Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Thai Lecture and Demo at It's About Thyme, Pt. II

The stir fry that Sap did after the soup was Pad Ped Pla Grai, which is based on a fresh herb green curry paste made from galangal, lemongrass, makroot leaves, and Thai chiles. Some add garlic to the paste when pounding it or processing it, but Sap thinks it's better to add it separately, after adding the spice paste, so that it doesn't have much of a chance to scorch and get bitter. The dish is similar to an item on the Sap's menu, Amazing Mussels (S-P28), Amazing Green Beans (S-P31), and Pad Ped Nor Mai (S-P32). All of these dishes feature a fresh herb based curry paste.This particular dish will be appearing on the menu shortly.

Pad Ped Nor Mai, S-P32, above 

Pad Ped Pla Grai – 

Fish Balls and Bamboo Shoots with Fresh Curry                   
serves 4

This easy stir fry gets its flavor from an herbal paste that you process or pound before beginning the dish. It uses galangal, lemongrass, Thai lime leaf, and Thai chiles as the flavor base, joined Serrano chiles, garlic, a few bottled sauces, and some holy basil. Traditionally it is made with fish balls, dumplings made from a seasoned paste of fish fillet. The best fish balls are made from pla grai, (Giant Featherback, or Knifefish, Chitala lopsis) a freshwater fish that can grow to 3+ feet in length, with a caudal hump, a single feathery fin that runs from gill to tail on the bottom, and 5 to 10 spots on the back half that resemble eyes, like a redfish. It has a sweet, soft flesh that gets seasoned and then pounded into a paste using a mortar and pestle. The balls or patties should have a toothsome texture; they should have bite and resistance to be authentic. In Thailand you can buy the paste already pounded and make your own, but here you can get fresh or frozen fish balls at MT Market.

Fresh Spice Paste:                    

yields about 12 oz, enough for two batches of this dish
¼ cup sliced galangal
1 large stalk lemongrass, sliced thinly
¼ cup Thai lime leaves (makroot)
20 Thai chiles, chopped
Put all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process into a fine paste. The paste can be frozen in an airtight freezer bag or container.

Stir fry:
2-3 Tbl rice bran oil or vegetable oil
6 to 10 serrano chiles, sliced
6 oz spice paste
2 Tbl garlic
20 leaves of holy basil
1½ cups quartered mushrooms, or straw mushrooms
16 oz “slender” bamboo shoots (a canned Chinese product)
1 # fish balls (pla grai if possible)
2 Tbl Thai fish sauce
2 Tbl Thai Maggi sauce
2 Tbl Thai oyster sauce (the best Thai brand is Dragonfly Super Premium, next would be Mae Krua, followed by Chinese brand Lee Kum Kee)
2 tsp sugar
Steamed jasmine rice for service

Heat the oil in a wok until smoking and add serranos, sautéing 1 to 2 minutes to flavor the oil (be wary of the vapors release). Add the spice paste and sauté for 2 minutes; add the garlic, sautéing for 30 seconds. Add mushrooms, holy basil, and bamboo shoots and sauté for 4 minutes. Add fish sauce, Maggi sauce, oyster sauce, and sugar, and toss well.  Serve accompanied by steamed Thai jasmine rice.

Note: Any seafood, meat, or vegetables can be substituted for the fish balls, but it is traditionally a seafood dish. Instead of bamboo shoots, you can substitute hearts of palm; traditionally the dish is made with quartered Thai “apple” eggplants, which are about the size of a ping pong ball. If it is out of season for holy basil, substitute sweet basil, adding it at the very end, just to wilt the leaves. If you are vegetarian or allergic to shellfish, soy sauce can be substituted for the oyster sauce.

Sap stir-frying, and the crowd edging forward in anticipation of a taste

The Big Four, top, clockwise: makroot (Thai lime leaf), lemongrass, galangal (rhizome and slices), Thai chiles  

Lemongrass:                takhrai, ta-krai (
Cymbopogon citrates
Lemongrass is one of the most heavily used herbs in Thai cooking, added to a wide range of dishes in one form or another. The flavor is of a subtle lemon-like taste with a perfumed herbal quality. Since the leaves are tough and fibrous, the light-colored part of the stem is preferred. It needs to be minced very finely across the grain and then ground finely in a mortar and pestle, or an electric coffee mill, or kept in pieces so that it can easily be avoided and not bitten into. If kept in larger chunks for use, they should first be bruised with the back of a knife to release more flavor. It is best used fresh, right out of the ground, but it can be frozen for later use. It is used primarily in curries and soups, and makes an excellent tea or sorbet. Hint: to clean your electric spice mill, grind up some raw white rice and discard it once the interior of the mill is clean.

To grow lemongrass here, plant it in deep, rich, well-draining soil in full sun, and keep it evenly moist; it should have some winter wind protection. Before winter, mulch it heavily and it will probably survive and come up the following spring. Harvest the stalks by cutting from the outside of the clump.

For more information on Thai lime leaf, see my blog:

For more information on holy basil, ditto:

For info on the health and culinary benefits of cooking with rice bran oil, see my blog:

                                    *          *          *
Mick Vann – food writer, cookbook author, chef, restaurant consultant, horticulturist
The Appetizer Atlas: A World of Small Bites; Wiley, 2003; Gourmand World Cookbook Awards     2004: World’s Best Foreign Language Cookbook

Sap Apisaksari – Sap’s Fine Thai Cuisine, 4514 West Gate Blvd (Westgate at Ben White),
899-8525; http://sapsthai.com/index.html

1 comment:

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