Category Archives: pork

What’s Cooking: Moo Jum

Image

Finally, a decent approximation

Isaan food is a celebration of simple things, put forth very directly and forcefully. Your finger-licking renditions of gai yang (grilled chicken) and nuea nam thok (spicy beef salad) aren’t content to sit mutely on your tabletop, requesting your appreciation; slightly smoky and full of heat, they practically shout I AM DELICIOUS as you cram morsel after succulent morsel down your throat. Paired with a hank of sticky rice and the battalion of condiments that Thais cannot resist pairing with everything, they are unstoppable, a food army that cannot be resisted, taking up all the valuable real estate in your gut that you have reserved for something useful, like beer.

Moo Jum (located at the entrance of Suan Luang Soi 3 after 6pm) specifically traffics in these very dishes, the ones that make you sorry you stuffed yourself silly. Like most great Isaan cooks, they focus on straightforward simplicity. The namesake dish, an Isaan-style sukiyaki, is a spicy-tart broth in which unwitting vegetables, sawtooth coriander, Thai basil, pork and an egg are dunked, creating an aromatic melange good enough to eat even on sweltering hot nights. A simple spicy squid salad, rings of flesh barely blanched, dressed in sharp shards of Thai celery stalk and chili. And of course, their famed kor moo yang (grilled pork collar): sweeter than up north to be sure, charred at the edges from the grill, lacquered like a freshly-baked pie, as brown as the skin of a dedicated bodybuilder.

For all its supposed simplicity, I have struggled with this recipe. The basic recipe (as outlined in Chef McDang’s “The Principles of Thai Cookery”) uses a basic marinade of mashed garlic cloves, pounded coriander root, 1/4 cup of soy sauce, and 10 white peppercorns that is then slathered onto the meat. Very traditional, but nothing to set hearts aflutter. I tried to build on that recipe by going back to the marinade’s roots, substituting fish sauce for soy and adding some palm sugar. The result: ho-hum. I then tried to add molasses paired with fish sauce: NO DO NOT DO THIS EVER. It appears that where modern versions of kor moo yang are concerned, it is best to stick to soy sauce and build on that.

So last night, alongside an odd pairing of roasted cauliflower and soba noodles, I made some more pork collar for unsuspecting victims-slash-guests who had come over expecting dinner. The result was not awful! This is the best iteration of Moo Jum’s kor moo yang so far.

Kor Moo Yang (serves 4, just barely)

– 400 g pork collar (or shoulder)

– 4 garlic cloves

– 2-3 coriander roots, washed

– 1/2 tsp white peppercorns

– 1/4 cup soy sauce

– 1 Tb brown sugar

– 1 Tb sweet soy sauce

To make:

1. As in Chef McDang’s recipe, mash garlic, peppercorns and coriander root into a paste with mortar and pestle. Add soy sauce and sweet soy sauce and mash that all together to form marinade. Add brown sugar.

2. In a large mixing bowl, pour marinade over pork and allow to infuse meat, ideally overnight, or at least four hours.

3. When ready, grill meat until brown and charred a bit at the edges. If you, like me, don’t own a grill (why are American males so into grilling?), heat up a nice heavy pan (I use a cast-iron one) that has been oiled beforehand, and brown the pork until it’s a nice caramel-ish color. Then stick this into the oven that’s been set at 180 degrees Celsius for about 15 minutes, or until the edges gain the same charred edges and sticky-looking exterior that you would have gotten via grilling.

4. Slice and serve with a tamarind or sweet chili sauce, along with some sticky rice.

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What’s cooking: Khao Soy Islam

Our pork and chicken satay

Our pork and chicken satay

(Photo by Christopher Schultz)

Real friends always, somehow, prove themselves to you. My friend Dwight is able to go an entire lunch watching me try to shove morning glory into my mouth and talk at the same time. My friend Karen is able to listen to me blather for hours on end about my aching foot, or the last conversation I had with my mother. And my friend Chris is able to stomach all manner of Thai “dishes” I manage to throw at him, no matter how repugnant.

(NOTE: Real friends also tell you when your entire post is wrong. Karen has gently reminded me that Khao Soi Islam is run by a Muslim family, so they don’t serve pork! Me no remember. I will either 1. Have to rejig this recipe to do beef and chicken satays, like they REALLY do it at Khao Soi Islam, or 2. try to emulate the satay at Samerjai or Lamduan Faham. Accuracy is so tiresome.  This is what happens when I write a post in half an hour before picking up my daughter from school. The sauce recipe for the pork satay below is still pretty good though).  

It is hard to make pork satay repugnant. While pork satay is a fine street food dish all on its own, served by vendors up and down and across the land, it is also, inexplicably, the go-to accompaniment for the Northern Thai curried noodles known as khao soy — indeed, no northern Thai vendor worth his or her salt would sell without it.

While the satays at Lamduan Faham and Samerjai in Chiang Mai are rightly praised, it’s the one at Khao Soy Islam in Lampang (Prasanuk Rd., 054-227-826, open 9-14.30 daily) that sticks with me most. Run by a husband and wife team who have served up this dish for the past several decades, Khao Soy Islam also serves a particularly “curry-like” bowl of noodles where they gradually add the coconut milk to the chili paste base bit by bit, over a period of time, instead of all at once at the end like Lamduan. The result is more intense and silkier, and possibly my favorite of all the exemplary bowls available up North.

Like most vendors, Khao Soy Islam is a family affair. The son grills up both chicken and pork satays, with freshly-made peanut dipping sauce and a slightly sweet-sour ajad of cucumber, shallot and chilies. It was this satay that Chris and I tasked ourselves with trying to replicate.

A brief note: We used kebab-style cubes of pork tenderloin here, because I am really lazy and just bought stuff from the grocer’s pre-cut. It’s fine, but doesn’t absorb the marinade as well as a thinly-sliced piece of meat would. We also made this in the oven, but if you have a grill, please use it by all means. Grill 5-7 minutes, or until meat bears a slight, delicious char.

Pork and chicken Satay (makes 4 servings)

– 300 g pork shoulder, sliced thinly

– 300 g chicken thigh, sliced

– 1 Tablespoon curry powder

– 1/2 cup coconut milk

– 1 Tablespoon honey

– 2 Tablespoons fish sauce

– 2 Tablespoons soy sauce

– 3 garlic cloves, smashed

– 2 shallots, smashed

– 1-3 red chilies, crushed

– Satay sticks

To make:

1. Soak satay sticks in water.

2. Setting meat aside, combine all other ingredients to make marinade. Pour half of marinade over pork and other half over chicken and set in refrigerator for at least an hour.

3. When ready to cook, turn oven on to full whack and thread meat onto sticks. Place sticks onto oiled baking sheet (or, ideally, a cooling rack set on top of a baking sheet) and set in position closest to heat. “Grill” for 5-7 minutes, or until meat is browned and even slightly charred at edges.

For Chris’s peanut sauce:

– 1 1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts (unsalted), or 3/4 cup smooth peanut butter

– 1/2 cup coconut milk

– 3 garlic cloves, minced

– 1 tsp soy sauce

– 1 1/2 tsp sesame oil

– 1 Tablespoon brown sugar (omit if using peanut butter)

– 1 Tablespoon fish sauce (or to taste)

– 2 tsp tamarind paste (or lime juice)

– 1 tsp Sriracha sauce or Thai chili sauce

– 1/4 cup water (if needed to thin mixture)

Process until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings until balance between tangy, spicy, sweet and salty is achieved.

For cucumber-shallot relish:

– 1 small cucumber, washed and sliced

– 3 red chilies, sliced

– 3 shallots, sliced

– 1/2 cup rice vinegar

– 1 Tablespoon white sugar

Combine all ingredients, making sure sugar dissolves in vinegar. Serve with satay, peanut sauce, and toasted white bread if you are so inclined.

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Curry wishes and deep-fry dreams

Deep-fried pork belly and curry on rice at Mae Awn

Deep-fried pork belly and curry on rice at Mae Awn

Nearly every Thai food lover I know professes a deep affinity for Thailand’s street food. Never mind that it is frequently infuriating, with its occasional long waits, its heat and smoke, its intermittent inconsistencies. It’s the grime, the capricious grumps who serve as owners, the odd feral cat or two that turn street food from a sweaty, hurried interval spent pouring rice down your facehole into a quick “immersion in the Thai culture”, set in romantic, picturesque squalor.

I’m not saying the pursuit of street food is an exercise in culinary Orientalism — unless you think the locals are guilty of doing this too. Because, as much as some people think the fetishization of street food equals a food-centric depiction of the so-called “Noble Savage”, the truth is still very simple: much of Thailand’s best food is still on the street, and those plastic stools and dingy shophouses are still dominated by Thais. Thais love good Thai food. Visiting Thai food lovers want to eat what Thais eat. It is as easy as that.

Nothing quite captures the freewheeling, exuberant quality of Thai street food quite like khao gaeng (or khao gub gaeng, or khao raad gaeng, all of which mean “curry on rice”). These streetside “buffets” are actually excuses for people to act like frigging maniacs aka Lindsay Lohan in a jewelry store — a free-for-all where the ultimate reward is a pleasantly full tummy. A tableful of curries awaits; you pick up a plate of rice and choose anywhere from one to three curries … or more if your vendor is willing.

My friend Winner, who — despite his curious allegiance to the 49ers — knows Banglamphu street food better than anyone I know, is a huge fan of khao gaeng. His favorite: Raan Khao Gaeng Mae Awn, moored in the shadow of Saphan Lek and kitty-corner to the Mega Plaza. Its sign looks like this:

Look for this sign

Look for this 

Despite winning plaudits from various lady-cenric morning shows, this stall still retains its street cred — a credibly crabby lady doling out rice and curries, a handful of tables with plastic stools and a layer of grease, and the requisite crowd keen to jab you in the ear with their elbows as they pass by. Why Winner likes it: the superiority of their thom jeud (clear soup, because no Thai eats rice without some kind of soup), the popularity of its moo kem (deep-fried pork belly) and the sheer diversity of their daily offerings.

A (sort of) moveable feast

A (sort of) moveable feast

It’s a curry (and stir-fry, and deep-fried tidbits) bar, quite possibly the best kind. But no need to skulk off to Banglamphu to get some good curry action; there is an array of rice toppings (of varying sizes) at nearly every major intersection and street corner in the city. The one I frequent is next to Benjasiri Park, behind Emporium, while next to Emporium on Sukhumvit, a mammoth curry rice stand doles out food on Sundays. Find your own favorite.

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Filed under Asia, Bangkok, food, food stalls, pork, Thailand