normally added to the sauce.

The other difference in this dipping sauce is it has toasted rice and green onion in it, too. This is the sauce that you make as you need and never make too much of it.

Ingredients for Nam Jim Jaew

Tamarind pulp 1-1/2 tablespoons

Fish sauce 2 tablespoons

Ground red chili, or dried red chili flakes for the less spicy version, 1 teaspoon – 1 tablespoon (as much or as little as you prefer, actually)

Palm sugar 1/4 teaspoon

Toasted rice 1/4 teaspoon – 2 teaspoons can be added (the more toasted rice the thicker the sauce would be)

Chopped green onion 1/2 – 1 teaspoon

Simple method again, just mix them all together.

Thai basic dipping sauce, Nam Jim 9

Another Nam Jim that I consider “basic” is “Nam Jim Seafood”, or some might call it “Nam Jim Pae Sa”. This is the dipping sauce for seafood: grilled or steamed fish, shrimp, crabs and all mollusks.

This is the dipping sauce that I carefully carry in my purse (wrapped with muti-layered paper towels and plastic bags) when I go to any seafood restaurants that don’t offer any more than butter for dipping the seafood. I wish in the future this dipping sauce might become so popular I don’t have to carry it around myself. It’s not fun if it leaks. Regardless of how expensive my purse might be, it’s done after the incident!

I sometimes sell my used brand name purses on Ebay when I’m done with them and am ready to buy a new one, but the new one is so expensive I offset it with the money from my old used purse. Once I listed one of the premium purses for sale with the remark that I once leaked a sauce in it but it had been cleaned by the store. The potential buyer asked what the ingredients of the sauce were. I told her.

She wrote, “Fish sauce and garlic? OMG how dare you sell it and hope that anyone would buy it!”…What’s a beeyotch…but she was half right because I had spent $150 to clean the frigging smell out of the darn bag. Heed this warning: if you need to put the dipping sauce in your purse, doubling the plastic bag helps!

Ingredients for Nam Jim Seafood

Fish sauce 1 tablespoon

Lime juice 1 tablespoon

Garlic, minced 1 teaspoon

Cilantro stems, minced 2 teaspoons

(Optional) Granulated sugar a pinch, or 1/2 teaspoon

(Optional) Crushed fresh green chili (jalapeño or bird’s-eye) 1/2 – 1 teaspoon

Simple method: mix them all together. This is the sauce that you make as you go and never make too much, too.


Thai Barbecue Chicken, Gai Yang

Thai barbecue chicken, Gai Yang 1

It’s taken me so long to write about this.  One of the reasons why I hesitate to post about Thai Barbecue Chicken is there are countless number of recipes for this dish. Every region has at least a few, not just one, and I seriously didn’t want to make this another series. Also, I don’t know which one is my favorite because I like fried chicken more than barbecue chicken.

If you ask me what is my family recipe, I don’t have one. Barbecue chicken is considered a “street food” in my household. It is either a street or train station food item. If we wanted it, we bought it from a vendor nearby, so we never really made it at home.

When I was young, at the train station you would see vendors carrying trays of food and other necessities such as monkey balm (for mosquito bites), inhaler for train motion sickness and of course several food items. Barbecue chicken is the most desirable because they would cook it at a stall not so far from the train station.

The smell of the grilled chicken traveled so far out we could smell it as we approached the station. The sweet, pungent aroma would make your mouth water! The quartered or half chickens would be spread out and sandwiched in between bamboo holders, bright with yellow color, and the smell of garlic, turmeric and fish sauce would engulf the whole train station.

Later in life (still young, haha…a few decades ago) I encountered a very famous “new” method to grill the chicken, “Gai Ob Fang”, which grills the chicken using hay instead of charcoal. (Gai=Chicken, Ob=roasted or bake, Fang=Straw) The principle was almost like “beer can chicken” except that the heat source was burning straw. As some of you already know, straw gives out higher heat than charcoal, but also burns very quickly.

Here is the method: sit a chicken on a bottle containing some random liquid for stability and also flavor from the vapor (not recommended to use a high alcohol content liquid like most hard liquor, unless you want to do “explosive chicken”), then cover the chicken with a fire-resistant container (like a clean plant pot), then the whole container is covered with a lot of straw. The straw is lit and burned until the fire dies down. When the container cools off, theoretically, the chicken should be perfectly cooked inside.

I hope you don’t expect my dad or me to ever try this at home. We lived in a Third World country, by Western standards, but our city home was the same as you guys’ city homes here, and less open area surrounding it compared to you folks who live the suburbs or countryside. We couldn’t do that at home unless we wanted to burn our house down to claim the fire insurance!

So, assuming that my experience with roasted chicken is more as a buyer than a chef, you might forgive me for this not-so-knowledgable post.  At least I can make a mean dipping sauce, which is equally as important as the chicken (especially to the Thai).

The requisite of any barbecue chicken is the marinade as much as the method of cooking. My typical marinade is very simple: garlic, pepper, cilantro root or stem (no leaves), salt, sugar and, optionally, turmeric, lemongrass, shallots, soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, chili sauce, honey, galangal and paprika or chili.

This time my method of cooking is oven-roasted. I actually got the tip from my designer, a Mr.Go. He not only designed my new logo but is also an excellent cook. He roasts the chicken using high heat, 400ºF, continuously for an hour and a half. (My usual is 350ºF for 40 minutes, rest outside covered with foil for 15 minutes, and put back in again at 400ºF for another 15 minutes.) His method yield a nicely-roasted chicken with crispy skin, which I love.

Thai barbecue chicken, Gai Yang 5

Okay, let’s see what the ingredients are for the marinade.

Ingredients:

One whole chicken about 3.4 – 4 lb.

Garlic 1/4 cup

Pepper 1-2 tablespoons (either white or black–I used white)

Cilantro stem, chopped about 1/2 cup

Turmeric 1-2 tablespoons (depends on the strength of your turmeric; you can use turmeric powder if you can’t find fresh, 2 teaspoons)

Salt 1 teaspoon (If you are not going to use fish sauce or oyster sauce, add more salt)

Sugar 1-2 tablespoons

(Optional) Fish sauce or soy sauce 2 tablespoons

(Optional) Oyster sauce 2 tablespoons

Method:

1) You need to clean the chicken and the first messy part is to stick your hands underneath the chicken skin and separate the skin from the flesh. Please, do not take the skin entirely off at this point.

Thai barbecue chicken, Gai Yang 2

I taught my friend about how to marinate a chicken and he thought, “What’s the point of keeping the skin on when you don’t eat it? Plus you need to marinate the flesh, not the skin.” Then he ripped ALL the skin off, proudly announced that he found the solution for the “messy process”. The result was a dried-up roasted chicken!

2) Put all the ingredients (EXCEPT the chicken!) in the food processor or blender and puree them. I used a mortar and pestle this time (so time consuming, and I got an herbal facial spa as a result!)

3) Carefully put the marinade inside the chicken, underneath the chicken skin and over the skin. Then let the chicken sit there for at least 3 hours or more.

Thai barbecue chicken, Gai Yang 3

4) You can either do it like I did, using an upright chicken roaster or just put the chicken on a rack. The upright tends to work better on a barbecue grill. I used it in the oven, resulting in a darker top (but also crispier skin). I think using a rack and laying the chicken on its side and flipping it would work better for the oven.

Warm up the oven to 400ºF.

Put the chicken in (I used convection as well) for 55 minutes. Brush or spray the skin with vegetable oil about half way through, about 25-30 minutes after the chicken went in.

After you pull it out, poke the thigh and see if the juice runs out clear. If it is, then you are done. If you use a thermometer, insert it into the breast part and thigh part like I did (LOL–my kitchen experimental lab; I just wanted to know how long I needed to cook the chicken this way), the thermometer should read 155ºF in the breast part and 140 in the thigh  Pull the chicken out of the oven and let it rest. Amazingly, the temperature in the breast will continue to go higher to 160ºF, and the thigh will go up to 155ºF.

Thai barbecue chicken, Gai Yang 4

I let it rest until the temperature drops a little and cut the thighs and legs off to put back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes.

5) Cut and serve with “Nam Jim Gai”, or sweet chili sauce, and “Nam Jim Jaew”, or spicy and sour dipping sauce. Please come back to visit next week I will give a recipe for Nam Jim.

Thai barbecue chicken, Gai Yang 8

Top left: There are two dipping sauces; the one on the left is the “Nam Jim Gai”, or sweet chili sauce, and on the right is “Nam Jim Jaew”, the sour and spicy sauce.

I actually like to eat Gai Yang with plain sticky rice (this is the link how to make perfect sticky rice), Som Tam and Larb. This time I made SomTam with uni

Thai barbecue chicken, Gai Yang 7

and Larb with raw salmon.

Thai barbecue chicken, Gai Yang 6


Thai Curry Paste Episode XIV: The Yellow Curry, Kaeng Garee

Thai Yellow Curry, Kaeng Garee 6

After so many easy recipes, I think it’s time to bring you back to Thai curry paste. I still have many in store for you. This one is another very popular curry among the farangs, too. Remember I told you in the very first episode  that I’m not going to call Thai curry by the color but I’m going to use the Thai names, because a lot of curries have the same color due to the same base ingredients.

Using only color to call each curry is like calling all the Asians “Yellow” or call all the European “white”. No, I can’t discriminate against the Thai curries that way. Unfortunately, this curry that known is to most Westerners by the name “yellow curry” is called “Kaeng Kari” or “Kaeng Garee” in Thai.

What is so “unfortunate” about it?

Pronounce the name: Garee…Kari…Curry. Do you get it? The name of this curry actually is “Curry”! Haha…

If you try to order “Yellow Curry” at a restaurant in Thailand, you might end up getting the “Southern Sour Curry” instead of this “Yellow Curry”, because to the Thais there is another curry that they call by the color.

Remember the Sour curry that I posted in the past, Kaeng Som that has two meanings, sour curry or orange curry. There is a similar curry, with water base but the southern people use turmeric in the curry paste which makes the curry so yellow. (Don’t worry I will get to that later) They call that curry Kaeng Lueang (lueang=yellow).

This Kaeng Garee was very strongly influenced by Indian curry. You can tell from the ingredients of the curry paste. Normally, other than shrimp paste and dried spices, Thai curry paste ingredients don’t need to be cooked. If you remember the Chiang Mai Curry Noodles, Khao Soi, that is one of the curries that has a strong influence from Islamic Chinese; the ginger, galangal and even shallots are cooked before you can make the paste.

Kaeng Garee has ginger in the curry paste, cooked ginger and also cooked galangal too. Some households might even cook the garlic and shallots, but I like them uncooked. Also there are a lot of spices in it too: coriander seeds, cumin seeds and black cardamom. Some family recipes would also include fenugreek, cinnamon or mace, but I don’t use them.

I don’t usually like to eat Kaeng Garee as much as all the others curries. I probably cook this curry once every few years. Not a lot of people get to eat my Kaeng Garee but they get to eat my Guay Tiew Kaeng, which uses the same curry paste. You will get that recipe when I start writing about the variety of noodles in Thai cuisine later this year.

I’m giving you two ways of making the curry paste. One is my more typical, created by adding more ingredients to the Kaeng Kua curry paste, and the other is made from scratch.

Ingredients for curry paste using Kaeng Kua curry paste as a base (for 2)

Kaeng Kua curry paste 1/4 cups

Shallots, sliced (roasted is optional) 1 tablespoon

Garlic, sliced (roasted is optional) 1 teaspoon

Roasted Galangal, sliced or chopped 1 teaspoon

Roasted Ginger sliced or chopped 2 tablespoons

Roasted Coriander seeds 1 tablespoon

Roasted Cumin seeds 1 teaspoon

Roasted Black Cardamon 3 pods

Curry powder 2 teaspoons

Ingredients for curry paste from scratch

Dried red chilies (I used Anaheim pepper or California chili) 4 pods

Lemongrass, sliced 2 tablespoons

Shallots, sliced (roasted is optional) 3 tablespoons

Garlic, sliced (roasted is optional) 2 tablespoons

Roasted Galangal, sliced or chopped 1 tablespoon

Roasted Ginger, sliced or chopped 2 tablespoons

Roasted Coriander seeds 1 tablespoon

Roasted Cumin seeds 1 teaspoon

Roasted Black Cardamon 3 pods

Curry powder 2 teaspoons

Roasted Shrimp paste 1 teaspoon

Salt 1 teaspoon

Method

1) For the one using Kaeng Kua curry paste, mush all the ingredients as I explained in the post about advanced Thai curry paste.

Thai Yellow Curry, Kaeng Garee 5

Thai Yellow Curry, Kaeng Garee 4

2) For the one from scratch I explain in detail in the post about green curry paste, Kaeng Khiao Wan.

Thai Yellow Curry, Kaeng Garee 2

Ingredients for the curry

Chicken or beef 1 lb. (Half a kilo)

Coconut milk 2 cups

Water 1 – 1–1/2 cups

Potatoes, cubed, about 1 1/2” x 1 1/2” size 1-2 cups

Onions, quartered 1 – 2 cups

Kaeng Garee curry paste 1/3 – 1/2 cup

Fish sauce 2 – 4 tablespoons

Palm sugar 1 – 2 tablespoons

Method

1) Cook the curry paste with coconut milk (See this post about how to cook the curry paste)

2) Add the meat and cook until it seared on the outside.

3) Add more coconut milk and water and bring to a boil. If your meat is beef, don’t add the coconut milk yet, just add only water and continue cooking until the beef is near the tenderness you prefer first before you move to the next step. It would take about one hour or more with beef but only take about twenty minutes to half an hour for the chicken.

4) Add the onion and potato and start seasoning the curry. I have a bad habit of overcooking the potato. You should be careful about how done the potatoes are. The longer you cook, the more the potato breaks down and the starch from potato will bind the coconut milk and the coconut oil back together again.

The result is the “gloss” of the coconut oil that resulted from carefully cooking the curry paste until the coconut milk “breaks” would be gone. Of course, the curry will still taste good, but you won’t get the look of the authentic curry.

5) Adjust the taste while you wait for the potatoes and onions to be cooked.

6) If you really want to serve authentic Kaeng Garee, serve it with cucumber salad, A-Jad.

Thai Yellow Curry, Kaeng Garee 3

Sometimes I serve it with puff paratha or roti canai on top like a chicken pot pie. This curry is a nice surprise if you are going to make it pot pie style.

Thai Yellow Curry, Kaeng Garee 1

Thai Yellow Curry, Kaeng Garee 7


Salmon with Garlic, Chilis and Lime, Pla Rad Phrik Kee Noo Ma Naw

Salmon with garlic and lime Thai style

Do you like to eat fish? I love to eat all types of fish, but my husband isn’t a big fan, even though it’s good for him. But I understand. I’ve been told since I was six years old that liver is good for me, and I still don’t like eating it, except foie-gras!

So when he eats out and has a steak, which is his favorite but it’s not good for his health, I have to come up with some fish menu to counter the artery-clogging effect of the beef.

I have many favorite ways of eating fish: sushi, fish tartare, anchovy-style, smoked, and many other raw fish or pickle fish preparations. I have to admit that I actually don’t like cooked fish as much as raw, except the cooked fish in Thai cuisine.

Thailand is so abundant with fish: salt water, fresh water even brackish water fish. Fish are in the rice fields, in the sewage, in the canals, rivers, ponds, almost everywhere that has water. Thai people have a saying about the abundance in the region, which is “There’s always fish in the water and rice in the field.” (ในน้ำมีปลาในนามีข้าว)

Thai people have many different ways of cooking fish: fried, steamed, grilled, stewed, in curry sauce, fish cake, fish mousse, fried then stir-fried, steamed then deep fried, etc. It’s so easy to think of a way to cook fish in Thai cooking that it might be more difficult to find a cooking method that the Thais haven’t already used to cook fish.

Well, to try to cook fish Thai-style for my husband is also a problem, because the Thais like to cook the WHOLE fish and my hubby doesn’t like any fish looking at him from a serving plate. It does take some getting used to. I’ve practiced since I was a kid. My dad used to tell me,“Eat the fish’s eyeballs before anyone else gets to them. It will make you very, very smart.” Thanks Dad! I’m now smart enough NOT to pick the eyeballs out and chew on those unbreakable little beads.

So the fish has to be cleaned and decapitated, but I still want the skin on so he can get the OMEGA 3 from the fish oil, which is mostly in the fat layer underneath the skin. I ended up picking a frozen, wild caught, sockeye salmon from Trader Joe’s for this mission. The mission had a dual purpose, as I also have a friend who wants me to suggest ingredients from a “regular” market (not my exotic Asian favorites). I’m trying my best here.

Salmon with garlic and lime Thai style  23

This recipe is also one that is very simple, for those of you clamoring for something less complicated. It can also be prepared for a vegan, by substituting the fish with tofu and substituting the fish sauce with soy sauce.

Ingredients (for 2)

Fish of your choice, 2 pieces, or one whole fish of approximately 1 lb. (A block of tofu for a vegan or vegetarian)

A head of garlic or chopped fresh garlic, about 2 tablespoons or, if you are crazy for garlic like me, 1/4 cup

Fish sauce 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (soy sauce for vegan)

3 Limes (DO NOT USE THAT LIME JUICE IN THE GREEN PLASTIC BOTTLE…YUCK! FYI, that’s not pure lime juice.) You should squeeze the juice fresh, about 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons

Brown sugar 2 teaspoons

Cilantro, chopped, about 1/2 cup (or as little or as much as you want)

Ginger, minced  2 tablespoons (If you are using whole fish, just slice it)

(Optional) Fresh bird’s-eye chilies, as much as you can handle

(Optional) Lemongrass, minced 2 tablespoons (also use whole stalk if you cook a whole fish)

(Optional) Kaffir lime leaves  2 leaves, minced

(Optional) Oil for frying

Method

1) Squeeze juice from all three limes. This is something I never mention before: the “Thai way” of cutting a lime. You might be surprised. We don’t normally use a juicer to juice the lime. We don’t cut a lime into 2 pieces in the middle and juice it, because it’s harder to squeeze lime that way. Limes in general are hard to squeeze because of the small size, thick skin and dense flesh, and also they have that middle part that makes juicing the lime halves quite unpleasant.

Serious Thai cooks will gauge another cook by watching him cut the lime and juice it. If you cut them in half, oh oh…I hope you are not applying for a cook position, because you won’t get it ;)

Salmon with garlic and lime Thai style  14

How to do it, then?

First, cut it ALONG SIDE the core but slightly off-center. (Basically, slice around the stem end of the lime.)

Salmon with garlic and lime Thai style  19

Then the second cut is lengthwise, but still avoiding the center and slicing to the side.

Salmon with garlic and lime Thai style  18

The third cut is to get rid off the center.

Salmon with garlic and lime Thai style  17

Last, completely cut just the core or the center off the little sliver of the last piece.

Salmon with garlic and lime Thai style  16

Here we go. Now, you are ready to squeeze the juice. Try it and let me know if it is easier to juice the lime this way. Most, or I can even say ALL, Thai cooks would cut limes this way automatically. I’m so used to it sometimes I don’t even think about it, until I cook with a non-Thai and I’m surprised when they don’t cut limes the way I do.

Salmon with garlic and lime Thai style  15

2) Rub the fish with the mixture of minced ginger, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. I used a mortar to mush all of them together. These herbs will help eliminate the “fishy smell”.

Salmon with garlic and lime Thai style  20

Rub them on the skin side too. (It won’t penetrate through the skin to the flesh but it flavors the skin, as you will discover later.)

Salmon with garlic and lime Thai style  21

But, if you are using a WHOLE FISH, just slice the ginger root, bruise the lemongrass, and tear the kaffir lime leaves and stuff all of them inside the fish, slicing the fish open first along the bottom if it wasn’t already done when the fish was cleaned.

3) Mix the dressing, using the garlic, lime juice, fish sauce, and brown sugar. Then, right before pouring it over the fish, add the chopped cilantro.

Salmon with garlic and lime Thai style  13

4) This is the recipe I adapted from the original Thai recipe where you steam the whole fish first and then pour the dressing over.

I doubted my husband would be okay with steamed salmon. It has too strong of a fish smell when cooked. So I decided to pan fry it. Remember why I want to make him eat fish, right? And my husband doesn’t eat fish skin, either. So the way I can get the fish oil past his nose is to fry the pieces with the skin-side down and let the heat do the work. While the piece of fish fries, the layer of oil underneath the skin will melt and penetrate through the flesh, making the fish moist and full of Omega 3.

And how do I get rid of the skin? I just use a regular pan to fry the fish, not non-stick. The skin will stick to the bottom of the pan and the piece of fish will easily lift off the pan, leaving the skin. How’s that?

Okay, first things first, put oil in the pan, about one to two tablespoons for this size piece, wait until the oil gets hot and put the fish in the pan, skin side up with herb marinade and all.

Salmon with garlic and lime Thai style  12

Cook at medium heat about one minute, then flip the skin side down.

Salmon with garlic and lime Thai style  11

Once the skin is down on the pan, you can add a little more oil or tilt the pan so the oil touches the skin. This side you cook a little while longer than the other side. I approximate about 3-4 minutes, until the skin is crispy. You can easily separate the skin from the flesh by using a spatula (preferably a very thin one) and lifting the piece of the fish off. The skin will already be adhering to the pan so just lift whatever you can, and this is the result. The skin was left behind firmly attached to the pan, and the flesh that is now full of fish oil is going to go inside my hubby.

Salmon with garlic and lime Thai style  10

For the vegan or vegetarian, you just steam the block of tofu or pan fry it and pour the dressing over. It’s delicious too.

5) Put it on the plate. You can cook vegetables and put them as a bed like I do, or just serve with white rice without vegetables. Pour the dressing over the fish.

Salmon with garlic and lime Thai style  4

6) I LOVE the skin, so I cook mine differently. I use a non-stick pan to cook my piece of fish.

Salmon with garlic and lime Thai style  9

I repeat the same process from #4 on a different pan.

Salmon with garlic and lime Thai style  7

While I was waiting for my piece to be cooked, I just lifted the crispy skin off the other pan and snacked  on it. It’s delicious!

Salmon with garlic and lime Thai style  8

7) I put my piece of salmon on a plate and my dressing is different than his too, because I’m crazy for garlic but I don’t eat chili. This is mine.

Salmon with garlic and lime Thai style  6

Salmon with garlic and lime Thai style  2

My husband, the fish-hater, reassured me that this way the darn cooked fish is “edible”!


Thai Grilled Pork on a Skewer with Sticky Rice, Moo Ping Khao Niaow

Thai Grilled Pork on the skewers, Moo Ping 4 (1)

Have you ever walked the streets of Bangkok and almost fallen into an open manhole  because the heavy smoke from the street vendors almost blinded you (These are a real foreigner trap. Who wants a dry victim? We love sauce!), but you didn’t really care because the smoke smelled so good?

If the smoke came from the vendor who was selling some meat on a skewer with sticky rice, that’s the item I’m blogging about this week: Moo Ping, or grilled pork on a skewer. (Moo=Pork, Pink=Grill)

Moo Ping vendors usually sell throughout the day, but you will find them the most in the morning and late afternoon. I would eat it for breakfast or an afternoon snack. Not so much because they are my favorite food, but because I can’t resist their smell while the vendor cooks them!

Moo Ping would make a good finger-food for your Oscar party.

Ingredients: (All of these are approximate portions; you need to taste and adjust to your preference, as I did)

Cilantro root, chopped  1 teaspoon (use 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro stem if you can’t find the root; don’t use the leaf)

Garlic, chopped  1 tablespoon

White pepper, whole  2 teaspoons, or ground, 1 teaspoon (black pepper is okay too)

Pork butt or shoulder, sliced, about 3/16” – 1/4” thick, 1 lb.

Thai Grilled Pork on the skewers, Moo Ping 2

Oyster sauce  1 tablespoon

Dark sweet soy sauce  1 tablespoon (Or mix 1/2 tablespoon light soy sauce with 1/2 tablespoon of molasses)

Maggi seasoning sauce  1 tablespoon

Honey  1 tablespoon (or brown sugar)

(Optional) Condensed Milk  2 tablespoons

Coconut milk  1/4 cup

Bamboo skewers

(Optional) Charcoal to grill

(Optional) Cooked sticky rice 1/2 – 1 cup full

Thai Grilled Pork on the skewers, Moo Ping 1

Method:

1) You need to make a Thai trio first by pounding the cilantro root, pepper

Thai Grilled Pork on the skewers, Moo Ping 3

and garlic together (in that order) in a mortar,

Thai Grilled Pork on the skewers, Moo Ping 4

or mince all of them using a garlic press. In total you should have about one full or overflowing tablespoon.

Don’t be confused. I use this trio in Thai cooking all the time, so I made a lot of it, but I didn’t use all of it just for this grilled pork.

2) Mix the condiments, honey, condensed milk and the Thai trio together, blending them well. This is the marinade sauce.

Please note that the coconut milk is not a part of the marinade.

3) String pieces of pork onto the bamboo skewers. Don’t put too many pieces on. Approximately half of the short skewer, 7”, is about right.

Thai Grilled Pork on the skewers, Moo Ping 5

4) Dip each skewer in the marinade and put them in a container or a bag. You need to marinate them for at least 2-3 hours. I marinate them overnight.

Thai Grilled Pork on the skewers, Moo Ping 6

5) Now it’s time to cook them. I hope you know how to start a charcoal grill. I actually don’t :(  I could read the charcoal bag, or just get married. A one-night stand probably could have worked, too, but I wanted to be secure that I could grill anytime I wanted, so I married a grillmaster!

My husband has a nice monster grill that uses propane, but the skewers are so small that I don’t see the point of using the intimidating grill for the task, plus real charcoal gives a much better flavor. So, introducing the picnic grill! (This thing cost under $30)

Thai Grilled Pork on the skewers, Moo Ping 7

You have to either brush the pork with the coconut milk or dip the whole piece in it before you put the skewers on the grill.

Thai Grilled Pork on the skewers, Moo Ping 8

Try your best to control the fire so it’s not so high; medium high is the best. Check to see if they’re cooked on one side, then turn. Don’t just take photographs and let them burn like you know who, with the obvious proof right here!

Thai Grilled Pork on the skewers, Moo Ping 9

6) Serve with sticky rice.

Thai Grilled Pork on the skewers, Moo Ping 1 (1)


PadThai Beyond Trilogy : Easy Pad Thai, PadThai Chantaburi or Blue Crab Pad Thai

Crab PadThai, Sen Chan Pad Poo, and easy PadThai recipe

My husbanditor has been pushing me to write a recipe for “Easy Pad Thai” or “Pad Thai for Beginners” for so long, like a year or even longer, even though I had already written an authentic PadThai recipe in 3 episode here. I kinda don’t want that to be the story of our marriage, but unfortunately I have my own STANDARDS, you know. I don’t want to write anything that could jeopardize the integrity of my national cuisine any further than it has already been ruined by so many pseudo-experts.

Part of my mission is to rescue authentic Thai cuisine from those know-it-all people, who know nearly nothing about Thai heritage, cuisine or culture. I’m salvaging my nation’s heritage plate by plate by giving you the true authentic recipes, and hopefully you will be able to follow my recipe as closely as possible and be able to re-create your favorite Thai dishes in your very own kitchens. (Of course, once in a while I will give you my own invented recipes, too. I don’t eat Thai food every day, and I don’t expect anyone would unless you lived there in Thailand.)

My standard is simple: I won’t post any recipe that real Thais wouldn’t eat! When I cut down ingredients or substitute something in the original ingredient list, it would still be edible by the Thais. So, for me to look at the Pad Thai recipe and try to “simplify” it, it’s impossible, because I wouldn’t call the lesser dish PadThai, and I wouldn’t eat that for sure. Even though I’m cooking and writing a blog about a dish, I don’t just toss the finished product away. We eat it for lunch or dinner, or serve it to our guests here at my house, meaning a real Thai will be eating the dish too!

When I made fresh spring rolls, I bought crabmeat but only used half for the spring rolls. Once you open a container of crabmeat, you want to use it up within a few days at the most. It doesn’t keep very well. So naturally I made a typical Thai dish called “Sen Chan Pad Poo”, just to get rid of the leftover crab.

This was back in January, and I took pictures and all, just in case. My husband LOVED the dish so much, he did something he doesn’t ever do. He took the leftovers to eat for lunch at work! He actually called the dish “Crab PadThai” instead of the real Thai name that might mislead people to think he’s eating something with “Poo” in the name.

It never registered in my mind until he pushed again for an “Easy PadThai” recipe and I remembered this “Crab Pad Thai”. So here we go; I can produce a recipe that requires less ingredients than the typical PadThai, hence “simpler”, still delicious and you can serve this dish to your fussy Thai friends without fear that they will have to run to the bathroom and barf.

Sen Chan is a type of rice noodles or rice sticks. “Chan” is the abbreviated name from Chantaboon or Chantaburi by the current official name. It is a province on the east coast of Thailand, claiming to be the first province who produced the rice sticks or the best quality rice noodles; stretchy, chewy and won’t fall apart in a soup. “Sen” is just the unit name of the noodles or the pronoun of the noodles.

Pad=stir fry (If you have been following my blog, you probably know this word by now). Poo=The imitation Prime Minister of Thailand…Haha…No, I’m kidding. Our first female Prime Minister of Thailand’s nickname is Poo because she is so bad and never really governs the country herself. She gained the position and runs the country with the assistance and orders from her brother, the most corrupt man on earth, who puts Ferdinand Marcos (The Filipinos’ ultra-corrupt president) to shame.

OK. I should leave Thailand political issues only for my Facebook personal wall. Let’s try it again; “Poo=crab”. That’s better, isn’t it?

Sen Chan Pad Poo is simply rice noodles stir-fried with crab meat. With the same set of vegetables used in PadThai, no doubt that might make people assume that it is a PadThai variation. I wrote about it in  Episode III of the PadThai Trilogy two years ago.

It does have its own “foundation” that’s different than salted turnip, dried shrimp, tofu and shallots. Even though it contains shallots, they are mushed up with dried chilies and garlic, so the flavor of the dish is quite different.

I personally don’t consider this dish PadThai, but everyone else, even the Thais, would, so I’m not going to go against the grain on this one. It uses fewer ingredients, so I’ll just assume that this is an “Easy PadThai” version. And it uses no egg. Also, you can substitute crab with shrimp, if you want. And if you add cracked peanuts you will get something so yummy and really close to authentic PadThai.

If you prefer not using PadThai sauce pre-made in a jar or bottle, you can go back to my older post “Authentic Pad Thai” to see how to make PadThai sauce, because we use the same sauce here.

Ingredients (serves 2)

For the paste: 

Dried red chilies, cut and soak in room temperature water, 1/2 cup or 3-4 pods of California or New Mexico Chilie (Anaheim pepper). You can use higher heat factor chillies, too. This is up to your level of capsicum tolerance.

Garlic 4 cloves or 1 tablespoon, sliced

Shallot 2 heads or 3 tablespoons, sliced

Salt 1/2 teaspoon

For the stir fried noodles:

Fresh thin rice noodles 1-1/2 cups or half a bag, or soak dried rice sticks in room temperature water until they get soft and then measure these soaked noodles

The paste, made from the ingredients above approximately 1/4 cup, or what you made from the above list

Crabmeat 1/2 – 1 cup, or as much as you want

PadThai sauce (follow the recipe here or buy the pre-made sauce) 1/4 cup

Water 1/4 – 1/2 cup (depends on how dry or how wet your noodles are and how thick or thin your sauce is)

Mung bean sprouts 1-1/2 cups (reserve 1/2 cup for serving)

Garlic Chives, cut in about 1 1/2” lengths, 1 cup (reserve the bottom part to eat fresh)

Oil 2 – 4 tablespoons (depends on your wok)

You can tell I really need to get rid off the crab. In this picture there are three different kinds, alaskan king crabs, dungeness crabs, and blue crabs. The cracked peanuts aren't actually a part of it but my husband likes them so I put them in too. It's not "wrong" to do and add more flavor to the dish.

You can tell I really need to get rid of crabmeat. In this picture there are three different kinds: Alaskan king, dungeness, and blue crab. The cracked peanuts aren’t actually a part of it but my husband likes them so I put them in too. It’s not “wrong” to do and adds more flavor to the dish.

Method: 

For the paste, using a food processor of blender:

Put everything in the food processor and push that button. Let the machine run until everything turns into a fine paste. Add water if you need it to keep everything moving.

For the paste, using a mortar and pestle:

1) Start with the chilies and salt, put them in first and grind them until they become a fine paste.

Crab PadThai, Sen Chan Pad Poo 1

2) Add the shallots, grind them until fine.

3) Add the garlic, grind until fine.

For the noodles:

1) Sort your crabmeat, keeping the big lumps separate, at least 1/4 cup. You don’t want those to break into small pieces.

2) Set the wok over high heat and add oil to the wok. I used 2 tablespoons with my non-stick wok. If I used cast iron, I would use 3 tablespoons.

3) Add the paste to the wok and stir-fry until fragrant.

Crab PadThai, Sen Chan Pad Poo 3

4) Add the small bits and pieces of crab to the wok and flip it around a few times.

Crab PadThai, Sen Chan Pad Poo 5

5) Add the noodles to the wok,

Crab PadThai, Sen Chan Pad Poo 6

then add PadThai sauce and about 2 tablespoons of water to the wok too, tossing the noodles with all the sauce and liquid. Add more water if you see the noodles are getting dry and not cooking yet. Don’t add too much water at once, the noodles will stick together in a big lump, which is not good because the sauce can’t coat the noodles.

Some of the ingredient amounts I gave you are just approximate. Add more if you need it. If your PadThai sauce is very thin, add more sauce and reduce the amount of water.  If your PadThai sauce is too thick, add more water and taste-test it to get the right balance before you add more sauce.

If you put in too much water when you were making the paste, use less water to stir-fry the noodles.

Of course, you can add more oil if you see the noodles start to stick together, but make sure you don’t add to much. No one wants oily PadThai.

6) Once all the noodles are coated with sauce, add the reserved chunks of crabmeat to the wok, flip it around a little, then turn off the heat.

In all process I was scurried, try to cook with the high heated wok and taking picture. This is not so clear but I hope you understand what it is.

In the whole process I was hurried, trying to cook with the high-heated wok and taking pictures. This is not so clear a shot, but I hope you understand what it is.

7) Add the vegetables, bean sprouts and garlic chives to the wok, using the leftover heat to cook the vegetables.

Crab PadThai, Sen Chan Pad Poo 8

8) Plate the noodles, garnish with more raw bean sprouts and the bottom parts of the garlic chives. Add crush peanuts on the side, if you want them, and also a wedge of lime.

9) Stop complaining that the recipe is still too complicated and eat your Sen Chan Pad Poo or it will get cold.

Here we go, your Easy PadThai recipe!

Crab PadThai, Sen Chan Pad Poo, and easy Pad Thai recipe

Pad Thai Trilogy, Episode I: What’s not

Pad Thai Trilogy, Episode II: The “Authentic” recipe

Pad Thai Trilogy, Episode III: The Variations of Pad Thai


Salmon Mango Tartare

Salmon and mango tartare 16

Have you ever experimented with ingredients that don’t seem to belong with each other but once you put them together, it’s just amazing?

With this dish at first I was just copying the tuna tartare served at a Japanese restaurant here in Los Angeles. I was making it with tomatoes and raw tuna, but I actually don’t like tuna that much for two reasons. First is the sustainability issue with tuna that has been overfished for decades until some species are already been endangered. I don’t want that to happen.

Second, I don’t like the taste and texture of tuna that much. I might like toro, tuna belly, as sushi, but that’s about it. I don’t see the reason why I should continue eating a fish that I don’t really care for the taste of when that fish is already endangered! So, I substituted the tuna in tuna tartare with salmon. Now we’re talking!

I enjoy my “Salmon Tartare” with tomatoes as much as the tuna version. In fact, the type of fish in this dish is secondary, but the smooth and tender salmon changed the texture of the tartare. Raw salmon, as you may know, is fattier than tuna and that gives you that silky texture in your mouth. Sometimes I even peel the tomatoes just to match the texture.

Then one day I had to substitute another ingredient for one of my friends who is allergic to tomatoes. So I used mango instead. I thought the color was amazing, very bright and colorful, yellow mango, orange salmon and green onion, until I slapped on the mayo. Wow, I was just scratching the surface of the depth of this dish. As soon as I put the whole combination in my mouth, pow…it was AMAZING!

The tang and sweetness of the mango, and the smooth and silky texture of the salmon that contrasts so well with the crispy fried wonton chips that almost melt in your mouth, all the dressing that blends together, the crunchiness of the tiny caviar that bursts like a little surprise in each bite, the creamy mayo mixed with salty soy sauce, the hint of pickle ginger that feels like a breeze of freshness that lightens up the whole combination, the wasabi that takes the hint of fishiness out of the salmon and substitutes it with a charge into your sinuses to finish off the bite…PERFECT is an understatement here.

And, most of all, this is an EASY recipe, especially compared to most of the ones on my blog. Yeah, I’ve heard the complaints…I’m trying to post that type of recipe more often, but unfortunately even though they’re simple or easy to me, who knew and grew up with those weird Thai ingredients, they might not be that simple to you, if you can’t get the ingredients as easily as I do.

Ingredients:

The chips

10-12 pieces of wonton skins, cut into four squares

Oil (for frying) about 1 cup

Salmon and mango tartare 3

The tartare

Sushi grade salmon meat, cut into 1/2″ cubes,  1 cup

Mango cut into cubes about the same size as the salmon  1 cup

Chopped pickled ginger (the same kind you would eat with sushi) 1 tablespoon

Green onion, sliced  3 tablespoons

Wasabi  1 teaspoon

Soy sauce  1 tablespoon

Mayonaise  2 tablespoons

Flying fish roe or caviar  1 tablespoon

Salmon and mango tartare 5

Method:

The chips

1) Put oil in a wok over high heat

2) Drop the cut wonton skin in the hot oil only a few at a time and soon as they crisp in about 15 seconds, take them out right away.

Salmon and mango tartare 4

Of course, you can buy chips, but naturally I have to make some part of this difficult and do it myself.

The tartare

1) Mix everything together and blend well. Do the taste test, adjusting it to your preference.

2) Put the mix in a nice bowl

Salmon and mango tartare 7

3) Arrange the chips on a nice plate

Salmon and mango tartare 6

Well, steps 2 and 3 are really just a joke, because I already ate half, while you were standing around waiting!

Salmon and mango tartare 11


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