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Favorite One-dish Meals in Thailand

Michael Babcock, Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

One of the best things about Thailand is the ready availability of delicious one-dish meals, both as street food and in restaurants. This blog looks at 5 of my very favorite non-noodle dishes. I’ll reserve noodles for another time. You can also look at my blog Thai Noodles – An Amazing Variety.

Of course, almost any dish can be a “one-dish meal.” Green Curry over Rice, for instance provides a protein from meat or seafood, vegetables (usually Thai eggplants and pea eggplants) over a starch (rice). Four of the dishes here, though, are often thought of as stand-alone dishes and eaten most often by themselves as a quick breakfast, lunch or (even) dinner.

Several of these dishes are Chinese-influenced; these are the one-dish meals I order the most in Thailand. I’ll save the more “Thai” one-dish meals for another blog.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Basil Pork with Fried Egg over Rice – Moo Pad Kaprao Khai Dao

Pork Dish

Stir-fried Pork dish

I’ll start with one of the most popular dishes in Thailand (and an authentically Thai dish) – Basil Pork with Fried Egg served over Rice.

The picture shows the dish – Moo Pad Kaprao Khai Dao Rad Khao – as it was served in a no-name restaurant in Bo Klua in eastern Nan province in northern Thailand. (See my blog: Bo Klua – Visiting the Salt Ponds.) It comes with a typical Thai-style fried egg – ไข่ดาว (Khai Dao) – literally a “star egg” – with its crisp-fried edges. The dish here is made with larger pieces of pork; I see it more often with ground pork.

Kasma taught a Spicy Basil Chicken recipe in the 3rd class of her Beginning Series. You can easily adapt the recipe for pork and add a crispy-fried egg at the end. Or check out my blog Basil Pork – Moo Pad Kaprao.

    Pork Leg Rice – Khao Ka Moo

    Pork Leg Rice

    Pork Leg Rice

    This just might be the one-dish meal that I order the most in Thailand: it’s Stewed Spiced Pork Leg Rice with Pickled Mustard Greens, Blanched Asian Broccoli and Hot-Sour Sauce – Khao Ka Moo. The picture to the left is from the food court at Imperial World Shopping Center in Samut Prakan.

    Although it’s a Chinese-influenced dish, you find it all over Thailand, though not so much in the Southern provinces that have a larger Muslim population. It is predominantly a street food or found at food courts (which are, basically, street food brought inside). In restaurants you’ll see stewed pork leg (or fried stewed pork leg) mainly as a dish to be served over rice, family style (as in the picture below right).

    This dish has an incredibly rich mouth feel – the pork leg is stewed with the skin on, which means it includes the fat in-between the skin and meat as well. You don’t really need to eat very much of this: the rich fat will fill you up. The richness is balanced by the pickled mustard greens and by the hot-sour sauce that you put on top. When you order, you have the option of getting it with a hard-boiled duck egg or without; I always get it with the egg, which typically has been cooked first and then stewed a while with the rest of the ingredients. Yum!

    Stewing Pork Leg

    Stewing Pork Leg

    Stewed Pork Leg

    Stewed Pork Leg

    The picture above left shows the stew pot in one of Kasma’s classes just after the pickled mustard has been added. The right-side picture shows how she serves it in class – more as it would be served in a restaurant. It does need to be eaten with rice though: it’s such a rich dish.

    Kasma taught this dish in Advanced Set E-2.

    Poached Chicken Rice – Khao Man Gai

    Chicken Rice Shop

    Chicken Rice Shop

    Another Chinese-inspired dish, perhaps more famous in its Singapore version, is Poached Chicken Rice with Melon Soup and Hot Fermented Soybean and Ginger Sauce (Khao Man Gai). It is often found as a street food and probably just as often at shops which specialize in the dish. It’s pretty easy to find a place that serves it: just look for the plump, hanging chickens such as in the picture to the left, taken at the Imperial World Food court in Samut Prakan.

    What makes this dish special is the rice, which is cooked with chicken broth and also chicken fat, a bit like making a risotto; the rice by itself is rich and tasty. The stewed chicken is succulent and juicy. This dish is invariably served with a spicy fermented soybean-chilli sauce and accompanied by a light, chicken-broth based melon soup.

    Poached Chicken Rice

    Poached Chicken Rice

    Poached Chicken Rice

    Poached Chicken Rice

    Here are two versions of the dish. To the upper left is the dish as Kasma had it last year at the food court at the Imperial World Shopping Center near her Samut Prakan townhouse. The rightmost version is from one of Kasma’s Advanced Cooking Classes.

    Kasma used to teach this dish during Advanced class D-3.

    Black Olive Rice – (Kao Pad Nam Liap)

    Salted Black Olive Fried Rice (Kao Pad Nam Liap or Kao Ohb Nam Liap) is another Chinese-influenced dish. It’s not a dish that you see very often in Thailand. The main ingredient is a Chinese salted black olive, which is mixed with shrimp, dried shrimp, green mango, Thai chillies and ground pork. It’s a marvelous dish, full of several different types of flavors and anchored by the black olive.

    Black Olive Rice

    Black Olive Rice

    Black Olive Rice

    Black Olive Rice

    Here are two versions of the dish. Kasma’s version, above left, presents it more like a composed salad; before eating, all the ingredients are mixed together. The above right version is from My Choice Restaurant in Bangkok. It’s a rare trip to Thailand when I don’t make it by My Choice at least once or twice to get this dish for lunch.

    Bitter Melon Stir-fried with Egg – Mara Pad Kai

    Bitter Melon & Egg

    Bitter Melon & Egg

    This is a recipe that is very easy to cook and very healthy. Bitter melon is a vegetable that is said to help regulate the blood sugar and here it is served with eggs, still one of the healthiest foods you can eat. This is a dish that I cook often at home, particularly when I’m on my own. Start to finish, including prep time, is about 10 minutes or less. Serve it over rice and you’ve got a satisfying, healthy meal.

    Try it yourself using Kasma’s Bitter Melon & Egg Recipe. Or try my variation – Bitter Melon, Chorizo and Egg – for some extra pizzaz. (You also can substitute Thai sour sausage for the Chorizo.)


    Written by Michael Babcock, July 2014

    Pongza Restaurant in Bo Klua

    Michael Babcock, Thursday, May 15th, 2014

    Pongza Restaurant – ร้านอาหารปองซา (Raan Ahaan Pongza) – is found in the town of Bo Klua Tai – บ่อเกลือใต้ – in eastern Nan province in Northern Thailand, about 85 kilometers from Nan city. Here are my impressions from eating at this popular restaurant in a beautiful setting in January 2014. I’ll also talk briefly about the Bo Klua View (Resort) where the restaurant is located. My next blog will be on Bo Klua itself

    Pongza Restaurant is located at the Boklua View (see below) in the foothills of Doi Phu Kha, nearly 700 meters above sea level. Both restaurant and resort are owned by Toun Upajak, an English speaking Thai who is a trained chef. The restaurant serves a combination of Western and Thai dishes, including local (jungle) specialties. They make their own bread and desserts (western-style) and use produce from their own organic gardens whenever possible. Although the menu is not extensive because of the difficulty in getting ingredients at their remote location, there are still plenty of interesting dishes to choose from.

    I’ll start with a couple of the dishes for, after all, the main reason to go to any restaurant is the food.

    Fried Chicken

    Fried Chicken with Mak Wan

    If the restaurant has a “signature dish” it is ไก่ทอดมะแข่วน – Kai Tod Mak Wan – Fried Chicken with Ma-kwaen Herb. มะแข่วน (ma-kwaen or ma kwan) is usually identified as Zanthoxylum Limonella Alston and it is apparently fairly common in Northern Thailand (including Mae Hong Son & Chiang Mai). The genus Zanthoxylum (in English commonly known as prickly ash) includes the more commonly known Sichuan (or Szechuan) pepper. It has an exotic flavor and, like Sichuan peppers, a somewhat numbing effect on the mouth. It adds a very interesting, almost floral, taste to the chicken. It is used medicinally in Thailand to treat toothache, gum disease, nausea, dizziness and certain menstrual problems. Its oil can also be used as a mosquito repellant and has been investigated with some promising results as a possible bactericide for multi-drug resistent bacteria.

    If you want more information about this interesting spice, do an Internet search using the Thai name (copy & paste) – มะแขว่น. Nearly all of the articles will be in Thai so you’ll most likely need to translate the page. There’s a company in Canada – spicetrekkers.com – that sells it under the name of Mah Kwan Wild Pepper (offsite, opens in new window).

    (Click images to see larger version.)

    Fern Salad

    Fern Salad

    Fried Fern Salad

    Fried Fern Salad

    The restaurant has a number of dishes with a type of fern growing in the local jungles, called ผักกูด – pak kood. The dish on the left above is Yum Pak Kood Ruam – ยำผักกูดร่วม – a “yum” salad with the fern, ground pork and squid. We had this on our visit this January (2014).

    Above right is a Fried Fern Salad – Yum Pak Kood Tod – ยำผักกูดทอด – Kasma had this dish on a visit during December 2012. This particular dish wasn’t on the menu when we visited in 2014.

    Green Curry

    Green Curry with Crispy Catfish

    Limeade

    Two blended fruit drinks

    On our visit we ordered one other dish, the Green Curry with Crispy Catfish – เขียวหวานปลาดุกกรอบ (Kiow Wan Pla Dook Krob) – shown to the left. It had a lovely presentation, as you can see; however I found the curry itself a bit disappointing. It was ok, just not terrific (which somehow I come to expect in Thailand).

    Incidentally, the food here is served with a lovely purple rice (that’s what it’s called, in English, on the menu); it’s a whole grain rice with a couple different varieties cooked together.

    The restaurant can be excellent when it comes to presentation, as you saw with the green curry and can see with the two glasses of blended fruit drinks above right, taken by Kasma in December 2012. (When we visited in 2014 the drinks were a bit plainer, probably because the restaurant was absolutely packed.)

    Caramel Cream

    Caramel Cream

    Banana Banoffee

    Banana Banoffee

    If you are so inclined, Pongza does have some very tasty desserts. Above left is what the menu calls “Caramel Cream” – it looks very much like a delicious Crème Brûlée.

    The dessert on the right is called “Banana Banoffee” and looks mildly decadent. Kasma (who took these pictures on the December 2012 trip) said that they were quite tasty.

    View #1

    A view from the restaurant

    View #2

    Table with a view

    The restaurant is in a lovely physical setting; it is quite pleasant to have a meal next to the mountain views from the dining room. You see a couple of examples above: some of the tables are right at the edge of the deck, giving a memorable dining experience.

    If you’re ever in Bo Klua, I recommend eating at Pongza Restaurant. The food is very good  – some dishes excellent, others good –  the presentation is lovely and the views are quite nice indeed. Give it a try.

    Check out:

    Boklua View (Resort) – บ่อเกลือ วิว

    I can’t end the blog without at least mentioning the Boklua View (Resort) where Pongza restaurant is located.

    Boklua View

    Front of Boklua View (Resort)

    Resort View

    View from a room

    It’s a wonderful, peaceful place to stay. Many of the rooms overlook beautiful views, such as the one above right.

    Bedroom

    Bedroom at Boklua View

    Wash basin

    Wash basin

    The resort is very nicely appointed, as you can see from this shot of the bedroom above right. There are numerous beautiful and tastefully done details, such as the wash basin above right, and the flowers floating in water (further down the page)  It’s a great place to stay while in Bo Klua.

    Update, January 2020: When we stayed here in early 2020 there had been a number of rooms added to the resort. It’s still very pleasant but feels a bit more crowded and less intimate than before.


    Boklua View (Resort) (offsite, opens in new window)
    209 Moo 1 Baan Bo Loung
    Bua Kluea Tai
    Bo Kluea 55220, Thailand
    Phone: 081 809 6392 or 054 778 140
    Email: admin@bokluaview.com


    Also see:

    Floating Flowers

    Flowers floating in water – another nice touch at Bo Klua View (Resort)


    Written by Michael Babcock, May 2014 & June 2020

    Kasma’s Intermediate Thai Cooking Class #4

    Michael Babcock, Saturday, June 15th, 2013

    This is the fourth in a series of 4 blogs that talks about Kasma Loha-unchit’s Intermediate Thai Cooking Class. A series of 4 classes, it continued on from where her 4-session Beginning Thai Cooking Series left off. Having introduced students to the basics (including how to harmonize flavors to create Thai tastes), it was an opportunity for students to learn more Thai cooking techniques, ingredients and recipes. I’ll leave these blogs up as a record of what Kasma’s classes were like: she retired from teaching in 2020. I’ll also include links to the other 3 blogs at the bottom of the page. This blog is about the fourth and final Intermediate Cooking Class.

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

    Kasma Pounds

    Kasma pounds Som Tam

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

    (Click images to see larger version.)

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

    Kasma also demonstrated 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 (offsite, opens in new window).

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

    Another technique that needed to be explained was 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 demonstrated how and then it became a communal effort, with Kasma handy to provide feedback and correction as needed.

    Much of the cooking in this class was done outside on the grill. Kasma supervised while students basted the meats and turned 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 was 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 served 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 were eligible to go onto Kasma’s advanced classes. When she retired there were 9 Advanced Series of 4 classes each – sets A through I. The Advanced classes opened 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 were a chance to learn about the other 95% and, best of all, to sample how they taste. The Thai Cooking Class Menus – Advanced Series show some of the variety that was available in the classes. My blog on The Best Thai Food in America? 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:


    Written by Michael Babcock, June 2013

    Kasma’s Intermediate Thai Cooking Class #1

    Michael Babcock, Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

    This is the first in a series of 4 blogs that talks about Kasma Loha-unchit’s Intermediate Thai Cooking class. A series of 4 classes, it continued on from where her 4-session Beginning Thai Cooking Series left off. Having introduced students to the basics (including how to harmonize flavors to create Thai tastes), it was an opportunity for students to learn more Thai cooking techniques, ingredients and recipes. I’ll leave these blogs up as a record of what Kasma’s classes were like: she retired from teaching in 2020. I’ll include links to the next 3 blogs at the bottom of the page.

    Explaining Recipes

    Kasma going over recipes

    I repeated the Beginning Thai Cooking Series in October of 2011 when Kasma was still teaching in the evenings and was surprised at how much new information I gleaned from repeating the classes. I also remembered just how much fun the classes are. (Links to my blogs on the class are found at the bottom of the page.) So in April 2012, I repeated Kasma’s Intermediate Thai Cooking Series. This is my blog on class #1.

    (Click images to see larger version.)

    As with the Beginning series, class started with Kasma going over the recipes. Much less time was needed for this in the Intermediate Series because so many of the main ingredients had been covered in the Beginning Series. In the Intermediate Class there were still new ingredients that needed to be covered more extensively, and there were new cooking techniques to be introduced as well. For instance, when introducing an ingredient such as mussels, Kasma talked about the various kinds available and which were the best ones to use for a particular recipe, such as this evening’s Spicy Mussel Salad

    Mussels

    Mussels for the salad

    The classes were filled with tips that make recipes come out better. Here’s one: many recipes for Chicken Coconut Soup (Tom Ka Gai) have you dump all the coconut milk in a pan and bring it to a boil; Kasma explained that boiled, coconut milk has a tendency to curdle, so she begins the recipe using water or mild chicken broth and adds the coconut milk towards the end, right before she balances all the flavors.

    Kasma imparted more inside knowledge when talking about preparing the noodles for frying for the Mee Krob (Glazed Crispy Noodles). Rather than soaking the noodles, which would leave them soggy, she had the students rinse the noodles in cold tap water, drain in a colander and set aside for 30 to 60 minutes. This allowed the noodles to absorb some water and soften while then allowing the surface to dry out so that you wouldn’t get splattering when you put the noodles in the hot oil to fry. She explained that if you fry the noodles dry, they puff up more, which is undesirable in this recipe. As always, she showed the students the best brand available locally to use.

    Frying Noodles

    Frying noodles

    This first Intermediate Class introduced two ingredients that were new to the students. Pickled garlic is used in the Crispy Fried Noodles and crispy fried shallots are used in the Spicy Mussel Salad. Kasma talked about what to look for when buying these ingredients, what brand of the fried shallots (often labelled “Fried Onions”) are best and how to make your own crispy shallots, should you be so inclined.

    This class introduced methods for deep frying, both for the Mee Krob and the Pla Rad Prik – Crispy Fried Whole Fish Topped with Chilli-Tamarind Sauce. I had long been an admirer of the way that Thais fry things: the fried foods in Thailand seldom taste greasy at all and their fried fish is always fried to a delightfully crispy and crunchy state that is both fun to eat and allows you to eat most of the fish. This class also had deep-fried noodles, also well-fried and not very greasy.

    Making Noodles

    Making Mee Krob

    So I was somewhat startled to read in a cookbook by a famous Thai chef that “. . .Thais are not particularly good at deep-frying, opting to cook any piece of meat as much as possible – even fish.” He claims this comes from fear of worms from fresh-water fish. All the Thai people I know love crispy-fried fish: they cook it that way because they like it that way – they like the texture, it is non-greasy, it tastes good and eats well. I guess he’s never been to the north or the northeast where they like to eat raw meat salads – odd behavior if they’re afraid of parasites.

    Kasma fries her fish in her trusty 16-inch round-bottomed spun-steel wok: it’s the perfect piece of cookware for deep-frying. This was a great class for students who were afraid to fry – Kasma showed how to do it easily and safely.

    Chopping

    Students prepping ingredients

    As with all classes, Kasma told the students which local markets typically carry any specialty ingredients, such as fresh, whole fish (not readily available in most western supermarkets) or garlic chives (used in the Crispy Fried Noodles). She went into which recipes could be prepared ahead of time and which parts of recipes could be done in advance to make the final assembly easier without losing and freshness or flavor.

    In this class Kasma also went over how to pick out a fresh, whole fish; it is something that many students had never done or even considered doing before. She gave 5 pointers (such as looking at the over-all luster of the fish and how the eyes and gills should appear) that helped even the novice choose a fresh fish. You can read Kasma’s article Selecting a Fresh Fish, excerpted from her Dancing Shrimp cookbook.

    Mixing Ingredients

    Mixing Ingredients

    Making Sauce

    Student making Mee Krob sauce

    After the recipes were explained, the students divided up into groups: Kasma assigned a certain number of people for each recipe. Once the ingredients were prepped, all the students watched the members of the team do the cooking. When appropriate, as in frying a whole fish, Kasma would start the cooking process so that she could show how a particular technique is done: after that, the team members did the cooking. Kasma also oversaw the final balancing process for the recipes: one of the great strengths of her classes was learning how the various ingredients interacted to create a harmony of Thai flavors.

    Of course, the best part of the evening was eating a Thai feast at the end of class.

    Eating Dinner

    Eating dinner, the best part of class!

    After dinner, everyone helped clean up before going home.


    Menu – Intermediate Thai Cooking Class Series #1

    Mee Krob (Glazed Crispy Noodles)

    Noodles

    Mee Krob Noodles

    This is a noodle dish that is almost always too sweet at the local Thai restaurants. Kasma’s version is crispy, not greasy at all (despite the deep-fried noodles) and flavorful, with just a hint of sweetness. It could almost be called a fried salad, served as it is with bean sprouts and garlic chives. It’s a dish that must be eaten within an hour of cooking, otherwise it will turn somewhat soggy and uninteresting.

    Chicken Coconut Soup with Galanga (Tom Ka Gai)

    Soup

    Chicken Coconut Soup

    This is one of two soups that is found at virtually every Thai restaurant outside of Thailand. (The other is Hot & Sour Prawn Soup – Tom Yum Goong.) This, also, is a dish that I’ve been disappointed in when ordering out in the U.S. – too sweet, too rich: Kasma’s version is somewhat lighter with a bit of sour flavor. I once read a Westerner who claimed that this soup was just “Tom Yum Soup with Coconut.” This is absolutely not true. The main herbal flavor in a Tom Ka soup is galanga, with lemon grass in the supporting capacity: with Tom Yum soups, it’s just the opposite – the galanga supports the lemongrass.

    You can try out Kasma’s variation on this recipe: Coconut Seafood Soup with Galanga (Tom Ka Talay)

    Crispy Fried Whole Fish Topped with Chilli-Tamarind Sauce (Pla Rad Prik)

    Fried Fish

    Crispy Fried Whole Fish

    (See slideshow below.)

    This is a recipe that is very common in Thailand: on Kasma’s trips we would usually eat it at least a couple or three times. I was so excited the first time I made this dish by myself (after I first took the Intermediate Series in 1992) – it looked just like the dishes in Thailand! However, in Thailand I often find it too sweet for my taste: in Kasma’s version the sauce is equally sour and salty with the sweetness (from palm sugar) in the background.

    The best parts to eat of the fish are the crispy-crunchy parts. My personal favorite is the head: it’s full of interesting crunchy bits interspersed with softer textures. Before I met Kasma I would never have eaten a fish head: later on I would join this class at meal time because often no one in class knew how to eat the head – I liked to help out.

    Fish and seafood are an integral and important part of the Thai diet. See Kasma’s article The Thai Fish-Eating Tradition.

    Spicy Mussel Salad with Aromatic Herbs and Crisped Shallots and Garlic (Yum Hoi Malaeng Poo)

    Mussel Salad

    Spicy Mussel Salad

    Yum salads are a group of salads that are found all over Thailand and found all too seldom here in the U.S. They are sour and spicy-hot with some saltiness and sweetness: the level of sweetness will vary from one salad to the next, depending on the main ingredient, so it’s not really possible to give a generic yum dressing/sauce (although many cookbook authors do). Kasma’s dressing for this salad is interesting in that it uses three different ingredients for sour flavors – white vinegar, lime juice and tamarind juice: each provides a different layer of flavor. Sugar is used here to balance the flavors and to intensify the sourness: Kasma showed us how to do this without adding too much sweetness. (Check out Kasma’s Exercise in Balancing Flavors.)

    Salad Ingredients

    Mixing Mussel Salad

    This dish was also an opportunity for Kasma to discuss the use of chillies in recipes. At the time of the year of this class (April), many of the chillies we could get here in the San Francisco Bay Area came from South or Central America; because of the climate, they tended to be very hot. As chillies grown in California become available, the number of chillies would need to be adjusted: initially, the local chillies will be much milder. This is the sort of information that you got in Kasma’s classes: you will not commonly find it in Thai cookbooks, which usually give a specific number of chillies in a dish without going into how you may need to modify that number to get the level of heat the dish (or your tastebuds) require.


    Slideshow – Crispy Fried Whole Fish

    Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

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

    Scoring Fish
    Resting Fishes
    Coating Fish
    Coated Fish
    Holding Fish
    Sliding Fish
    Fish in Oil
    Ladling Oil
    Student Cooking
    Turning Fish
    Frying Paste
    Fried Fish
    Ladling Sauce
    Fried Whole Fish
    Fish Close-up

    Scoring the whole fish

    Bringing the whole fish to room temperature

    Coating the fish with tapioca flour prior to frying

    This fish, coated with tapioca flour, is ready to fry

    Kasma is just about to slide the fish into the hot oil

    Sliding the fish into the hot oil in the wok

    The fish's fin is waving from the hot oil

    Hot oil is ladled over the fish so it will fry evenly

    One of the students takes over ladling the hot oil over the fish

    Kasma demonstrates how to turn the fish over in the wok

    Frying the chilli-tamarind sauce for the fish

    This crispy-fried fish is ready for the chilli-tamarind sauce

    Ladling the chilli-tamarind sauce over the fish

    Crispy Fried Whole Fish Topped with Chilli-Tamarind Sauce (Pla Rad Prik) - ready to eat

    Close-up of Crispy Fried Whole Fish Topped with Chilli-Tamarind Sauce (Pla Rad Prik)

    Scoring Fish thumbnail
    Resting Fishes thumbnail
    Coating Fish thumbnail
    Coated Fish thumbnail
    Holding Fish thumbnail
    Sliding Fish thumbnail
    Fish in Oil thumbnail
    Ladling Oil thumbnail
    Student Cooking thumbnail
    Turning Fish thumbnail
    Frying Paste thumbnail
    Fried Fish thumbnail
    Ladling Sauce thumbnail
    Fried Whole Fish thumbnail
    Fish Close-up thumbnail

    Here are the blogs for the next 3 Intermediate classes:

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


    Written by Michael Babcock, May 2013 & May 2020

    Muslim Yellow Rice (Wednesday Photo)

    Michael Babcock, Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

    Muslim Yellow Rice

    Muslim Yellow Rice

    Muslim Yellow Rice

    One of my favorite dishes in the south is Kao Moek Gkai (Muslim Yellow Rice with Chicken and Roasted Spices), which we often enjoy at our favorite Takua Pa restaurant. It’s a rich rice dish, cooked a bit like a risotto and spiced with cardamom, cloves, ginger and chillies, with succulent chicken and all topped with a sweet and sour chilli sauce.

    Although it is estimated that Thailand is 90% Buddhist, the south has a much higher proportion of Muslims, who lend a distinct flavor to southern culture, including influencing the cuisine.

    This picture was taken by Kasma at a bus stop in Mae Sae, near Pai in the northern mountains between Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai. She says there are a fair number of Muslims in that area and that this is a Muslim dish rather than a southern dish.


    The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

    BBQ Chicken (Wednesday Photo)

    Michael Babcock, Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

    Nakhon Pathom Chicken Vendor

    BBQ Chicken Vendor

    Kasma buying BBQ chicken

    I like this picture of Kasma about to buy some barbecue chicken in Nakhon Pathom. It gives a bit of the sense of how crowded these markets can get and how hot, with the steaming chicken under a characteristic umbrella (barely visible at the top).

    I went back into the archives for this one: it was originally taken as a slide back in 2003 and converted to digital by scanning the slide.


    The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.