MFK Fisher once wrote of “How to Cook a Wolf”. She did not mean it literally. It was during World War II, and the wolf that she wrote of was snuffling at the door and threatening to devour all of the inhabitants in the house. The wolf, of course, was hunger. The recipes, while mostly standard, were introduced with pithy headings that spoke to the times: “How to be Cheerful through Starving”; “How to be Content with a Vegetable Love”; “How to Pray for Peace”.
In “How to Keep Alive”, she details a recipe that involves a strictly utilitarian mix of ground beef, whole grain cereal, and root vegetables, cooked into what Fisher referred to as “sludge”. It was not a meal over which to mull the day’s little triumphs. “Not only is it good for people, it is ideal fare for dogs,” wrote Orville Prescott of The New York Times in a May 22, 1942 book review.
Today, there are many wolves at many doors. The wolf may come in different guises, but its methods are essentially the same. My friend James wrote to me just a few days ago, exhorting me to go out and patronize all the restaurants I could; the days to go out would be numbered, he said. The next day, he was proven right. It’s hard to say what the cost of the shutdown will ultimately be on businesses both large and small, but it is clear that it will probably be very high. If you can, contact that restaurant you have been thinking about and order from them. It will not go unappreciated. Just last weekend I enjoyed a roast chicken with perfectly soft, garlicky spinach and a super-thyme-scented tranche of porchetta with apple sauce delivered to my door from Appia. Of course I have no photos.
Here, in Phuket now where it is at the height of the hot season, I have little desire to spend any time over a hot wok or boiling vat of water. However, I can spend a couple of minutes making a simple sauce in the mortar and pestle.
OK OK Prince. You win. What I mean is, I can watch Pravee doing it. Pravee was born in Chiang Rai, just like me, but she is a far better cook. This sauce is the bomb for any type of seafood: boiled shrimp, fried fish, steamed crab, grilled squid, you name it. The secret is the inclusion of pickled garlic and mashed coriander root.
Pravee’s Seafood Sauce (for 4)
- 2 cloves of raw garlic
- 1 head of pickled garlic
- 2 tsp of pickled garlic juice
- 5 bird’s eye chilies (for spicy)
- 1 large coriander root (or 2 small ones)
- juice of 1 lime
- 2 tsp fish sauce
- 1/2 tsp palm sugar
Add solid ingredients to the mortar and pestle and mash well, Thai-style, pounding like you have a grudge against the ingredients. Gradually add liquids and palm sugar, mushing around like you are working at an ancient apothecary. Taste to adjust seasoning. Like most Thai food, this wasn’t meant to lie around in wait for a few days. Use as soon as you can!