Well, there he actually eats, but in today’s long delayed blog, he is going to be cooking. For those who don’t know, Eddie is actually a very good cook. He does excellent Peranakan, Sichuan, assorted Chinese and especially good Thai food. It just takes him a very long time to start making anything, because before he can start, he needs to do research. Not just the recipes, but the history, the regional variations, the difference between the local and the original ingredients, the methods of pounding, grating, shredding… So you see dinner is often a very long way away. In fact it’s slowly walking here from Chiang Mai.
But when he’s done, it is normally excellent.
When we were in Bangkok last, we brought back some curry pastes from Or Tor Kor market, out near Chatuchak. These are not factory produced, but artisanal, so we brought back some Khao Soi and Gaeng Som paste. The idea was to try the Gaeng Som and make a simple lunch, but then we chucked the idea and just made the paste ourselves. When I say we, I actually mean Eddie, I was just the kitchen helper, though I was allowed to make the omelette all by myself. And so here it is:
Eddie’s Gaeng Som
Sour Fish Soup with Thai Omelette
I’m not sure I should be calling this a soup, though to my Western eyes, it does look like one. In Thailand however, it is considered more of a curry and one eats it with rice. This is food for home, so you will never have eaten it in a restaurant, I can pretty much guarantee that. There are three steps to this dish, so we will work through them one by one:
- 12 dried chillies (the normal red ones)
- 6 dried bird’s eye chillies (chilli padi, see note)
- ½ tsp white peppercorns
- 4 garlic cloves
- 6 small shallots
- 2 tsp shrimp paste (ideally Thai gapi, but belachan is okay)
- 1½ tsp salt
- 2-3 krachai; fingerroot (see Note)
Heat the oven to 150ºC and roast the chillies for about 5 minutes, or until they have visibly darkened. Pop them into a grinder or blender, add and whizz to a powder.
Chop the krachai. Peel the garlic and onions and chop roughly. From here on, you have two options; the traditional pounding in a mortar or blending the lot with a little water. Eddie recommends the mortar and pestle, but then he would.
Let’s start the pounding: Begin by crushing the peppercorns, then add the garlic, shallots and krachai and give it a first bruising. Add the salt, chilli powder and the gapi or belachan and continue to pound to a fine paste. This will not take very long at all and it’s quite fun once you get going.
The blender method: If you plan on using a blender, you might want to replace the peppercorns with white pepper powder, or you can blitz them together with your chillies. The choice is yours. After this, you can simply blend all your ingredients with a very little water. Don’t make a soup, just add enough water to stop the stuff from gluing itself to the walls of the blender to escape the blades.
- 3 eggs
- 2 tsp fish sauce
- 30 Thai basil leaves
- 50g blanched spinach, squeezed dry
First of all I have to admit that I used frozen spinach. The thin local spinach just isn’t the same as that thick leaved Dutch one and in an omelette mushiness of spinach doesn’t signify. If you are using frozen spinach, you don’t need to blanch it, just chop it up fine together with the basil leaves. Beat the eggs with the fish sauce, add the chopped spinach and basil. Heat a little oil in a small saucepan and fry the omelette at medium heat until it is brown on the other side. You are asking how the hell you’re supposed to know whether it is brown or not? Once the edges are browned, it’s a fair assumption that the underside is browned. But you could always lift it up a little and have a peek.
Once the first side is brown and the omelette is firmed up enough to flip, flip it. This is the interesting part! A little determined wrist action is required. Hold your pan firmly, because you do not want to send it flying across the room. Now perform a little forward, upward short hook movement. Forward, upward, back. The thing not to do is throw the thing in the air. Bad idea all around. The good news is that you’re going to cut the thing up anyway, so even if you break it or drop it, you can still use it.
Once the other side is nice and brown, slide the omelette onto a chopping board and leave it to cool down. Then cut it into 3 cm squares. Eat the edges.
And now to the Curry:
- 750ml light stock, unsalted
- 200g cauliflower florets
- 200g Chinese cabbage
- 150g long beans
- 200g shelled prawns
- 130g white fish meat (I’m using filleted tenggiri steaks)
- all our gaeng som paste
- 2 Tbsp fish sauce
- 1½ Tbsp dark palm sugar
- 60ml tamarind juice made from asam jawa
Blanch the cauliflower florets for 2 minutes in heavily salted water, then add the beans and blanch for another minute. Remove the veg from the boiling water and refresh in a bowl of iced water. Once completely cold, drain and dry on paper towels. Bring the stock to a simmer and poach your fish fillets in it. Once cooked, remove and pound to a paste in your mortar.
Add the fish paste back to the stock, dissolve the gaeng som paste in it, pour in the tamarind juice and adjust the seasoning. Your soupy curry should be pleasantly sour and a little spicy. Now add the vegetables and boil until the Chinese cabbage is just tender. Pour in as much lime juice as you like, adjust the seasoning one last time, add the omelette pieces, turn off the heat and leave to infuse for 5 minutes and you are ready to eat.
The Latin name for Krachai is Boesenbergia rotunda and it is also known as fingerroot, lesser galangal, Chinese ginger or Chinese keys, the latter sounding just a bit racist to me. None of that is going to help you when you live in Alaska and can’t find any. I would say replace it with ginger, but I’m afraid that won’t get you anywhere near the right flavour. Try this:
- ½ Tbsp ginger root
- 1 tsp ginger powder
- 1 bag ginseng tea powder (just open the bag and add the contents)
- ½ Tbsp galanggal
Dried bird’s eye chillies may be a little hard to come by. you can replace them with a few fresh bird’s eye chillies or a little hot chilli powder. Then next time you go to Bangkok, bring back a huge bag, just like Eddie did and it will last you to the end of your days. At least that’s what the man in the shop said as we paid.
Gapi, Thai shrimp paste is very similar to Malaysian belachan, but it is a little lighter in flavour, so use belachan (fermented shrimp paste), of you can find the Thai variety.