Category Archives: cooking

About my grandma, and sausage

For as long as I can remember, I was told to refer to my grandmother as “Jiao Yai” (Lady Grandma). As a kid in Amish country somewhere in western Pennsylvania, I thought all Thais called their mother’s mother this term. Grandpa would be content with being a “khun tha”, but grandmas required something a little better.

I found out my grandma was kind of like a princess when we were getting ready to move back to Thailand. Her grandfather Inthawarorot had been the 8th of his line to “govern” Chiangmai; her father had been slated to be his heir. Her family name was “Na Chiangmai”, which, like “Na Ayutthaya”, “Na Songkhla”, or the like, means “Of [insert town name here]”.

Because I am really shallow, I became interested in my mom’s family history because of my grandma. When there were family gatherings, like a big ol’ buzzard, I was there, devouring scraps of old family gossip, hidden (and not so hidden) resentments, embroidering a new mental narrative of myself. Family dynamics were fascinating to me — there were “greater jiao” and “lesser jiao” (guess which branch yours truly belongs in?) and celebrations featuring dancers with ribbons and peacock feathers where everyone dresses up in old Thai clothing and complains about the heat (that’s just me, actually. I sweat a lot, what can I say?)

Best of all, there is gorgeous, life-changing, extraordinary Thai food. Getting gussied up in diapers and gossiping are all well and good, but after a couple of times, that story about Uncle So-and-so in 1847 gets old. The food never got old. It became the reason I still lurk, an ever-hungry buzzard, on the edges of family conversations, inviting myself to this or that party against the wishes of everyone involved. There is gabong, battered and deep-fried pumpkin, beans and whatnot (northern Thai tempura!) with a sweet chili dipping sauce. A sort of gaeng som in crystal-clear broth with chunks of pomfret, intense and flavorful despite its prettiness. A nam prik pla rah (fermented fish chili paste), tangy and salty but strangely un-fishy. Gluay buat chee, bananas served in a hot coconut milk, soft and comforting and almost buttery in taste.

And then there is the sai oua (northern Thai sausage), which I will always associate with my grandma. Obviously, my grandma has never stuffed a sausage link in her long life, but her cook has made exemplary sausage since I was a little girl, and although lots of places make nice sai oua (Soul Food Mahanakorn, the 5th floor of Emporium), I will always associate this particular sausage — fiery, yellow, flecked with fragrant herbs — with her. Nothing compares to my Grammy’s.

Too bad it’s so hard to get the freaking recipe. When I call Porn, my grandma’s cook, it’s a list of vagaries: “Get some shallots — 10 baht worth at the market near Victory Monument … some garlic …” “How much?” “Oh, well … five?” “Five cloves?” “Well, yes.” “What else? What else?” “Kaffir lime leaf, coriander, oh, slice it really thinly.” “Are there seasonings?” “What?” “ARE THERE SEASONINGS?” “Well, salt, and fish sauce, and MSG, and [something unintelligible] and curry base … mix all of that together …” “Anything else? Is there pork?” “Oh yes, pork. Maybe 2 kilos? Soak dried chilies in hot water, and don’t forget the pak chee farang … don’t forget the turmeric! You can’t forget the turmeric.” After guesstimating a handful of shallots as “10 baht worth” and mixing central and southern Thai curry paste to get a nice orange color, I end up with a paste that I think will work. I also get a kilo of minced pork and a kilo of minced pork fat.

Luckily, it was way easier to stuff the sausages than to make up the stuffing. Jarrett Wrisley, the owner of Soul Food, was kind enough to let my friend Chris and me use his sausage casings (100 percent natural!) and his kitchen, as well as his sai oua expertise — we used a mixture of fish sauce, salt and soy sauce, just like Jarrett does for his own, MSG-free sai oua. Chris made a gorgeous Polish sausage, slightly tart and salty, and a nice chicken sausage studded with dried apple.

Getting stuffed

The final product? When I got home, the first thing I did was turn on the oven and cook my very first sai oua. The result: burnished mahogany, soft on the inside, juices running from the pan.

Again, there is lots of great sai oua in the world, but nothing compares to my Grammy’s.

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Filed under Asia, Bangkok, cooking, food, Northern Thailand, recipe, Thailand

What’s Cooking: Larb Dib

When I order steak tartare at French restaurants, I am invariably told by a worried waiter that the dish I have just asked for is raw. Do I want to rethink my order a little bit?

Raw is, in fact, what I’m looking for. There is that feeling of being an animal, of tearing into something in its “natural” state, untouched by flame, uncivilized. I don’t think I’m the only one. Thanks to the rise of the Japanese sushi bar, tartare of some form — beef, tuna or salmon — is a fixture of pretty much any Western restaurant across the globe: studded with avocado, dusted with pink peppercorns, or, if you are particularly unlucky, bulked up with ketchup.

Since tartare is pretty much ubiquitous, other types of restaurants have had less trouble serving raw meat to diners previously considered “too skittish” for such savage fare. Nadimo’s features a “raw kibbee” dish that is made up of minced lamb cut with bulgur wheat and accompanied by a garlicky puree. It’s unusual and surprisingly delicious, an example of how good raw meat can be.

Raw kibbee at Nadimo's

Thai food boasts its own raw dishes — in this case, larb dib nuea, or “raw minced beef salad”. Its nature changes depending on the region; in Isaan, it’s tart and fresh, leavened with ground rice grains and lots of pak chee farang, the sawtooth-edged leaf reminiscent of soap. In the North, it’s something brusque and brawny, with lots of dried chili, a hint of pork blood and a shrimp paste-based sauce. The Northern Thai one is the version I’m trying today.

Larb Dip (for 4 people)

– 400 grams good-quality raw beef, hand-chopped (I chose a Thai-French tenderloin from Villa Sukhumvit 33)
– 100 grams thin beef tripe, sliced and boiled

– 8 Tablespoons fried garlic
– 1/2 stem lemongrass, sliced and fried
– 4 Tablespoons thinly sliced shallots
– 4 Tablespoons shredded coriander
– 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
– 1/2 cup pork blood (optional)
– 1 teaspoon pork bile (optional)

For larb muang paste
– 25 pieces grilled dried chilies
– 10 cloves grilled garlic
– 15 cloves grilled shallots
– 1 piece grilled galangal
– 1 Tablespoon shrimp paste, wrapped in foil and grilled
– 1/2 stem lemongrass, finely sliced
– 1 Tablespoon roasted makwaen, or a northern Thai peppercorn (I could not find it on short notice, so I substituted Sichuan peppercorns, roasted and ground)

Directions:
1. After having grilled most larb paste ingredients on an oven on full whack, pound into a paste with mortar and pestle alongside lemongrass and roasted makwaen or other substitute.

2. Mix beef and tripe with larb paste mix. If using pork blood and bile, add now.

3. This is optional, but you can cook your larb dib bleu by adding vegetable oil and giving the meat a few stirs with a wooden spoon. Otherwise, you can leave the lovely deep ruby color by leaving it completely raw.

4. Season with salt and fish sauce to your taste. Top with sliced shallots, fried garlic, fried sliced lemongrass and shredded coriander. I also topped mine with lots of mint, even though it’s more Isaan and less muang (Northern), simply because it’s one of the few things we have managed to grow in our garden! Look at these beauties (I know it just looks like regular mint to you):

My finished larb looked like this:

My raw beef larb

5. Serve accompanied by sturdy lettuce leaves, cucumber slices, blanched green beans, boiled pumpkin and any other fresh vegetable you may fancy or have lurking somewhere in your refrigerator. Don’t forget the sticky rice.

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Filed under Asia, Bangkok, beef, cooking, food, Northern Thailand, recipe, Thailand

My lunch at Michel Rostang

Every time I go to Paris, I try to go to at least one nice place a visit. This time, we made it to Michel Rostang, a two Michelin-starred restaurant with a menu that changes seasonally.

My husband and daughter, Nicha, asked for canard au sang, a dish they were initially discouraged from ordering because it was very “special”, a word the French use to describe something that is potentially disgusting. It turned out to be thin slices of very rare duck breast, bathed in a foie gras sauce thickened with blood. The legs are then poached in duck fat, shredded and encased in a razor-thin potato “tower” — a great reminder of why people love French food.

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Filed under cooking, duck, food, France, French food, restaurant